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Salone del Mobile 08: Interview with Maarten Baas

After weeks of preparation, Maarten Baas is now ready for the 2008 edition of the Salone del Mobile. ‘Mind if I have a beer during the interview? Seeing as the Salone has now officially just begun...’

By No author /asdf 16-04-2008

Maarten Baas (1978) stormed onto the international design scene 5 years ago with his ‘Smoke’ collection of burnt, sealed furniture. Since then he's shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and in 2005 he collaborated with Ian Schrager’s design team on the new Gramercy Park Hotel, supplying Smoke furniture for each room, several Clay works and a Smoke billiard table for the lobby.

After weeks of preparation, Baas is now ready for the 2008 edition of the Salone del Mobile. ‘Mind if I have a beer during the interview? Seeing as the Salone has now officially just begun...’

Workshop
This year Baas is showing his work in a car mechanic’s garage, a suitably industrial setting for his somewhat rugged work. ‘This is the first time this space has been used for the Salone. I really like my studio back home in the Netherlands and I wanted to find a place with a similar atmosphere here in Milan. I asked my agent to look for a place where we could just do our own thing. Last year, our Salone studio was of the more traditional kind which meant you weren’t supposed to weld or drag heavy machinery across the floors. But here I can do exactly what I want’. And that’s vital to how Baas works. ‘My pieces may end up in museums or in fancy galleries, but of course there’s a lot of tough manual work that goes into making the pieces. And I like to show that process as well.’

Collaboration
‘Smoke’ evolved from endless petrol and fire experiments on Baas’s balcony at home. Does he still make all the pieces himself? ‘Now we’ve divided the workload into two parts, so to say. We have a team of 10 people who make all the pieces in the collection so far. But we don’t want to get bigger than that that, so this year I started collaborating with other producers, such as Established and Sons and Contrasts Gallery in Shanghai, who now produce my designs for their collection. This means I can focus on my own studio.’

Retrospective
Rather than presenting new work, the show is an overview of the last 5 years. The suggestion that at 30 years old Baas is pretty young to have a ‘retrospective’ he laughs heartily and looks modestly at the floor. ‘That makes it sound as though I’m 70 or something! ‘Retrospective’ is too grand a word. I wouldn’t call it that. It simply shows my work over the last five years’. Looking back, Baas can see quite a difference from when he started out. ‘In the back of my mind I always had an idea of how I wanted things to develop but when you start out you just don’t have the resources- either financially or materially. Now, to be able to show my work from the last 5 years really means something to me, it shows I have been able to develop from when I first started.’

Clay Chair
I ask Baas to choose one piece out of the collection which he would show to someone not familiar with his work. ‘If someone had never heard of me, then I’d show them the Clay Chair, because it’s a very personal piece to me. There has been an evolution in my work and this is becoming more and more extreme. Maybe people unfamiliar with my work shouldn’t start with the latest collection I have for Established and Son, because that might be too much of a shock for them. People who know my work might also be surprised, but they should be able to appreciate it as well.’

Taking risks
Baas is a big name now, but doesn’t feel the pressure. For him it’s more important to keep developing. ‘People ask me "why didn’t you just show at the same place as last year" and yes, that would be the simple solution. You know the place, the people, how to move everything there etc. But I’m at a different stage in my life now. I don’t want to rest on my laurels, and I like to challenge myself. I’m still quite young and I feel I have a responsibility to keep taking risks and trying new things out. Sometimes, as the studio gets bigger and as I get older I sometimes hear a little voice inside my head say, “hmmm, maybe you should try and be more commercial or more efficient”. But then I rebel against that; I’d prefer to be bankrupt in one year’s time from having jumped into the deep, rather than just cruising along playing it safe.’

Planning

The workshop space is alive with noise and members of Baas’s team busy with stencils, machinery and singing along to the booming music. It’s certainly not the white walled environment of many of the other Salone spaces. How far does experimentation play a role in Baas’s work? ‘Things always start with a plan by me. It’s never the case that we just try something and see what happens. I know that many other designers work that way, experimenting with material and technique, but I work the opposite way. I have a picture in my mind and want to see how it is possible to make it. My pictures are unusual, which means we then have to find unusual and new techniques to make it work. But it always starts with a concrete idea.'

The Milan experience
For Baas, Milan is a non-stop adrenalin rush. ‘I mainly spend all the time here in my own space, because I know from experience from previous years that when I leave my space then I immediately want to go back because I feel so strongly connected to it! The week involves seeing a lot of people, with not much time off really, as there are so many people to see and speak to. At the end of the day I feel it in my feet and legs, but I really enjoy it.’


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