Dutch Design Week 27.10.15

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phenomeneon 2015 Pieke Bergmans photo credits Mirjam Bleeker 3

This month's Dutch Design Week – playfully titled “What If?” – nevertheless managed to raise, and possibly answer some serious questions about the future of the discipline.

Launched back in 1998, Dutch Design Week is now firmly established as one of the most important events on the international design calendar, exhibiting a particularly Dutch emphasis on the relationship between design, society and communities. This year, billboards around the city announced, “What if earth was just a prototype?” and the assembled designers responded in kind.

At Design Academy Eindhoven – recently named by the New York Times as one of the “most influential design schools in the world” – the new crop of graduates boasted real authority in a self-defined quest to reposition design and its connection to industry, people and culture. Many of projects explored how the discipline can play a more fundamental role in creating a fairer world, coming up with bold alternatives to current protocol in areas such as healthcare, media and politics. Particularly impressive was In Limbo Embassy, in which Manon van Hoeckel explored the perceptions surrounding asylum seekers, working with groups of people whose applications for asylum have been rejected and delving into what their illegal status means on a social level.

Others pursued more traditional but rigorous explorations of form, colour and function with a particular focus on how to design in a dematerialized environment, for a population that naturally craves tactility and a more human connection with technology. Vera de Pont experimented with a five-piece fashion collection that entirely eliminated the sewing process, with the use of melted yarn to prevent the fabric from fraying.

Over at the Van Abbemuseum, Thing Nothing, co-curated by Design Academy Eindhoven creative director Thomas Widdershoven, looked into the meaning, value and future of objects, focusing on a variety of relational themes such as form and counter-form, the real and the virtual, and technological possibilities and moral issues. Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn of Studio Drift worked with a chemist working to reduce toxicity in chemical waste to create The Obsidian Project –mirrors of synthetic obsidian made from ash left over from the treatment process. “These are not production objects, but conversation pieces,” says Nauta. “The mirrors relate to a political story and connect people to what this material and its production process means for society. A mirror reflects what it sees – the truth of a society.”

Bildschirmfoto 2015 09 23 um 13.53.15

At the ambitious Open Ended group show at Kazerne – a recently refurbished police barracks near the city centre – Pieke Bergmans exhibited Phenomeneon, a series of blue neon lights in varying widths and unexpected shapes that posed the question, “Why do neon lights always come in a regular tube shape?”

“Initially I thought changing the widths of the tubes might not be possible,” she says, “but then I discovered that neon light fades when the diameter of the tube becomes wider.” The result is a series of fantastic, irregular shapes that shine brighter or dimmer depending on the widths of the hand-blown glass pipes. “I think these objects intrigue people because the light and shapes are so soft and a bit mystic,” says Bergmans. “Nowadays not many people simply stare at anything for very long, especially in Eindhoven where there are many technical people. I loved that people stopped and wondered about how it works.”

Dutch Design Week is less commercial than its counterparts, focusing instead on the latest thinking and debates surrounding the discipline. The willingness of this this year’s new graduates to ask the right questions and play a central role in cross-disciplinary approaches is an optimistic sign for the future.



Gabrielle Kennedy



Mirjam Bleeker, Studio Drift


quotes story

The willingness of this this year’s new graduates to ask the right questions and play a central role in cross-disciplinary approaches is an optimistic sign for the future

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