Sofia Elias is a multidisciplinary artist and creative living in Mexico City, where she founded Blobb — her burgeoning brand that produces “sculptures for the body.” She’s also a longtime friend of mine. Back in our high school days, we’d drive up to Los Angeles to find vintage t-shirts at Melrose Trading Post, reaping the freedom of my fresh new driver’s license. Today, she’s creating quite a buzz around her sculptures — hand-crafted ornaments that are mostly fabricated from recycled, molten plastic.
As the daughter of an architect, Sofia has always been fascinated by the way physical structures are capable of inciting fervor and feeling. Though she prefers the freeing palpability of sculpture to the tenets of infrastructure, her initial background in architecture fostered a spatial proclivity that now guides her practice as an artist.
Over an afternoon Zoom call, Sofia showed me around her studio and shared the bounty of her inimitable creative psyche. We prattled on about playgrounds, cereal, youth, sculpture, the boundaries of architecture, and following your instincts.
Alana Pockros: Did you know you wanted to make rings when you first started sculpting the material? Or were you just playing with it and then one day discovered that it could fit on your finger?
Sofia Elias: It was more like the latter. The rings were squishy and falling apart, but I kind of liked them and I started taking pictures with them, just for me. Around the same time, Opening Ceremony had their “Year of Mexico” campaign. The company discovered my rings, but my project was so new at the time. It was so experimental and they weren’t really perfected yet. I think that was one of my mistakes at the beginning: I just sent them to the world.
Now, they're much more resistant than they were early on because I spend more time workshopping them and finding the ideal recipe. I guess flaws make you experiment more and improve.
The rings come with tags that say you're not supposed to get them wet, in this little candy container capsule. But when the pandemic hit, everyone started washing their hands twenty times more than we used to. People don't realize that the rings are just as soluble in hand sanitizer as they are in water. Whenever I go into a restaurant and someone puts hand sanitizer on my hands, and I’m wearing my rings, I try really hard to avoid my fingers.
The quality is a lot better now, though. I hired two girls to start helping me produce the rings this month so I’ll be able to start new projects soon.
What about your bracelets, the Twizzlers? You started making those during the pandemic?
Yeah. These are made out of recycled plastic. I've been melting plastic for months now.
You got an extruder for this purpose, right?
Yeah, I think resin is really bad for the world. There are better resins, of course, but I wanted to move into recycled plastic because plastic still has this shiny, sticky-looking appearance, but does less environmental damage if you reuse it. So I sent out to get [an extruder] made. It's really big and turns red, like heated metal, when it heats up. The recycled plastic comes in shredded pieces, and it’s naturally white so I’ve been pigmenting myself.
When I first got the machine, I was so excited! I just started pumping things out of it, and some pieces came out terribly. It was so hot and I didn’t even have gloves. The plastic hardens really quickly, so you only have a few minutes to manipulate it. I didn’t get this machine to make rings, but at the beginning I just started making those because they’re the thing that I knew how to do.
How many years has it been since you started selling these rings as Blobb?
Last October was year two. That was when Opening Ceremony launched the “Year of Mexico” campaign. But of course, I was working full-time and in school in that era, so I would get home and work on Blobb from 11:00 pm to 2:00 am.
And now this is your main focus?
All day, every day.
Sometimes I don't even believe it; I wonder how I’m paying rent. It’s crazy. I don't want to just do jewelry forever, but it's nice that people understand my pieces are miniature sculptures. The other day, my grandfather was like: “Don't throw away your career, you studied architecture for five years!” and I responded, “No, but you don’t understand!”
I love architecture. I didn’t go to architecture school, of course, but I love learning about it. On the outside, you see a beautiful building, but you don’t often think about how many formulas go into the construction.
Whenever I would hand in projects in school, and professors would tell me I couldn’t build something, because it was too crazy, or too expensive, I always believed there was some engineer who could figure it out. It’s always about the law and the limit. I love architecture, the theory of it. It's a beautiful career. It’s enthralling when architects can produce something that makes you feel a gut feeling when you enter a space, you know? Besides the math and the structure, there is emotion involved.
