Just one in a long series of interdisciplinary art and design projects from husband-and-wife studio Various Projects, Various Keytags is a humorous collection of prefabricated and made-to-order tags to add to your keyring. Founded in 2005 by Elizabeth Beer and Brian Janusiak, the multidisciplinary studio maintains a central focus on collaboration. From Angora fur chairs with Frederick McSwain to leather covered rocks with Carl Auböck, Various Projects have developed a wide body of work that blurs the boundaries between one medium and the next. We recently teamed up with the studio to produce a limited collection of t-shirts based on original Keytag designs. We stopped by their studio in Noho and talked to Brian about the evolution of Various Keytags, the bits of language that inspired the first designs, and how collaboration keeps their projects moving forward.
Photos by Frankie Marin
The key tags started as collection that you and your wife had been gathering over the years. What was on written the key tags that you collected?
Typically nothing. For whatever reason, I liked the incredibly neutral quality, the sort of vernacular design that went into doing these key tags we were finding. They weren't even as glorious as a keychain. They were supposed to be utilitarian, and we would collect them everywhere we went and just sort of amassed this big collection.
Years ago, we made a whole series of key tags in Sterling silver, which were just full-on replications of the most utilitarian ones in an effort to find the most simple, cool key tag. Everything else seemed overblown and I wouldn’t carry it around. Then we came upon the size and proportion that we use now, which is the standard French proportion.
How do you actually come up with the phrases on the key tags? Is it a team effort?
Yeah, I think general banter is a lot of it. To start them off, it was little bits and phrases stuck in my head, just whatever. I would respond to something and think, “Oh wait, that’s funny the way I just thought of that, let me write it down.” Once you start having an outlet like the key tags, you start to just listen to everything. It’s kind of amazing. You’ll hear things incorrectly and sometimes that will sound better. It’s an ongoing, steady stream of bits of language.
Do you think the popularity of the Various Keytags is an extension of people’s need to publicly broadcast their feelings, like Twitter, but in a concrete medium?
I think I see that more in the custom key tags that we do. People are really writing their 1 to 3 lines and that’s their "quick strong statement". I think it’s very much broadcasting some sentiment. Generally, it ends up being very direct, personal, and plain-speaking, which I think strikes a chord and is already more or less where we locate ourselves.
So there aren’t a lot of people requesting abstract, poetic sayings on their key tags?
Oh no, we get that too. We get things that will totally stump us, but clearly it means something to them. Even if you Google it to try to find out if we are missing something in the world and it yields nothing. You think, “well, that’s kind of awesome.”
This UO collaboration isn’t your first foray into clothing, can you tell us a bit about Project No. 8?
Project No. 8 was really just the 8th project from the studio. The studio is called Various Projects, which is a purely flat, descriptive title. At a certain point we thought it would be really great to just have a place to locate a lot of projects that we were doing and that we saw other people doing that weren’t really getting a lot of visibility. We found a little space in Chinatown and the Lower East Side. It seemed to us, if we opened a physical space, we could make the space itself the project. Based on that, what would go in it would sort of be a curation of different design-focused projects that would respond to the space. And basically all of it would enter into a conversation together. We wanted it to be really straight forward.
Pretty quickly, we started curating different designers who were creating clothing. My Wife Elizabeth has a background in clothing design-- designing children’s clothing, women’s accessories. She had more of a familiarity and I had an interest, so we started bringing in brands. Between all of that, if we felt like something was missing from the mix, we would also make clothes. We always had the Various Projects lines of clothing. It was by no means the focus, but it was part of our voice and part of what we wanted in the conversation.
Your wife has a background in sculpture and clothing design and you have a background in graphic design. In any given project, do you and your wife tend to fall into any specific roles?
I think we do, but its sort of natural. Its not clearly defined ever. We pass the baton back and forth. Whoever can take the next hundred yards does it and then vice versa. When that person hits a wall or gets worn down by something pass the baton back. It’s super super useful and lucky. It couldn’t always work that way, but it seems to. We’re each others best editors, which is also great. If one of us has an idea, we pass it by the other one and if we’re both on board then we move ahead. If one of us feels really strongly than we sort of have to convince the other. It’s a really good filtering and proofing ground even before we get too deeply into a project. It’s a constant dialogue.