Kiki van Eijk, The Joy of a Playing Child

Interview with Kiki van Eijk

Eindhoven, 19.09.2016

Kiki van Eijk is an artist, craftsman and designer who does not follow any trends. She is incredibly versatile, working with fabric, ceramics, glass, metal, wood and other diverse materials with ease and control. In her design she fuses art and craft, knowing she can turn a loose drawing into an object that cannot only be functional but also artistically appealing. When I think about her design it is immediately clear that she is a creator who intuitively knows what is wrong and what is right for each piece.

A graduate of Design Academy Eindhoven, Kiki concentrates primarily on her own collections, but also has worked on projects for, among others, Design Academy Eindhoven, MOOOI, Häagen-Dazs, Bernhardt Design, Forbo Flooring, Venice Projects, Hermès, Nodus, Rijksmuseum and a number of private collectors.

KK: How do you define design?

KvE: First of all, I think design has only existed since the Industrial Revolution, because before that it was artists who would make everything. They would make paintings but they would also do special commissions like a lamp or a chandelier for a church. So for me, in the past artists were also designers. Design is about creating things; it always starts from a concept and some sort of research, and the end result should be something that communicates without having to tell the whole story.

KK: Are you a designer or an artist?

KvE: I always find that a bit of a difficult question because I don’t care what label people use. I just create things. I happened to graduate from the Design Academy but I could just as well have gone to art school. I found the Design Academy more suitable. It’s not that different from an art school, though—only a bit better organized. But before I went to the Design Academy I used to have an atelier where I would paint on canvas and sculpt things.

KK: What is it like to design in Holland? Why is Dutch design so good?

KvE: The most important thing is the mentality. Regardless of what the objects look like, there is a kind of free mentality here. If you look at our history and what the landscape looks like, we always have had this problem with water. We’re below sea level and the land is very flat so we have had to think of inventive ways to cope with and live with this. We never have had natural resources; we had tulips and potatoes but nothing else we could actually export. So we have had to cooperate with others. This is where the polder model comes from. The Dutch always try to find ways to make everybody happy. As for design, in Eindhoven, for example, we had a lot of production companies and they all needed designers. That is why the Design Academy was built, to educate people to design for the companies. What’s nice about Eindhoven is that there is also an industrial area where people literally still have space to be creative.

KK: How does Dutch design affected the way you work, the way you think about design?

KvE: The main thing is the big freedom in Dutch design. Even if you look at DROOG design, which is quite minimalistic and quite dry and maybe a bit strict in a way, it still feels quite free.

KK: Do you consider yourself a responsible designer?

KvE: I always find that a difficult question because in a way everything humans make is bad for nature, it’s something extra. But on the other hand everything I make, I make with honest intention. I spend a lot of time making it and I know people won’t throw it away after two years. They only buy it when they fall in love with it, and they keep it. And if for some reason they don’t want it anymore, they give it away to someone. I hate throwing things away. I use natural materials; I’ve never used plastic, for example. I’m not saying I won’t but if I had to, I would use bio plastic. It’s a difficult question because everything can be made better. But, for example, if I were to design for a mass production company, I would want to know where they produced, the working conditions of employees and what materials they would use. In that sense I think I’m responsible. In general, this is something we need to challenge ourselves on; we all need to take responsibility.

KK: So what would you like to achieve with your design?

KvE: My goal is to produce things that people will buy and want to keep for a lifetime. We can never be sure, but we know that a lot of people buy my work for that reason. Also, I don’t think you have to make things that sell and that everybody can afford. For example Civilized Primitives is a very expensive collection to make and sell, but I found it important to make because there’s a message behind the project and when people see it in a museum or gallery or a fair they can understand it without having to own the pieces.

KK: Your design is quite exclusive and perhaps beyond the reach for most of us. You are a designer but your work is artistic and quite conceptual. Do you think it has the power to change the way people think?