And imagine growing up around different curves, perspective, shapes, colors, and textures.
That’s related to your theory about playgrounds, right? What you experience physically when you're a child impacts how you develop?
Yeah, and I wanted to make the playground for all ages and uses. I made monkey bars for a range of sizes. The ground below the bars is sloped, so you can stand in different places depending on how tall you are. And the swings I designed are bumper car swings, so maybe there’s an adrenaline rush involved. Even if I’m an adult, I might want to go on those swings.
When I visited Mexico in 2019 you were working for Pedro [Reyes]. Did he inspire what you're doing now with Blobb, since you consider your rings to be “little sculptures”?
Yeah, Pedro Reyes is a really famous sculptor here in Mexico. He sells most of his work at Lisson Gallery in the UK and New York. And I don't know if style-wise, he has influenced me at all, but he was a mentor for sure.
I learned so much from him, just being there. His mind would never stop. He never stops! He has projects nearly every day. One of the most famous pictures of his house is this image of his library. Whenever we were working on a project together, he would bring a bunch of books with him, even though he knows them all by heart. It was really nice to start working with references and to see that Pedro actually uses these things and they’re not there to show off.
He also became a friend in a way; I was there for a little over three years. I started working for him while I was still in school, and I was working on my thesis, which was a blueprint and model of a playground.
I remember when you were trying to get your thesis done, and then you sent me this piece you wrote, the "column about columns.” It was about the playground and the spirit of childhood ideas. How did that lead to Blobb?
I think it took me a really long time to understand that the Blobb project actually started when I was doing my thesis; I realized it when I was writing that “column about columns.” I think I was just so desperate after five years in architecture, which is so technical here. I hated my school, and AutoCAD, and renderings. I'm so far off from that now.
When I had freedom to choose my thesis topic, I decided to do a playground because it allowed me to do what I wanted. My professor was really happy with it, but the school itself didn’t always see what I was doing as architecture. I would be like, “But Isamu Noguchi, Aldo Van Eyck!" All of these famous architects throughout history have built playgrounds, so I'm like, "Yeah, it is architecture!”
I ended up adding a theater, and bathrooms, and a little store so that it more closely resembled what is considered architecture traditionally.
I love that. That makes sense.
Throughout that time I was reading a lot about children, and their minds, and how playgrounds affect kids’ imaginations and how they understand abstraction. If you go to a prefabricated playground, for example, they’ll give you an object that has one use. If it's a giraffe, it's going to be a giraffe, and you're going to ride it. But if you want to imagine that it's a spaceship, you can't because it already has ears, and it's orange, and it's yellow.
Through reading Karyn Olivier, John Hejduk, and others, I learned about how kids interact and build relationships with other children on playgrounds, like on a seesaw, for example, where you have to have someone else to use it. These things all foster foundational skills. Maybe it's because I have so many nephews right now that I'm constantly thinking about kids. When we're young, we're the purest version of ourselves because we're not yet intoxicated by what's wrong, and what's right, what to ask, and what not to ask.
Yeah, there’s an innocence...
Yeah, so then because I was doing all of my models by hand, I started playing with different materials like resin, and I started making these hair clips. I have this story that I love: I was with my thesis professor looking at my playground model, and I had glitter all over me, and all these hair pins, and a flower in my hair.
Just dressing up like you always do?
Yes! Everyone in the architecture field always looks formal and wears black. So [my professor] is looking at me, and my models are full of glitter, and the playground is constructed with gum that’s rolled up, and he’s looking at my things, and looking at me, and he's like, “This is so funny, your project is you.” And I think, wow that’s so nice. I really appreciated that he made that connection.
It was very you!
Right… People always ask what inspires me, what kind of person these rings are designed for, but I'm just doing me.
At the end of the day, this is something that I started for myself and people are liking it right now, which is really nice. But I'm never thinking, “Oh, the trend for the Spring/Summer collection is purple.” I don't know anything about jewelry, either. I'm learning right now. The pieces are still fragile. I'm trying to use unconventional materials, and get into bigger scale sculpture, but since I started making them at home, they’re miniature.
