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Creating magic in Maastricht

Lying in the center of the junction between the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, the southern city of Maastricht is the best of all worlds. Its main design school attracts students from across the borders and is producing, albeit quietly, some impressive work.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 05-11-2008

The attention directed at Holland’s more illustrious design academies often overshadows the talent coming out of the country’s smaller, less-established schools. Tucked into a quiet corner at Strijp S during Dutch Design Week was an exhibition titled, “Livingroom 1-4” showcasing the product, fashion and jewelry designs of this year’s Maastricht Academy of Fine Arts' graduates.

A humble and lyrical sensitivity characterized the exhibited work, which covered the gamut from textiles and ceramics to metal work and plastics. Standout student Jana Walliser presented three pieces that set the tone of the show and established the native German as one to watch.

“I’m interested in those parts of a product that are normally taken for granted,” says Walliser. “The cord of a light, the floor of a cup or the stitching in fabric.”

Walliser says she chose the Maastricht Academy of Fine Arts because she wasn’t sure what sort of design she wanted to pursue. “They are more flexible than other schools,” she says. “In first year you can do a general 3d and 2d design course and so delay choosing a particular department until second year.”

Walliser’s graduation work grew from a conversation she had with herself about society. “I started by thinking about unusual ways of using products and then asking myself questions about power and control,” she says. “If anyone could make a light, how would they do it? I wanted to experiment with giving everyone that chance to create.”

Consequently, her AnsichtsSache lamp is a long and bendable power cord covered in a knitted textile that ends with a raw globe. It can be bent into shapes and around other objects.

The AnsichtsSache curtain is a series of cascading leaves made from 160 separate pieces. When the sun hits the textile from behind, it picks up the veins, which throw tiny shadows back onto the leaves. “Normally the leaves are the main characters in a vine,” she says. “But here I have given the veins and their shadows the central role.”

Walliser’s third piece, AnsichtsSache "Tea V cup" is a simple and elegant object that looks familiar enough. Allow light to shine into the bottom of the cup though and a subtle relief appears in the porcelain that contains a secret message. “There is an outline of a television and the image beaming on the screen has an added surprise," she says.

The point of Walliser’s AnsichtsSache’s series is to query the relationship between product design and society. By jolting people’s user experiences, she hopes to encourage them to reevaluate their own relationship with that product. “It makes you see everything quite differently,” she says, “especially when it comes to the actual role that the objects play in your life.”

Walliser says all the work exhibited in "Living Room 1-4" was created out of a concern for what humans are doing today. “It’s about consumerism, superficiality, over-stimulation and the lack of relationship we have with the objects around us,” she says.

Images: from top the graduation work by Jana Walliser, Stefanie
Condes, Nika Rams and Kaspar Hamacher.

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