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Jolan van der Wiel

UPDATE: Jolan van der Wiel has just been named winner of the 2012 DMY Award.  Congratulations.

After graduating from the Rietveld Academy last year, Jolan van der Wiel developed his graduation experiments further.  This week at DMY he presented the Gravity Stool, which has been selected for the DMY Award.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 07-06-2012

Jolan van der Wiel’s process has taken time to unfold.  His goal from the outset was to see if he could make natural forces the designer of objects.

He experimented with static energy, G-forces and wind energy, until he found some interesting results using magnetism.

“It was exactly what I wanted,” Van der Wiel says.  “I wanted to take a force and manipulate it so that it would work like a machine.”

Into the “machine” he pours a two-component plastic that is mixed with small pieces of metal and colour.  It works because if there are different magnetic fields you can make pillars and with pillars you can make chairs and tables.

After pouring the materials into his machine, Van der Wiel has to move fast.  He only has five minutes to make an object.  “It goes in as a liquid, and the mould for the seat is inside,” he says, “but the magnets make the material polarize immediately into the leg shapes.  From there it takes a further twenty minutes for hardening and I am done.”

The “machine” uses no power, just the forces of magnets to pressure materials into designed shapes.  ”I have made the invisible power of nature visible in the materials,” Van der Wiel explains.

Early in his studies at Rietveld he was already experimenting with how this all could work.  “I tried big and small, “ he says, “and then I started thinking about production, but initially it was just an idea for a way of producing things.”

The conundrum was finding a material that would work.  Van der Wiel ended up collaborating with a plastics company to make a magnetic plastic – liquid material laced with tiny magnets.  “In each object there is about five kilograms of metal,” Van der Wiel says, “but because it is plastic it is still flexible and won’t break.”

Bas van Beek is head of the department that Van der Wiel was part of at the Rietveld Academy.  He is a notoriously difficult man to impress and initially showed little to no enthusiasm.  

“But he is never enthusiastic so that didn’t really matter,“ Van der Wiel says.  “I actually found his attitude very motivating … because I got to the stage where it was either a go or a no go and he pressured me into that.  It took me ages and right up until days before my exam I was still really just experimenting.  The shapes came at the last minute. Even now in my head I hear Van Beek’s criticism of nothing ever being good enough ”

In the future, Van der Wiel would like to have a machine park with many machines that work without electricity.

“I am very proud to see that designLAB is delivering 'Dutch Design Stars' now given that we are a small department,” Bas van Beek says.  “Being casual about your work is the new arrogance in design but Jolan has a very different take on it.  Three years of brainwashing pays off thankfully. I hope he won't be the 'gravity-stool-man' for long and develops his work in more risky ways.” 

Images: Gravity Stool on display now at DMY in Berlin.

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