KvE: In general I think nobody can change the way people think. You can inspire people. It is not my intention to teach, although there’s always a hidden message behind my work. It’s more about inspiring people.

KK: Conversation Piece is one of the projects with a strong message.

KvE: It’s a protest against very cheaply and badly made industrial products, but it’s also against very exclusive gallery pieces. It’s about the clash between the two, which are also the two worlds I’m in- between as a designer. You always have to question yourself. No matter if you’re asked to design for industry or a gallery, you have to ask yourself what is the intention behind the work. And this is what I tried to communicate in Conversation Piece.

KK: When you design, what are the key elements you take into account? What is important?

KvE: Intuition, I follow my intuition. Behind it now is a lot of knowledge, and I use that subconsciously. When I use color or different materials, I do so by gut feeling. That is what’s guiding me. And also my experience; I have a lot of experience with different materials, different techniques.

KK: Let’s talk about the transitions you make between different techniques and processes. Tell me about the experimentation and scale models, about making the same objects using different techniques and also about different materials. What are the challenges you face each time you change technique or material?

KvE: Each time you change the technique you have to start from scratch in a way and try things out. When I first did bronze casting, maybe seventeen years ago, I did it myself I learned how to make bronze and aluminum molds myself and how to think in positive and negative shapes. And because I’d had this experience, doing ceramics was much easier. I knew already how to work with positive and negative, and pouring wax into plaster molds is not much different from pouring clay into ceramic molds. And because of that I was not afraid to use materials that I’d never used before.

KK: In your work you draw a lot of inspiration from the past.

KvE: I appreciate the past but at the same time I also appreciate things that are modern. In our house we have weird things we find in antique stores and flee markets, but also very modern pieces. I think in the end it’s all about appreciating the good things in life.

When I was working on Civilized Primitives I was interested in the first products that humankind made, like for example how they started to shape stones to use as knifes; and then they were able to cut the skin of an animal. They were also able to make clothing and fire. And with fire they could cook, so they made a special type of pot that could resist the heat. Similarly, at first they drank from their hands but later they started to use bowls. They had a special type—a special shape—of container to keep water in. That’s how I came to be interested in survival and our basic needs, and how you would construct something if you had no machines, if you were lost in the woods. Now we live in luxury; everything runs automatically. At the same time, if you think about big, natural disasters, about what would happen if we ran out of resources, this makes you aware of our basic needs and what you would need to do if there were no electricity or running water.

KK: You said you collect objects from antique shops and flee markets. What are you looking for in an object?

KvE: I like objects with a human touch, that are handmade.

KK: What value do old techniques and handcrafted objects bring to your work?

KvE: I think they make it more authentic, more genuine. It’s being able to invent things, not only to use the techniques as we know them, but also to experiment with existing techniques and use them in a slightly different way. For example I worked in Murano with master glass blowers. When something is mouth-blown, each piece is authentic and slightly different. In the Floating Frames collection each object in the series is also different; they all become their own characters. And I like that.

KK: How important is it to combine artisan techniques with new technologies? What challenges have you found there?

KvE: It’s not always important to combine them. But it’s interesting and challenging because you can make a bridge between the past and the future, like I did in the project Physical Interactions, the three light sculptures. The sculptures were made by hand in the workshop but there’s high technology inside. When people see those light sculptures they don’t know there’s a lot of technology inside. When they realize they can turn the light on by blowing on a sculpture or can activate the dimmer by covering one part of it with a hand, they start to wonder, to laugh a little, to think about how it was made and how it works technically. This project shows that high-tech, mass-produced products don’t need to look sleek and boring; they really can have an identity of their own.

KK: What are your latest inspirations? What are you working on now?

