Elizabeth Beer (MFA 2005 Fine Arts) and her husband, Brian Janusiak, have always shared many interests, so it’s fitting that when they decided to start a company dedicated to multidisciplinary creative collaborations they named it something all-encompassing: Various Projects, Inc.
Thirteen years later, the couple has embarked on so many projects together and in collaboration with other artists that they have stopped keeping count (they think they’re at 531); a partial list includes hand-knit alpaca dolls of state and regional birds, deceptively cuddly-looking angora-covered rocks and leather goods. Maybe their most visible endeavor to date has been their Project No. 8 retail stores in New York City, which have provided Beer and Janusiak an outlet to sell their “digressions,” as Beer and Janusiak call them, as well as the work of underrepresented artists and designers. Two of the stores, both in Chinatown, have since closed, but the location at the Ace Hotel on Broadway and 29th Street remains, selling stationery, magazines, candy, toiletries, souvenirs and clothing, all curated “through a very personal filter,” Beer says.
Another notable endeavor is Various Keytags, the couple’s series of small, colorful plastic fobs bearing short, often jokey words or phrases (“Amazeballs,” “Because I said so,” “I can’t quit you”). First created to sell at Project No. 8, the project has grown into a business of its own, with a dedicated e-commerce site boasting hundreds of options, including custom tags and a new cast sterling silver version.
Recently, Various Projects released a formal clothing collection through Print All Over Me, as well as a sock collection with N/A, and they continue to make products for their store and to sell wholesale to hundreds of stores around the world. What started as Beer and Janusiak’s “digression” has blossomed into a rewarding—and ever varied—full-time career.
In the Q&A below, Beer and Janusiak go more in-depth about their various projects.
How did you come up with Various Projects?
Various Projects actually came out of a conversation we were having about making our varied practices. We wanted a name that would allow us to continue to follow all of our different activities and disparate interests. Various Projects, Inc., literally described what we were doing: curating, making clothing, books, accessories, conceptual souvenirs, objects, furniture and eventually spaces. We had both recently finished graduate school (Brian got his MFA in Design from Yale) so we felt like we had the rare opportunity to really think about a direction to go in as an extension of what we had already been investigating.
Now that we have been doing it for more than 10 years the name has grown with us to describe our overall philosophy. We remain interested in a flexible and democratic approach with no project ranked above any other; small and large have equal interest and value. Project No. 1 and 2 are actually our children which also emphasized the necessity of creating a balance, and theoretically, seamless connection between home and work life. We are not always successful at creating this balance, but we continue to try.
What made Project No. 8 come about?
In 2004 we were talking a lot about how things make their way into and through the world. We were also very conscious of the means of distribution for art and design online, which was then a fairly new outlet for objects. But instead of creating a website first, we decided to create a physical conversation between objects and projects in a small space on an obscure block in Chinatown. This first store, which was an obsessively detailed space on Division Street, was actually just the eighth thing we had done together, and it was a retail project.
What sort of products do you aim to sell at Project No. 8, and how do you get them in your store?
The products selection has evolved. In our original space, we were much more focused on digressions, meaning things people pursued as passion projects on the side of their main occupation. The Ace Hotel store was our third space and it always had a different and tighter mission as a hotel and travel shop. In that location, we just wanted to create the best hotel travel store we could imagine. We sell anything you might need from stationery supplies, body products, carefully curated souvenirs, toys, clothing, umbrellas, books, magazines, candy but all through a very personal filter.
Do you work with other artists? Do you make the products yourself?
We have always included a lot of friends′ products and have used the space to collaborate with artists and designers we have long admired. Many of these people are artists and/or designers but it has never been a requirement. In the end, we feel that everything must be able to speak for itself in the space. Having the stores has allowed us to test ideas with relatively low impact and within a quick feedback loop. We can see what and how people are responding to our things and get a reaction quickly. It is a luxury that cannot be underestimated.
Is Project No. 8 your only project that involves selling merchandise and products? If not, what are the others?
Over the last 11 years we have had three permanent spaces in New York as well as pop-ups in New York, Paris, Tokyo, Portland and East Hampton. We also wholesale products we make to hundreds of stores around the world. Beyond this, we also currently sell both our Various Projects, Inc. and Various Keytags wholesale collections to approximately 400+ stores internationally.
A version of this article appears in the spring 2018 issue of the Visual Arts Journal.