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Woman Who Designed Harps for Bjork Debuts New Wares in Red Hook

By Alan Neuhauser | December 19, 2012 9:29am

RED HOOK — A Brooklyn artist who built robotic harps for Bjork has started selling cat-shaped pillows, teacups and other wares at Brooklyn Collective in Red Hook and online.

The works, branded Starling Brood, range in price from $15 to $70. They are almost exclusively comprised of white, grays and blacks, offering a calm, quiet contrast to the explosively colorful displays of Bjork's live shows.

"The underlying inspiration is that it's my private space," explained artist Marina Mihaeko, who uses just her last name as her "nom d'artiste." "I especially like white things — I like that they reflect color. At any time of the day, they might be yellowish or pinkish or green or blue or a multitude of things."

Mihaeko started designing harps for Bjork with her partner, Andy Cavatorta, in spring 2010. Cavatorta, then a graduate student at MIT, said he was spotted by Bjork while designing experimental musical instruments at the school's media laboratory.

"She wanted to check out anyone who was doing an experimental musical project," Cavatorta explained. "She said, 'Hey, yours looks good, why don't you come talk later?'"

Bjork soon hired Cavatorta and Mihaeko to build harps for a movie she planned to make with director Michel Gondry. In the months and years that followed, the couple designed a wide range of instruments — none of which you'd soon find at the philharmonic: from harps that used droplets of water to pluck the strings, to harps that moved and produced music with pendulums.

"It was very intense," Mihaeko described.

Ultimately, Bjork opted for a stage show instead of a movie. Titled "Biophilia," she performed it as a touring residency, staging the production for weeks at a time in England, Iceland, Argentina and New York City. A harp made from rotating cylinders suspended in the air became a key part of the show.

"Four pendulums, and they swing back and forth, and they're computer controlled, so there's a little bit of nudging going on so there's just the right timing and just the right energy," Cavatorta said. "They swing back and forth, and they also rotate, there's a circular harp on each end, that rotates to pluck different strings."

Mihaeko's products on Starling Brood, by contrast, are far less complicated.

While touring on the road, designing ceramics and embroideries became "a way of keeping myself grounded and having something a little more intimate going on alongside this huge rockstar involvement," she explained. "I really enjoyed the [harp] project, but I needed something to do on my own, where I could make all the creative choices myself."

Close to 20 products, including embroideries, scarves and antique books, were on sale as of Tuesday afternoon, with more slated to debut soon. Full product lines will be launched roughly every two weeks, Mihaeko said, comprised of wares incorporating birds, trees, leaves and "possibly some undersea creatures." The works will also be on sale at the Brooklyn Flea starting Feb. 2.