KvE: I am working for Bisazza, an Italian mosaic company. I am designing flooring and a mosaic wall, and it’s all inspired by nature, by what is growing between the tiles—by weed. I want to show that weed is actually very beautiful if you look closely. Actually, it could be nice for a publication. It’s a big production for a commercial brand but it still has a very genuine feeling. I liked that they were very enthusiastic about the theme, which you could say is not very appealing; but the way we did it, it looks beautiful. It shows the beauty of nature. I’m also working on a new concept for Hermès, a new project in glass, and some new carpet designs. And I’m working for a Dutch brand called Social Label. They’ve invited Dutch designers to design something that can be made in a social workshop that is staffed entirely by disabled people. I’m working on lighting made with leather that is leftover from shoe companies. The people in the workshop will make it all by hand. It’s a lot of work but the nice thing is that there needs to be a lot of work because they need to work on something all the time. Normally if you design something for a brand it should not take too much time because otherwise it will become too expensive to produce; but in this workshop they don’t count the time, they only count the amount of material. They actually want to have something that takes a lot of time and involves many stages in the production process. It’s going to be presented during Dutch Design Week and also next year in Milan. So it’s a very nice project because the people in the workshop, the disabled people, are really proud and they work well together. In addition, I’m also doing a couple of projects for private collectors, so right now I have a good mix of challenges.

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Written by Kinga Kowalczyk for Design Friends catalogue published by Design Friends Luxembourg. DF catalogue was launched during Kik¡’s lecture at Mudam‘s auditorium on November 23.

In conversation with Ruedi Baur, Design Civic et Actes Poétiques dans L’espace Urbain

Dans le cadre de Design City 2016 – LXBG Biennale

In Conversation with Ruedi Baur

Ruedi Baur was born in Paris. He trained as a graphic designer in Zurich and, in the early 80s, returned to France and founded his first studio in Lyon. Initially he designed visual concepts for museums and curated design exhibitions. In the late 80s he moved to Paris and began designing for museums like the Picasso Museum, the Louvre and the Pompidou Center.

Ruedi’s design work focuses on signage systems and the development of identity. In 1989 he founded, along with Pippo Lionni and Philippe Delis, the Intégral Concept Ruedi Baur Paris, and later the Intégral Zurich. In 2007 he and Denis Coueignoux started the IRB Laboratory of Visual Experimentation. And in 2011, together with Vera Baur-Kockot and Imke Plinta, he founded <<Civic City>> in Geneva, which was a follow up to <<Design2context>> at ZhDK in Zurich. Ruedi is also a founder of the Heterotopia Institute in Essen. He has been a member of Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) since 1992 and is the author and coauthor of many titles including Don’t Brand My Public Space, Signs for Peace, An Impossible Visual Encyclopedia, Dis-/Orientation 1 and 2, and Scents of the City, to name a few. As for signage systems, he has designed among others the André Malraux Multimedia Center in Strasbourg (2007-2009), the signage concept for the Metro Cable Caracas (2007-2008), the signage system for the Vienna International Airport and its extension (2005-2012), and the signage system for The New School (Parsons) New York and Paris (2013).

Kinga Kowalczyk: I’ll make a short introduction first. Your design is, for me, humane, authentic and respectful of people, places and environment. You always carefully study the context of each assignment; you approach it with an open mind, imagination and freshness. When I see your designs I immediately think of something open, something that gives a sense of freedom within a functional structure. There is a lot of breathing space in your design, something comforting and reassuring. At the same time I often get the impression that it is surreal, surprising and unexpected. You seem always to reinvent yourself, reinterpret the surroundings. I think you have the ability to listen and look carefully and pick up the details that matter. You wonderfully balance intellect and functionality with poetry.

Ruedi Baur: Perfect.

KK: I have a copy of “Design in Question” with me. It is a compilation of the questions that were gathered during a project you and Design2context did with the Elisava School of Design in Barcelona. First, could you say something about this project?

