Growing up in Tijuana, Mexico, Tanya Aguiñiga learned early about the extraordinary possibilities of ordinary objects. Entire neighborhoods in her hometown were cobbled together from excess building materials, some sneaked across the U.S. border; this architectural hodgepodge, and the traditional crafts of her Mexican culture, greatly influenced the budding furniture designer. “I take inspiration from textures and randomness, and a lot of it has to do with growing up on the border,” Aguiñiga says. “You use everything around you, and anything can become functional.”
Now based in Los Angeles, Aguiñiga focuses on rehabilitating common objects through the clever, unexpected application of crafting techniques. For an event at Design Miami last year, the 29-year-old hand-felted metal folding chairs in front of an audience, transforming the ubiquitous utility seat into a surprisingly lush design object; the chairs looked like they had been overgrown with a layer of neon moss. Aguiñiga’s Forest Roll is even more cartoonish: a nine-foot-long log made of fiberglass and industrial wool, it unfurls like a yoga mat to provide a place for the user to nap.
Aguiñiga’s craft-centric approach seems to be paying off. In 2006 she was one of the inaugural recipients of the prestigious United States Artists Fellowship, which carries a $50,000 award. (She used the funds to travel to Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico, and Fairbanks, Alaska, to study weaving and Native American art production.) And last month Aguiñiga put the finishing touches on her most extensive project yet. For a permanent exhibition at the Children’s Museum of San Diego, she created a “Toddler Texture Forest” composed of ten-foot-tall upholstered trees, felt boulders and birds, and more than 6,000 leaves hand-cut and -sewn out of sailcloth. This pseudonature scene is meant to instill children with the desire to explore the outdoors—something Aguiñiga herself didn’t do until later in life. “Discovering real nature had a profound impact on my work,” she says. “In Tijuana I was never surrounded by things that weren’t planted by man. I thought trees naturally grew ten feet apart.”