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Arnhem product design graduates 2010: Outstanding

At this year's ArtEZ product design graduation exhibition, we see investigative collections that are convincing, well-resolved and professional. Projects like these that gave the goosebumps, are a rarity.

By Jeanne Tan / 08-07-2010

You'd be forgiven for thinking that some of the works shown in the graduation exhibition of the product design graduates from ArtEZ Arnhem were designed by established designers already working years in the industry. The collections were thoughtful, the products were genuinely considered, confident, well-crafted and professionally presented. The fresh energy of the works was a welcome breath of fresh air, given the stifling heat of the exhibition interior.  

The forested KEMA terrain on the outskirts of Arnhem played host to the final graduation exhibition of ArtEZ Arnhem product design and fashion. With a massive central void, the multi-story industrial building - which was once a machinery testing facility - provided the ideal, raw backdrop for the works. Earlier in the week, the fashion graduates presented their final collections in a much-anticipated show. The only downside to the location: for those with a fear of heights, crossing open timber-slatted walkways two stories high is a rather nerve wracking experience. Nevertheless, if there's exceptional work to be seen, this is a small price to pay.

Investigation and process was an underlying focus of the works. Reflecting the broader context of design today, process is playing an increasingly important role as opposed to only presenting a slick finished product with no supporting narrative. Often in exhibitions - both student and professional - there's too much emphasis on the end product (or sometimes there's simply not enough time to communicate the process) and thumbs up here to the students for giving us a detailed glimpse into how they arrived at their products. This was particularly clear in the project of Sjoerd Vroonland 'Stamboom' (Pedigree) which traced the progress of craftsmanship. Vroonland asks, "Is a chair purely functional? Or is it a showpiece and visual story? Is it an expression of technical know-how and therefore representative of its era?" With this, Vroonland deconstructs four 19th and 20th century design classics and translates the craftsmanship of the pieces into new materials to develop new techniques. For instance from a Hardoy butterfly chair normally made from bent steel, Vroonland arrived at a technique using wood with flexible rubber joints - the hollow timber elements are filled with rubber - that allow the corners to torque. Juliette Warmenhoeven literally puts the organic growth processes of living things on a pedestal with her 'Everyday Growing' pieces. ArtEZ is renowned for its shoe designers, and in the not so distant future we could well be wearing one of Anna Korshun's creations. Drawing on her communist upbringing, the Belarus-born designer plays with a common design language that has timeless appeal to the masses. Korshun does this through using simple, bold lines and omitting any ornament, stitching or components that aren't a necessary result of the production process. Adopting a technique normally used for furniture making, the shoes are vacuum-formed in one go from only one or two pieces of leather, which is revolutionary for closed shoes. Several of the prototypes were made by Camper: Korshun complete an internship with the Spanish shoe label last year. Let's hope her striking pieces will be commercially available sooner than later.  

As with previous graduation works, paper was a favoured material: as our society becomes more paperless, designers are increasingly utilizing paper as a raw material. Ilvy Jacobs used the humble brown paper has her starting point while Wouter Groendijk's playful collection resulted from studies in cardboard and tape. Experimenting intensively with making her own paper, Yvette Jacobs created a series of disposable tableware and lamp shades using paper made from recycled cotton. Formed using an industrial vacuum technique, the pieces are left with a unique surface texture which highlights the sieve-like texture of the mould. Jacobs then made paper moulds to create a ceramic collection whereby after the moulds are disintegrated after firing in the oven, the remains of a similar rough texture is revealed on the ceramics.

Lastly we see two extensive investigations that present mundane everyday objects in a new light: the results are unexpectedly beautiful. Using the archetypal green bottle as a basis, Klaas Kuiken explored how a mass product can be individualized: "I started my project with one question: are there any irregularities in mass production? When I analyzed the mass-produced glass bottles, I found out that there were differences in the thickness of the glass. I wanted to emphasize those differences, so I developed a special technique to blow (up) existing bottles." Playing with heat and temperature controls - and not without a fair share of explosions and cracked bottles - Kuiken perfected the technique to create an enormous family of individual/mass green bottles. Working with another mass object, accessory designer Marissa Meulenbeek took inspiration from something most people wouldn't give a second thought about. Researching fashion accessories, Meulenbeek went in search of something that had a close relationship with the user: she found this in industrial work gloves. "For me, work gloves are a dynamic accessory which deal with detailing and dimensions. Through their materials and the manner in which they are constructed, work gloves have a recognizable form with a clear design that is dependent on its function. Used gloves have many shades and wear spots: this is something I've carried into my designs." Using various techniques in stitching, pleating and smocking - shown in the glove samples on the wall - Meulenbeek fashioned six exquisite work gloves. The first series plays with the recognisability of the work gloves: big sturdy gloves detailed with coloured leather and simple big stitches. Highlighting the beauty of denim, the more delicate second series is made entirely from this industrial material, featuring refined stitching, pleating and smock work to allow the gloves to stretch and embroidered cuffs. It was wonderful to see such a high level of detail and attention given to this normally forgotten object, and what this project and others in the exhibition showed was a genuine sense of curiosity, sensitivity and maturity that goes beyond the surface. Hats off to Arnhem! (or gloves in this respect)

Main image and images 1&2: Marissa Meulenbeek
Images 3&4: Klaas Kuiken
Images 5&6: Sjoerd Vroonland
Images 7&8: Yvette Jacobs
Images 9&10: Anna Korshun
Image 11: Ilvy Jacobs

Photography: Hans Vroege

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