RB: We were asked to make a mural with questions at the entrance of the Elisava. Sometimes I find myself wondering about the students who are entering the design profession without questioning it. I think the best way to design is to question the profession. Anyway, we just emailed a couple of friends and thousands of questions came back. This mural is sort of a bridge between designers who have already finished their studies and designers who have not yet entered the reality of the design world. It is a very interesting situation.

KK: Would you like to pick one question from the book and answer it?

RB: I like, “Is design toxic?” When is design toxic and when is it not? We have to question the attitude towards design from within the design profession. That’s why I am interested in civic design and I try to keep distance from the toxic part of design.

KK: I wanted to ask you about Fronzoni.

RB: AG Fronzoni was a very radical person; he impressed me a lot when I was coming out of my studies. He fascinated me because of his radical position. He was very critical of technology and superficiality. He had this multidisciplinary approach. He was a graphic designer; he made architecture and furniture.

KK: The idea behind Intégral Concept is a cross-disciplinary approach to design. Intégral’s teams work together because they want to and not because they have to, and there’s very little attention given to hierarchy and bureaucracy. Could you point out what led you to open Intégral and how it has evolved over the years?

RB: So the first idea, when Pippo Leoni was my partner, was that we were not going to be graphic designers in a traditional way. We would be professionals who were not afraid to confront all sorts of design problems. After two years we realized we needed to separate and create some distance, so we opened two studios that were related but independent. This was also the moment when we decided to invite other designers and professionals from different fields to be a part of the network. And then we invited a third partner, Philippe Delis. This network is different from agencies like Pentagram. Each partner is independent economically, so all the partners and collaborators meet on an intellectual level. Intégral is something that exists and doesn’t exist; there are very strong relationships within the network. We’re there for each other to teach, to make a book together, to do a project together or just to share a glass of good wine.

KK: Typography has a very special place in your design.

RB: Typography is part of my visual language, a verbal expression that can be recognized visually. A typeface is something that is not at all silent. One point is to make it strong enough so it is recognizable and a second is how to use it in a public space, for example the texts you see in a city. I find it fascinating how the quality of presentation influences the content. I always say to a German philosopher I know, I can make a book about Kant and make you hate Kant. I am able to change your opinion about Kant if I act with typography. And he says, no, no it’s impossible. But typography can influence our perception; this is a part of our culture that is not well understood.

KK: Can you tell me about the signage system for the New School in New York? I was especially drawn to the typography and the typeface you used there. It was Irma by Peter Bil’ak.

RB: The New School in NY was interesting because it is a building of seven floors. I had to make seven typefaces. In the end, we had to design fourteen because I had two possible solutions. And we did all those experiments that were close to a joke. But it gave this place a very special character.

KK: It was hand-painted. Were you inspired by the culture of sign painters in the US?

RB: I often travelled to NY. Those hand-painted signs are fantastic. I liked this contradiction, the combination of high tech and handmade elements.

KK: You use hand-drawn or hand-painted lettering in your work quite often, like in the signage system for the Le Musée de la Croix Rouge in Geneva or the installation you made for the Musée des Arts Décoratif de Bordeaus, or ten kilometers of poetry in Mons titled The Phrase. Why?

RB: Imperfection makes you see when something is perfect. Before the computer everything aimed at perfection. Came the computer and made everything perfect and this was a disaster. It’s a visual disaster when something is presque parfait. Perfection is beautiful but it’s also boring, artificial. This is something absolutely central in my biography because I have experienced the before and the after of the computer. Now all the energy we have as graphic designers goes into how we can break the perfection. For the New School we made even the smallest detail on the computer first, and afterwards we painted the signage by hand. So this is, for me, something we can do today, to reintroduce the handmade elements that are not controlled by the computer.

KK: You work with so many different techniques and media, like silkscreen, signage painted directly onto walls, installations made with fabrics, photographs and solar energy paint. How do you know what’s right? Tell me something about your process.

