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Piercing the Breadth of Holland's Design Mentality

Initially, Marco Ugolini struggled to find his place in the broad world of Dutch design. His fetish for privacy though found sweet comfort in the "Something To Hide project".

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 27-11-2008

Educated in Italy, Germany, and finally Holland, Marco Ugolini at first struggled to understand what design in Holland truly means.

“The schools here are really different,” he says.  “You get a lot of freedom, but then every now and then you are expected to show something fantastic, and if you don’t have it, they kick you out.”

But it wasn’t just the high expectations that intimidated Ugolini.  At the Bauhaus University in Weimer, Germany he had already impressed peers and stirred up a city-wide debate on public space with his “Ten Fresh Eggs” project.

Against the new and boldly exposed wall of the university’s extension, Ugolini threw eggs filled with paint.  “It was a gigantic wall in the middle of town with a very violent presence,” he says.  Under the scattered paint, he stenciled “Ten Fresh Eggs”.

The act ignited the city with students, lecturers and architects all at odds about what to do.  The piece was eventually cleaned off, but a new policy of inviting artists every six months to exhibit on the wall was introduced.  

Soon after Ugolini left Weimar for Holland in search of a deeper sense of design’s purpose and scope.  “In Italy design is furniture and fashion,” he explains.  “In Germany, it is about typography, but in Holland it is more about process and concept.  The Dutch see design as less of a discipline with rules to adhere to, and more of a process that leads to new disciplines.”

Enrolled in a Master’s programme at the Sandberg Institute, Ugolini initially struggled with this very Dutch perspective on design. “I think many students who come from abroad find it hard to find their position here,” he says.

But Ugolini persevered.  His own work started to feed off the potential of Dutch design and to blur the boundaries of design, art and communication.  He was finding broader ways to explore his self-described “fetish” for privacy and was experimenting with the possibilities afforded by public spaces for disappearance. “I think in certain situations, to hide is to resist,” he says.  With a black plastic bag covering both his head and his identity, he was photographed around Amsterdam in the act of removing his individuality. He called the work, “Where is The Queen?”

As his grip on Dutch design and where it could take him tightened, Ugolini chose to further explore this issue of hiding by taking it online. He started to collect the default icons that social networking sites and chat software issue when individuals choose not to upload an image.

From these Ugolini designed a poster comprising 200 different icons.  Then, he took two of the most recognizable icons and started designing masks and disguises to symbolize descent. “Graffiti artists, ecology activists, and terrorists,” he says.  “I think hiding for all of them is a common practice of protest.”

Ugolini’s latest work was a graduation project initiated by the VPRO for the Sandberg Institute’s design students.  Called “Something to Hide”, the project was about design communication and was filmed for a documentary about privacy.

After heady discussions, the group of ten designers decided that privacy in the modern world is impossible.  “We rely too much on digital technology,” Ugolini says.  “Every SMS, phone call, Google search can be traced.”

In response, the group spent five months training and communicating with pigeons.  First they erected a giant inbox on the 11th floor of the Post CS building. A logo and pigeon carrier bags were designed.  With the help of trainers, specially-bred pigeons were nurtured and coached into finding their way back to the inbox from anywhere in Amsterdam.

“We started with fifteen pigeons and were worried that one would fly away,” Ugolini says.  “Every day we counted and there were always fifteen, until one day there were sixteen and then the next day there were eighteen.  In the end, we had twenty pigeons and they all had Dutch tags on them except for a few that joined us all the way from Belgium.”

The project worked in so far as the pigeons always delivered their messages into the inbox, but failed in so far as the group found it impossible to coordinate the project without using email.

“But it was not about designing a perfect communication system,” says Ugolini.  “It was a symbolic act, and a beautiful one because it is rare to be able to have such contact with a biological medium.”

Ugolini plans to stay in Amsterdam and continue working in the world of Dutch design.  “I come from a design background,” he says, “but after spending time in Holland, I see design as just a process to create something.  Design brings you to a result which may be an action, an object or even just a moment in time.”

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