GREATEST: Craft and Kinship With Bode and Green River Project
Emily Adams Bode Aujla distills the synergy of fashion and interiors with Aaron Singh Aujla and Ben Bloomstein.
Green River Project is as much a furniture design studio as it is a conceptual art project. Founders Aaron Aujla and Ben Bloomstein met in 2009 while cutting their teeth in New York’s fine art scene: Aujla was working as an assistant to the painter Nate Lowman, while Bloomstein was an art handler at Maccarone, the gallery where Lowman was exhibiting his work. A conversation about furnishing their new apartments sparked the realization that their mutual appreciation for ergonomic design, raw materials and art history could be harnessed into a full-on business.
Since its formation in 2017, Green River Project, named after a waterway that runs through Bloomstein’s upstate New York family property, has become a 360-degree practice that has left its mark on everything from restaurants and home interiors to retail spaces and fashion show set build-outs. Speaking to the latter, the studio calls cult menswear favorite Bode one of its closest collaborators. Familial relationship notwithstanding—the brand is the namesake of designer Emily Adams Bode Aujla, who is also Aaron’s wife—the collective energy shared between each party feels natural. Both share a love of heritage craftsmanship, old-world hues and traditional materials. Their ongoing creative endeavors, from Bode’s flagship stores in New York and Los Angeles to the brand’s milestone Fall/Winter 2023 Paris Fashion Week show, have cemented them as a unit of sorts, the lines between the individual entities blurring with each project.
Emily sits down with Aaron and Ben to reflect on their creative experiences as friends, family and collaborators.
Emily: I know you both came from the art world, but can you retell the story of how you met and what drew you to each other?
Aaron: I was working for Nate Lowman at his studio in Tribeca, and Ben came in one day to drop something off. He was working at Nate’s gallery, Maccarone, on Greenwich Street, and we started talking, and then I saw him again outside of 303 Gallery. I was talking to Ben about finding an apartment—he had just found one in South Williamsburg and I had found one on the Lower East Side. We became fast friends and started hanging out a lot, and we shared a studio after, maybe, eight months.
Ben: I think a week after that I came over to your new apartment to help you build a table.
E: Was that table the first thing you guys actually made together?
B: Yeah, I would come over after work and we would drink beers and work on this table, and go to San Loco for burritos.
E: I remember those late nights at San Loco. What did your first shared studio look like and how does it compare to what your Green River studio looks like now?
A: It was from this artist, Alex Hubbard, who Ben worked with. Alex was giving up his studio, and Ben was like, “Hey, do you want to move into it?” It was in Bed-Stuy, on the second floor, and it had already been built out by another artist with lots of fluorescent lights and white plywood floors. It was a pretty amazing moment; getting that first studio was really exciting. I think a lot of that spirit has always been retained in any of the spaces that Ben and I have had. We’ve had probably eight shared studios since then.
E: That was, what, 12 years ago?
A: In 2011 or 2012? Something like that.
B: It was a big studio too, and it set the bar really high. Until our current studio, that was our best. We had a 3,000-square-foot outdoor area, which is crazy [for New York]. We used to have barbecues and work out there.
E: Even in those very early studios and in both of your art practices, there is this importance of the theme of domestic space or private life. Can you guys talk about that and how that has carried through to Green River?
B: Our first conversation was like, “Yeah, the kitchen is horrible and I’m going to rip it out and it needs to be painted and I want to move this wall.” [We shared] a dissatisfaction with what was available and an optimism that you could change it. Then it bled into getting studios because Alex’s studio was good right off the bat, but we spent a lot of time building out the woodshop and the work tables and being really specific about how they were going to look.
A: With Ben, I think there’s more of a focus on furniture, and with me there’s more of a focus on interiors, but we were definitely interested in making workshop tables, and workbenches became really exciting to think about. Especially referencing what other artists’ workbenches looked like.
B: I was just in the studio on Saturday and I was looking at our current work tables, and they’re pretty much a version of what we had in the first two studios. We just have the means to make them better, and we have a lot more of them now. The main thing is they’re broken in and patinated in a way that is very satisfying.
A seed […] starts to gain momentum and then for a while, that’ll be at the front of our whole practice, and then we’ll work through it and it’ll roll to the side, and then something else will come.
E: That translates so seamlessly into some of your interior projects, like what you guys did for the restaurant Cool World in Greenpoint [Brooklyn]. Weren’t you thinking about the same themes of artist studios?