I remember seeing a photo shoot you did that I loved. You put the rings in a bowl, and staged them to look like cereal. It seems like the childhood theme emanates throughout everything you do. Where do these ideas come from?
Yeah, they’re ideas I come up with really organically. I was preparing rings to send out to Cafe Forgot or some stockist, and I laid them out on the floor to see how many rings I had, and I took a picture of them, and then I realized that they looked like Fruit Loops. I was like, “Cereal! Cereal boxes used to be so much fun!”
I remember in the morning, when I was a kid, I would play the same game on the cereal box every day. Now cereals suck — they tell you how to take a selfie, or whatever.
Or how to be healthy, like how to add more fiber to your meal.
Exactly. I think the cereal aesthetic is just so fun. I want to make mini cereal boxes to package orders of five rings. But I haven't gotten to that yet.
I did another photo shoot recently. I was going to cover all of the walls of my studio with big sheets of paper, and the model — one of my friends — was going to draw on them. Then I thought something's not right, something feels forced. So I’m like okay, let’s just draw on the walls! Everyone grabbed a crayon, and scribbled from corner to corner.
It’s a lot of fun. I'm really happy to be working alongside my friends in the studio and bounce ideas off of each other. It's nice to have this creative energy around. If I see someone working, I start working right away, you know?
Yeah, you can keep each other accountable. I’m curious, when you’re constructing the rings, how much are you thinking about them as isolated objects versus, say, feeling concerned about how they will look or fit on a person?
I don’t think much about the person, but I think it all depends on what mood I’m in that day. What colors I choose, and the gems I select are all at the mercy of my emotional state. Right now I have a few styles that are defined, like “the OG.”
When people order the rings, is what they receive a surprise? Or does the buyer get to pick their style?
Cafe Forgot does a really good job photographing and measuring the size of each ring. I'm so happy to be working with them, they have a lot of patience with me. Tyler McGillivary also does an excellent job. Your order from them used to be a surprise. Now, you can select the color, but you don't know what style you’ll get.
What are the jewels in the rings made out of?
I'm using crystals right now. I didn't want to work with bigger gems until the recipe was stronger. All the rings have peculiar names, too. There’s one called “Pepperoni.” Most of the things I end up doing are an inside joke with myself. I laugh, but I don't know if other people do.
Hah, I’m laughing, don’t worry.
What else is on the horizon? Any new projects that you want to work on?
I was going to do the February window display for this store here in Mexico called Hi-Bye, which was going to feature these oversized rings. It didn’t work out, but it led me to this new project. I posted pictures of them on Instagram, and now people are asking me if they’re for sale. I like that they’re playing with scale. If you see them in a picture, you don't know what size they are.
Later on today, I'm working on a collaboration with Mowalola, an upcoming designer from Nigeria who lives in the UK.
Can you tell me about the columns? Because I know that you draw those a lot. How did you get interested in them? Does that interest have anything to do with architecture school?
Columns were the reason that I started studying architecture. My dad would point out, when I was younger, what was corinthian and what was doric. Since then, I've thought columns were so beautiful — Greek, Roman, and Egyptian variations. Columns aren't just functional: you can have a beam supporting a roof, but then there’s the artful design, too. You know the golden ratio? It’s the ideal proportion. For me, columns are the golden ratio. I'm drawing columns all over my studio; even the light switch is a column.
Have you ever thought about making one out of melted plastic, with your extruder?
Yes, definitely. I want to think about what scale I might construct them in, because maybe they could function as lamps.
In my last year of school, I started drawing these melted columns. I think I was in therapy once, and I realized that architecture was literally melting away from me, and then the columns were not so perfect anymore; architecture was no longer holding me up. I wanted to go back to something really tangible, and not so functional. It happened naturally: I started melting these columns at the bottom because I didn't want to draw a base. When reflecting on these things, it’s nice to realize that this all happened simultaneously.
I love that. The illustrations are so beautiful.
Thank you. I think it's just this obsession I have. People send me pictures of columns all the time now.