[Originally posted on April 2009]
Rilla Alexander is born in Australia and now lives in Berlin: she is a member of the famous design and art collective Rinzen. Rinzen is best known for the collaborative approach of its five members and its work covers a wide-range of styles and techniques. The group’s posters and album covers have been exhibited at the Louvre and their large scale artwork installed in Tokyo’s Zero Gate and Copenhagen’s Hotel Fox. They recently designed the inaugural issue of Paul Pope’s Batman for DC Comics and graphics for a bicycle released by Japanese company, Bebike. In the meanwhile, Rilla is currently working on a children’s book which she’s writing and illustrating.
Could you please let us know more your background and career? Was it always your dream to pursue a career as a graphic designer?
I come from a family who is constantly dreaming up new projects and always making things. From the age of 4 I would dictate stories to my mother who would type them onto my drawings and bind them together as a book. As I grew up, the books became more and more lavish. I even made one which included a read-along tape complete with the “ting” to turn the page. It was very common for the whole family to work on things together: my mother sewing doll’s clothes, my father making wooden doll’s house furniture, and my sisters and I helping package everything for the local fete. I’d say it was inevitable that I would end up doing the kind of thing I do. In fact, nothing much has changed!
Who are Rinzen? When did you meet?
We are a group of friends who spontaneously started experimenting and playing together (http://www.rmxxx.com/RMX1/) in our hometown in Australia in 2000. So Rinzen just happened as though it was always meant to be. Since that time we have spread out across the world – Steve and I in Berlin, Craig in New York and Karl in Sydney – with Adrian holding down the fort in Brisbane.
Why did you decide to focus more your work on children’s books?
I used to make at least one book a year when I was growing up – so really I just want to get back on track! I started a book over 8 years ago and realized I was not going to finish it unless I focused all my attention on it. And now that I have been concentrating on it for the last 6 months I know this is what I want to do ALL the time. But it’s not only books – I want to make whole worlds…
How do you find working in Berlin? Why did you choose to live there in the first place?
I love living in Berlin – especially now when we have weathered the long dark winter and feel as though we have really earned the beauty of spring. Berlin is so relaxed and moving here was another thing that just felt right. It also means we can do quick trips rather than huge travels with a long itinerary. And I’ve really enjoyed being able to exhibit in different cities.
And what about Brisbane? What do you like and dislike of your hometown?
Brisbane’s River walk is a floating walkway on the river. It undulates as the ferries go by, and you really feel like you are walking on water… the blue sky reflects in the river and everything just glows. I was back there in September and I had tears in my eyes every morning as I ran along the path and listened to the kookaburras laughing. I was very close to moving back home after that!
Could you please suggest us 4/5 interesting places to visit in Berlin?
The Mrchenbrunnen (The Fairytale Fountain) in Volkspark Friedrichshain (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkspark_Friedrichshain) is my favourite place in the whole of Berlin. It has stone sculptures based on the Brothers Grimm fairytales. All the “frozen” deer, dogs and frogs remind me of the White Witch of Narnia. After you’ve been there take a stroll down Hufelandstrasse where there are lots of cute kid’s stores and pop into “Schneewitte” (http://www.schneewitte.de/gallery.htm#) which has an eclectic mix of wonderful second hand bits and pieces. I could quite happily live in “Stue” (http://www.stueberlin.com/) on Torstrasse which is full of mid-century Danish furnishings. We bought nearly every piece of furniture we own from there. If you go there tell them I say hi! If you like dogs you should visit the Grunewaldsee (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grunewaldsee) on a weekend in summer. It’s full of hundreds of hedonistic dogs and their doting owners. The dogs swim in the lake, bake in the sun and explore the forest. I don’t think I have ever seen our puppy Mr Tom as happy as the first day he visited there.
What is your favourite food? And do you have a favourite place to eat out in town?
My favourite meal is breakfast and I love cheese, bread, muesli and orange juice. (Lucky, then, that I live in Germany!). But, the restaurant which most sums up Berlin for me is “Fra Rosa” (http://www.weinerei.com/doku.php?id=fra_rosa) where you choose how much you want to pay.
What is the nicest place you ever visited/travelled to? Why?
Our visit to Mexico City was inspiring beyond belief… the markets, the energy, and the anthropology museum. I only ever thought Tokyo could make me feel that way. Actually don’t get me started about Japan because then I wouldn’t be able to stop raving about Tokyu Hands (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyu_Hands).
Is there a medium you’d like to experiment in the future? Why?
We’re about to go to Prague for a workshop on stop motion animation… but not only that, I want to do EVERYTHING that it takes to make a whole, real convincing world. I want you to be able to sit in the lap of the big hairy owl-monster Cozmas and watch the lion Klaus (pronounced Klaws) bounce by. Tove Jansson’s Moomins are loved the world over and there is a museum display in Finland that houses the Moomin House that she made with her friends. Maurice Sendak designed everything for an operatic version of “Where the Wild Things Are” and of course, is now seeing his world come to life in a movie. THAT gives me goose bumps!!
Who is the woman you’d like to see featured/interviewed here?
Deanne Cheuk (http://www.deannecheuk.com) and also photographer Amanda Marsalis (http://www.amandamarsalis.com/)