A: Cool World was really an expression of a lot of different artists’ kitchens and studios. It was interesting to make a restaurant that the aging population of Greenpoint and Williamsburg would appreciate, and that know the subtleties of an artist studio or what the ’90s or early ’00s meant in Williamsburg, where so many artists had studios. It’s taking in our practice and making interior design or furniture from an art practice.
B: For Cool World, we literally cut up our work tables to use them for the bar and the tabletops. It was like we directly used our own studio as material. That was the first time we did that.
A: Ben’s little brother made all the metalwork, and Matt Kenny made those paintings based on Ben’s 35 millimeter photos of the [Perito] Moreno Glacier.
E: How does a permanent space or an interior home differ from another installation or a conceptual endeavor, like the Bode fashion shows?
A: Most of the time people are like, “Okay, let’s use these chairs.” They’re produced in Vietnam. They’re super affordable and very durable, and if we had to replace them, we could just order more. But the proper thing to do is to put care and attention into them, which always ends up being way more work, money and time. So, the same thing happens with your runway show. The easy thing to do would be to find all the props and build everything in France. Well, in France, they don’t have American houses, so you have to modify them.
E: Are your individual responsibilities the same from project to project? Or has that changed over the last few years?
A: It’s like a yin-yang. Ben is the writer for furniture and I edit, but in regards to interiors at Green River, I write and Ben edits. Depending on the schedule and what’s happening that week and month, it changes a little bit. But in general, it’s that kind of relationship.
B: For Cool World, a lot of the interior is furniture. So, if Aaron is thinking about a certain interior direction and I’m thinking about a furniture direction, it often becomes a situation where we just line the two up, because we’re coming from the same reference points.
E: How do you guys define your schedule? Originally you were releasing work on a seasonal calendar that was similar to the fashion calendar, more so than the design week circuit. So, where are you now?
A: Now we’re really trying to work on doing less things and spending more time on singular projects in a year.
B: We make a lot less furniture. We spend more time on the collections of furniture and less on the production.
I’ve had the learning experience […] of knowing the push and pull, […] the point in which you stop, when you need to keep going or when you need to pivot.
Emily Adams Bode Aujla
E: Are there certain motifs or cultural references that are uniform across your body of work? Where do you guys go for inspiration?
B: A year and a half ago, I bought a sacristy, which is a priest’s preparation cabinetry where they keep their hat and all their papers and sermons and cloaks. I bought this one from Germany that was from 1820-ish […] It’s really big and gothic, and it looks like a church. But, as time has gone by, I’m looking at it all the time in my house, and we’re thinking about it and talking about it, and it just kind of creeps in. And now, we’re literally carving a sculpture of Jesus. Not from a religious standpoint, more that it’s an interesting kind of texture and content; all that kind of religious architecture and religious objects. It just sort of grows these seeds, and the same happens in reverse. Aaron will sort of plant a seed that, over the course of years, starts to gain momentum and then for a while, that’ll be at the front of our whole practice, and then we’ll work through it and it’ll roll to the side, and then something else will come. I feel like six months ago, that sacristy represented that for me, it started to materialize into real ideas and we started talking about it.
A: It’s a collective process of the whole thing, like a collage installation. And then, when you’re at it for a little bit, it’s really interesting to then be focused and meditate on an idea about religion and spirituality, and wood carving in relation to spirituality. So now we have a new thesis that we’re working on, and we have a place where we’re going to do a show in the fall, and it feels really exciting to spend time making so few but really incredible pieces.
B: The first three years, it felt like we were going a hundred miles an hour on a windy road, and ideas would come up and then we’d execute them. Some of those early collections, we would talk about and execute and photograph within a three-week period, and the building section of it would be eight days, back-to-back, until 3 in the morning.
E: Which is so similar to the fashion calendar.
B: Yeah, we would set these almost arbitrary deadlines just to get it done. I remember one year we made three collections pretty much back-to-back, and we didn’t release them back-to-back, but you just get into a rhythm of it and you go really fast, and then life goes on.
But now, as your personal life changes, you sort of recalibrate, and then you find the value in doing things slower and taking time, or say, “Hey, let’s just take three months to not produce anything and see where we land in three months.” Your priorities change, and then a new system comes out of that and you adapt to it. Green River is very tailored to our lives, in that way.
E: I think Bode is as well, and I definitely think that us working together has shed light on the kinds of companies and communities that we want to create and champion. I just wonder what makes an end project successful? Because obviously, you’ve worked in various ways, you’ve done the all-nighters and made things in three weeks, and you’ve also had the slow burn of really homing in on a theme or an idea, and working on that. So, are both equally successful, or what makes the end product successful to you both?