RB: It comes from each specific project. Each time it’s different. Sometimes I know right away and sometimes I need two years to find the solution, and probably not a perfect one. Sometimes you immediately feel the way, you don’t have the solution but you see the direction. The media and technique are a part of the solution, but not the most important things. Finding the answer is more important than technology. For me it’s a slow and sometimes also a long process of combining the answer to the problem and the materials, technology and typography.

KK: And when you do the signage, how do you measure how successful the outcome is? Do you know it? Do you check it?

RB: I do it but it’s not so straight-forward. I’m not a big fan of testing because it’s so complex. When designing an exhibition you cannot know if it’s going to be successful before it starts. Your reaction when you prototype it and when you see it in place won’t be the same. I’m not saying I don’t do it; I think it can give you an idea what it is going to look like. It’s important but I don’t trust it one hundred percent.

KK: While I was preparing for this interview I came across terms like poetic approach and signage engineering. Can you explain them a little?

RB: When designing a building an architect has an idea what he’ll do. He has to think about how the space is going to be organized. Then an engineer comes and resolves the functional elements and formal aspects of the design. In designing signage we have to be architects and engineers at the same time. We ask ourselves, where is the best place to put the information? What are the optimal dimensions of the characters? Bear in mind, though, if you only think in terms of functionality, it’s going to be very boring. You have to bring it to another level. And this is something very complex in sign systems because when doing a signage system like we are doing right now for the Metro of Paris, which in terms of complexity is absolutely crazy, I am thinking a lot about the interaction between signs and people. And I am thinking about the quality of that interaction, which is not functional. It’s a kind of intelligence.

KK: Something that makes you think or feel?

RB: It’s where you show respect for the citizen.

KK: Design that doesn’t look down on people?

RB: Absolutely.

KK: I see this respect in projects like the one you did for Quartiers Créatifs, in which you were socially engaged, and also in the signage systems you have done for parking lots. Yet these two kinds of projects seem so different.

RB: I’m not sure. Think of the fear we all have of loosing our sense of direction. Where and why do people feel disoriented? When is it negative and when positive? I think car parks are very social. It’s satisfying when I am able to add quality to places like car parks and bring them to another level. I don’t know why I like car parks.

KK: Usually people hate them.

RB: It has to do with Marc Augé’s Non-Places, Non-lieux—places you’re not in, but where you have to be, spaces of transience. How can I add quality to places like airports and parking lots, which are boring but an important part of our life? How can I introduce a poetic dimension there?

 

Brand new catalogue published by Design Friends Luxembourg.

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Coordination Anabel Witry

Layout Annick Kieffer

Interview Kinga Kowalczyk

Print Imprimerie Schlimé

DESIGN CHANGES: POSTSCRIPT

A few days ago I had the chance to talk to Nadine Clemens, the president of Design Friends Luxembourg. We spoke about Resolute–Design Changes, Postscript: Luxembourg and the local design scene.

With Resolute exhibition Design Friends celebrates its 5th anniversary. It has always been its mission to invite internationally renowned designers from many fields of design and present their work to the local community. But for some time now the association’s leaders have felt there was something missing in the rich programme they offered every season. In October of last year, during the Night of the Museums, Design Friends presented a portfolio show featuring 100 Luxembourg-based design studios, so now Resolute–Design Changes is accompanied by Postscript: Luxembourg. This addition presents socially involved projects that come from designers who are either based in Luxembourg or have some link to it.

Postscript perfectly complemets  the themes chosen for the main show. Two projects that caught my eye were  “A Do Something But Not Anything Manifesto” by Isabelle Mattern and “Jailbird Manual” by Socialmatter. The first is a compilation of questions, keywords and instructions that relate to, among other topics, personal experience, commitment, motivation and ways of working. These are presented in the form of a layered recording, a poster with a transcribed text that is typographically interpreted and a jar filled with small pieces of rolled paper that each has a short text on it. The second project is a guide with a set of tools and techniques useful in carpentry. Designers from Socialmatter, Giacomo Piovan and Lynn Schammel, decided to present the guide as graphically interpreted manual of instructions. This graphical tool is now being used at the penitentiary centre Givenich, Luxembourg.

