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DDD - Joris Laarman

We chat to Joris Laarman about modernism - as a philosophy rather than an aesthetic – and how it can solve the crisis of over-production in a post-industrial age.  It just makes good sense. 

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 14-10-2010

Despite his tremendous early success, Joris Laarman remains surprisingly humble.  It’s obvious from talking to him that Holland has a genuine talent on its hands – and not just another Eindhoven graduate floating inside a hand-pumped bubble, but a true cerebral designer.  His thoughtfulness already reminds me of  Gijs Bakker who perhaps not coincidentally tutored Laarman to graduation at the Design Academy in Eindhoven.  

Visionary ideas and social design lie at the heart of Laarman’s work and while he calls it an “annoying coincidence” that much of what he has done spawned big contemporary trends, it also speaks of a relevance to the issues that matter.  His research-based work is focused mostly on devising better design solutions with a revolutionary quality – a denial of how things are currently done and a patient pursuit of a better way to manufacture and distribute design.

Since his Bone Chair won him so much acclaim, Laarman has been busy experimenting with materials and exploring the possibilities of digital fabrication.  For the Stedelijk Museum this month and as part of Dutch Design Double, he will address an audience in the Modernism Today series.  

Laarman was selected by Ingeborg de Roode, curator of industrial design at the Stedelijk, to participate in the series.  “I guess she sees me as a sort of contemporary version of Rietveld,” says Laarman.  “That is an interesting comparison, but I do see a connection.”

One hundred years ago, Gerrit Rietveld was experimenting with technology and materials.  Today, Laarman does the same thing.  His aesthetic is not in the tradition of De Stijl, but his values most certainly are.

“Rietveld published manuals about how to make his chairs,” says Laarman.  “Back then, nobody had the time or ability to use them.  There were no networks.  These days, though, we can distribute knowledge in a way that can potentially bring craftspeople back to the center stage of design – not in a romantic way, but in an economic way.  All we need are the networks, and cheaper and more accessible digital manufacturing technology.”

Open source design and digital fabrication are the stuff of a modernist’s dream.  “I think modernists wanted this one hundred years ago, but it wasn’t possible,” says Laarman.  “Now it is.  The way I see it, modernism went sour because a huge amount of power landed in the hands of a few big factories and design firms.  The movement was supposed to be about the democratization of design - that was their big idea - but somewhere along the line it became elitist.”

Laarman’s computer is packed with graphs, statistics and references to the abysmal social impact of the industrial revolution.  “The over-production of mediocrity has been nothing short of disaster,” he says.  “And there is nothing you can do about it within the current system.”

A new system, however, might stand a chance.

“Digital fabrication is something that can bring power back to creative people and craftspeople all over the world,” Laarman says.  “Right now most people just talk about it, but it is happening, and I think it can eventually take over.  I am not going to say it will change the world, but it will change the way things are made.”

Already under way, but in its early hush hush stages, is a cooperation between Laarman, the Waag Society, Droog Design and early Internet pioneers to help realize this.  “What we have planned is not just about design though,” says Laarman. “I am not interested in being part of a new design fetish.  What this is is a place where people can start their own businesses using a new way to distribute manufacturing.  Everyone from designers to writers and scientists can use it.”

Laarman remains characteristically humble: “I don’t want to say that this idea could take over the entire production world,” he says, “but it can certainly help craftspeople to make things that are not standardized or mass produced and if a world network of craftspeople grows, then potentially this could lead to huge changes.”

The problem with this is that so far many people are interested, but no good example exists to prove that digital fabrication combined with craftsmanship is the way forward for design.  Complicated issues like how a designer will make money remain unresolved.  “Although we are currently working on a new economic model to solve this,” says Laarman.  “And on a personal note I hope to be able to make that one example that shows people how the whole thing could work.”

And that’s what distinguishes Laarman from a lot of his contemporaries – a desire and the patience to have his work included in the phenomenon.  “Right now I make very expensive, limited edition designs, which is a good way to fund the experiments and start a business,” he says.  “Eventually what I’d like to be able to do is provide open-source versions of my work for everyone.  That is what I am working towards.”

See Joris Laarman speak at
Modernism Today - Rietveld’s Experiments
22nd October 14.15 to 16.30

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