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Pioneers of Change kicks off

Celebrating 400 years of Dutch/New York relations, 'Pioneers of Change' curated by Droog, features 13 installations including a Tickle Salon, housed in different former Army officers’ homes on Governors Island.

By No author / 15-09-2009

“Take off your shirt. You’ll have to remove your shoes, too.”

The words drifted through the open door of an otherwise abandoned clapboard house on Governors Island, New York, and following them lead to a speaker—Crystal Gayle’s doppelganger—coaxing a befuddled-but-willing gentleman onto an unfinished bed. This past weekend he and other visitors to Pioneers of Change partly disrobed, lay on the full-size mattress, and waited for a white tassel to descend from a hovering position and travel over their naked torsos. The fringe glided by four ceiling-mounted wires, and provided feedback to a laptop navigating and mapping each participant’s body.

This highly haptic demonstration by Driessens & Verstappen, Arthur Elsenaar, and Taconis Stolk known as the Tickle Salon or “The Luxury of Silence and Care,” counted among 13 installations at the design festival Pioneers of Change. Initiated by Han Bakker and curated by Droog co-founder Renny Ramakers, Pioneers of Change marks the quadricentennial of the Netherlands’ presence in New York. It is mounted at the Nolan Park campus of former Army officers’ homes on Governors Island, with every exhibit, shop, and discussion venue occupying a different residence. And it opens to the public a second and final time this coming weekend.

Visitors access Governors Island by free ferry, and reach Nolan Park on foot. The Tickle Salon is the first stop on the Pioneers of Change tour, and its digital maps tender a contemporary analog to Henry Hudson’s voyage to New Amsterdam 400 years ago. For pedestrians who prefer their routes clockwise, Nolan Park’s first design site features the Dutch fashion collective Painted in collaboration with Pascale Gatzen, Parsons students, Native American bead masters, and local lace makers. It is equally fitting, too: The mash-up of couture styles and techniques taking place under Painted’s guidance is meant to represent first contact between Native Americans and European explorers.

Besides paying homage to Hudson’s landing on Governors Island, Pioneers of Change offers contemporary Dutch-designer participants an outlet for commentary. 2012 Architecten’s “Harvest Map” installation, for example, fills one house with pathways built up from paint cans, cabinet doors, shelving, and other construction detritus collected from the gutters of New York. It does not exactly celebrate the wastefulness that characterizes Americans’ treatment of the new world they inherited from the Dutch. And both “Knitting” and “Drawn From Clay,” by Index Award–winner Christien Meindertsma and Atelier NL, respectively, present a more responsible alternative to wanton exploitation. The former features a giant wool carpet being woven from various Dutch sheep, and the latter is a makeshift ceramics studio that transforms local clay into vessels.

Formally Pioneers of Change “encourages a more responsible and sustainable approach to living,” so says the statement printed on the event’s downloadable map, by refusing to “apply the luxury tag to an ethos of riches as such but to qualities now hard to come by, including space, fresh air, respect, care, silence, slowness and time.” And certainly, several installations besides “Knitting” and “Drawn From Clay” push this agenda. In one Nolan Park house Platform21 has launched its Repair Manifesto—which simultaneously champions broken things as still-valuable things, and promotes time-consuming DIY projects—into action. Meanwhile, the Go Slow cafe’s older staffers make sure that food preparation and consumption never occur at a speedy pace.

The Hudson quadricentennial celebrations currently percolating in and around New York include showy affairs featuring tall ships, greenhouse and windmill mock-ups better suited for miniature golf courses, and period costume. Pioneers of Change is a counterpoint to those fetes—and, perhaps, not so much a sustainability plea as it is an attempted apology. The wanderlust and mercantile impulses of Holland past helped unleash a new breed of myopic all-consuming people on a pristine continent. Today’s Dutch designers are promising to import a new set of principles to undo some of the damage.

Pioneers of Change
11 - 20 September 2009

Main image: The luxury of silence and care by Driessen & Verstappen, Arthur Elsenaar & Taconis Stolk
Image: Drawn from Clay by Atelier NL
Image: Knitting by Christien Meindertsma
Image: Repairing on the porch, Platform21 = Repairing by Platform21
Image:AVL‚ Skull by Atelier Van Lieshout for Lensvelt
Image: Go Slow by Droog with Marije Vogelzang, (Rianne Makkink and Herman Verkerk) and Hansje van Halem
Image: New York volunteers prepare the meal slowly but attentively at the Go Slow Cafe by Droog
Photographer: Isauro Cairo

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