NEVER FOR MONEY ALWAYS FOR LOVE and Bruce Duckworth’s lecture at Mudam Luxembourg, CONSUMPTION at the V&A

We’re culture that is always looking for that other message, always looking for that new arrangement.

Cloude Levi Strauss The Strange Mind

The last couple of weeks I spent on reading about brands and branding, about material culture and self-transformation. I have also visited NEVER FOR MONEY ALWAYS FOR LOVE exhibition and had a chance to listen to Bruce Duckworth’s lecture on packaging design. The lecture inspired me to go back to a series of interviews from Brand Thinking by Debbie Millman and Chief Culture Officer by Grant McCracken. I also went to London to see CONSUMPTION at the V&A. And, the whole thing in this post is an interesting mix of different aspects of our material culture.


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Susana Soares Insects au Gratin

NEVER FOR MONEY ALWAYS FOR LOVE

Design has successfully established itself-so much so that it has become an and in itself, something more than just a tool to boost sales; rather, it creates “meaning” and becomes the actual purpose of buying. … Good designers must be part-sociologist or “social seismographers”: they must be in close contact with the needs, desires and fantasies of society. … but design can make important contributions to help change people’s mentalities. Design is linked to daily life, its gestures and objects-and this is precisely the terrain on which profound social changes operate. If, in the past, design has helped to circulate the consumerist lifestyle, it can now in turn prepare the minds to accept a less predatory relationship to our natural and social resources-a relationship where the physical appearance of objects is not continually offered up to value and money. At the same time it can contribute to a more playful relationship to life in which not everything must necessarily be seen under the angle of power, wealth or self-affirmation, and where ‘gift’, ‘sharing’, and ‘free’ are not empty words.

Design, the ultimate stage of  capitalism?  by Anselm Jappe, philosopher and essayist


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Some notes from Bruce Duckworth‘s lecture at Mudam, organised by the  Design Friends Luxembourg:

BRANDS

20th century: smoke and mirrors, facades, brand and business are separate, opaque and secretive, advertising is communication, controlled and consistent…

21st century: the brand is a business, open and transparent, communication is everything, everything is communication, coherent, collaborative, brands are culture…

Design is the material culture of brands. Material culture reflects the things they value.

Some notes from Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits by Debbie Millman:

  • branding is an experience; advertising is a temptation
  • branding leads to ownership, one that has a touchy feeling to it; advertising is more distant, it offers promise, but it doesn’t give you a product
  • design is a part that you pick up, the bit you touch, people have more relationship with brands
  • branding is a replacement for religion, a process of self-discovery, a moral code you have to follow

from the interview with Bruce Duckworth

In Chief Culture Officer Grant McCracken said:

I think of brands as bundles of meaning and branding as a process of meaning manufacture and management. Branders find meaning in our culture and invest this meaning in brands.


Hong Hao's My Things No.7 2004, Beijin, China
Hong Hao’s My Things No.7 2004, Beijin, China

CONSUMPTION, the fifth cycle of the Prix Pictet (the global award in photography and sustainability) at the V&A, London

We are all consumers. We have invented new forms of building, industrial production, farming and energy; we have emptied the seas and ravaged the land in our relentless drive to satisfy our unquenchable desires. We have at times sustained our appetites through the exploitation of the world’s poorest people. The consequences of our voracity are everywhere for us to see. We override the eternal cycle of the seasons to be sure to satisfy our daily cravings. Even our basic needs are now commoditised; we crave things we didn’t know we needed and which quickly become obsolete.

My favourite selection of photographs was scanned objects by a Chinese artist Hong Hao. For twelve years he’s been scanning objects he consumed. Hong Hao created a visual diary of things, a unique and personal inventory that attempts to question the culture of consumerism.