A: Why don’t you answer that question for us, Emily?
E: I feel like I could just keep making things forever. I could pull an all-nighter, but I’ve had the learning experience over the last seven years of Bode and working with Green River of knowing the push and pull of when something is successful, the point in which you stop, when you need to keep going or when you need to pivot and edit it. I think a lot of that has come through my collaborations with you guys.
A: Well, I’ve always said that you and Ben are so similar. If Ben’s only job was to design a whole collection and not have to email anyone or take any phone calls, he would be in heaven. For you, Emily, literally you can just go anywhere in the world and start buying old things. You’d be very excited to do that. So, it’s really cool to be the person in both of your creative lives to then say, “Hey, cool it. Stop buying. You have enough of these white shirts. Maybe we should just reign it in.” Or Ben, it’s like, “Yeah, you have a concise collection of furniture right here, but I think it needs eight months of carving, and let’s figure out a way to carve this stuff and now’s the moment.” For me, that’s the most rewarding thing, to work with both of you like that, and the most exciting thing is to wake up and meet your guys’ energy.
B: One of my weaknesses is that I don’t know when to stop. Not only do I not know when to stop, I don’t really want to stop because stopping and saying it’s done is to commit to it and be like, this is the best it can be. I think that one of the things that Aaron does is, he sets a [stop] moment. Sometimes it comes when you don’t expect it, and he’s like, “I’m going to set a photo shoot for this for Wednesday.” And then, there’s a kind of panic. But, I think that success comes from having someone who’s not necessarily in that same mode of thinking. Because if I did it my way, our website would have nothing on it. I’d just be hemming and hawing, but having someone say, you’re done, or you’re going to have to be done in a week—you have to gas it. Some of what I think are our most successful pieces are stuff that we didn’t even know we were going to make, and that we sort of winged [at the] last minute.
E: For me as well.
A: I’m so much more the other type of brain, where it needs to be calculated. But, that’s why it’s fun to work together, because it’s a real trusting process. There’s an ebb and flow to it.
B: That Paris show was in discussion for a really long time, but no matter what, even if you have a year, there’s still a moment. You do 80% of it over the course of that six or eight months, but that last 20% is done in the 11th hour—really fast, really urgently, usually at night, under a huge amount of pressure, and it feels really intense, and you don’t know what is happening in the moment, but that last 20% becomes so pivotal.
E: Because that’s working from your true self, your gut instinct.
B: It’s also just fun. It keeps it fun, which is more engaging.
A: The other thing is, how does someone come to find a sweatshirt like that and decide to wear it?
B: My mom got this sweatshirt at an airport in Bozeman, Montana, actually, because she lost her bag. Yeah, I don’t know why there was a New York sweatshirt in there, but she wore it for years, and I took it from her house because she had broken it in just the right way. I’m taking it over the finish line for her. But I just saw her this morning and she was like, “Oh, there’s my New York sweatshirt.”
E: I’m surprised your mom broke it in for you versus you breaking it, because my favorite thing is to give you clothes to break in and make them perfect before Aaron and I inherit them. I love how hard you guys wear your clothes.
B: I’ll walk into the studio wearing something and Aaron will be like, “Oh, I’m going to need that. I’m going to need that today. It’s ready.”
E: Yeah, because Aaron wears your pants. Also, the way you mend your clothes. We did a whole collection on you.
B: Look, I put a snap on this sweatshirt so I could close the pockets and my phone wouldn’t fall out.
E: See, that’s incredibly inspiring.
B: There you go. I was wearing a laser at the studio last week, and there was a saw hanging off of the table and I caught it on the blade and shredded the whole side of the sweatshirt.
E: We can fix that, but I guess you shouldn’t wear it while sawing.
B: I’ve been instructed by Aaron to do exactly the opposite.
E: So that he can have it after it’s destroyed?
You find the value in doing things slower and taking time, or say, ‘Hey, let’s just take three months to not produce anything and see where we land in three months.’
E: Alright. [Laughs]
A: It’s nice to take a break in the middle of the day and realize how many things the three of us have actually worked on together. It’s pretty crazy. Ben, at some point you were potentially not going to come to Paris. It would have been really hard to do that show without you in Paris. It’s kind of impossible.
E: I couldn’t imagine doing that runway without Ben. That would be crazy.
B: I didn’t really do a whole lot.