In today's overflowing world of design, with so many individuals clamoring to be discovered, the most successful method for emerging artists and craftspeople may be to join forces with similarly minded partners. Independent yet connected. Working alone but showing in groups, utilizing the age-old strategy of strength in numbers.
During my first day exploring Dutch Design Week 2013, I chose to focus on small collectives, groups of designers and collaborators who share specific attributes. Firstly, they have all graduated within five years, are currently working in the Netherlands, and they are doing well, so to speak, choosing to remain independent instead of working for large companies or more corporate-minded design studios. The majority of their work is self-funded, self-produced and self-promoted. They're not opposed to working with companies (many of them already are in various capacities—but perhaps they remain independent because they are driven by a desire for freedom of expression, or doing things one's own way.
Here are highlights frome three excellent exhibits from international collectives based in the Netherlands. Workmates, 010-020 and Objects to Play are all on view at this year's Dutch Design Week, Eindhoven, October 19-27.
Comprised of Atelier Rick Tegelaar, Studio Casper Tolhuisen and Joris de Groot, Workmates featured recent works developed with self-made machines and distinctive processes. The three designers met during their overlapping studies at the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem and formed an open collective based on their shared interest in a hands-on approach to materials and production.
Rick Tagelaar showed a series of new lights expanding on his experiments with molded wire mesh, as well as a table and bench composed of laminated blocks of waste plywood. Rick collaborated with a woodworking factory, and developed a custom clamping table for laminating herringbone-like sheets en-masse.
Casper Tolhuisen showed his alternative cooking tools, including a distillery, smoking and barbecue pots, made in ceramic, stainless steel and glass. Due to the prohibition of selling tools for self-producing liquor, the lid cleverly clamps to a standard cooking pot which the user must supply themselves.
Joris de Groot displayed an expanded family of folded and seamed bags constructed from welded PVC, synthetic netting and leather details, produced in collaboration with a company that specializes in rainwear and waterbeds. Next to the bags was one of the aluminum forming molds, clearly linking the process to the end product.
In the same hall, another like-minded collective of product designers—David Derkson, Earnest Studio, Jeroen of Color, Lex Pott, Mae Angel Geer, Phil Procter and Studio WM—exhibited recent prototypes and finished objects. Titled 010-020, referencing the area codes of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, this is the group's second exhibition, following their debut in Milan earlier this year. Instead of processes and homemade machines, the group's connection is primarily related to location and attitude, as many in the group share studio spaces and resources.
Although not necessarily connected in approach or material, the group's work does contain aesthetic sensibilities, often combining basic shapes and honest materials with skillfully hidden technologies. Dana Cannam and Earnest Studio's 'All of a Piece' table system (above), for example, combines modular half-circles, squares and rectangles of stone and wood with hidden leds and magnets. The work comes off as overly simplistic at first glance, but after watching Cannam demonstrate possible combinations, the project starts to shine, especially when considering future developments for office spaces or restaurants.
Phil Procter's 'Cala Lamp' (not pictured) may not contain ground-breaking technologies or new production techniques, but its simplicity and candid use of painted steel is refreshing, especially considering all the overly complex gadgets we surround ourselves with. Also dealing with subtle shapes and textures is the 'Gradient Table Lamp' by Studio WM (below left), combining glass and porcelain with tastefully-hidden led components.
Down the road in another sprawling industrial zone, a young group—Aukje Fleur Janssen, Brit van Nerven, Intuition Factory, Emilie Pallard & Niels Heymans, Florian de Visser, Frank Winnubst, Frédérique Hesp & Marcia Nolte, Jonas Lutz & Tim Enthoven, Lex Pott, Lotte Wulfften Palthe, OS Δ OOS, Susanne de Graef—chose to create a more ephemeral, experience-based exhibit, Objects to Play. Hosted in the beautiful studio of painter Christiaan Lieverse, the show is filled with all sorts of curiosities, as airy and mystical as the space that contains them. Christiaan's large portraits darkly peer down from the walls, providing a moody but fitting backdrop. Although most of the work is clearly not serious product design, the show thrives due to its particular atmosphere and ability to instill a sense of wonder. Many of the works are sketches and experiments, each playing with a particular sense or emotion.
'Whirlabout' by De Intuitiefabriek (at right above), is nothing more than a small common plastic bag, rising from air expanded by small candles, held above the table by strings attached to small weights. It is immediate, lovely, quiet yet powerful. Meanwhile, Sabine Marcelis and Brit van Nerven's mirrors (below) curiously play with light in differing ways, either by darkening the image with special treatments and gradients, varying the thickness of the glass, or applying the mirror in stripes.
Surely at some point in the not-so-distant future, many of these young collaboratives and designers will grow, eventually able to show on their own. But until they eschew the need to group together for financial and practical reasons, I will continue to enjoy their group endeavors.