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Talent 2009 part I

It seems that across Europe, design graduates are stepping back from the strictly functional product-based work to more art and research oriented projects.  There are less conceptually tricky objects, and more thorough explorations of ideas that challenge traditional definitions of what design is.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 04-11-2009

The “Talent 2009” show at Designhuis opened during Dutch Design Week.  The now annual event takes Li Edelkoort (physically and virtually) to 30 European design academies to select the best graduation projects on offer.

Edelkoort’s eye is always linked to trends, so the way she curates this exhibition is to start with what she deems a trend or theme and then find projects that best exemplify and push the boundaries of said trend.

Yoeri Treffers from the Design Academy Eindhoven presents “Inflatable Void”.  The idea is that so few places exist anymore where we can remove ourselves from the material world - from technology, work and social obligations.  

The white void blows up and shapes itself according to its environment by use of a powerful but silent ventilator. The result is a clean combination of cool air and a white surrounding that takes over the mood of all things.

“The teachers at the academy loved it,” says Treffers,  “because not only can you create a space of nothingness in a few seconds anywhere, but also because it's a statement against materialism from which we designers are the biggest providers. I came to realize this in the last years of the design academy and it almost stopped me from being a designer.”

Merlijn van der Wardt from the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht is interested in public space design and has photographed a number of Dutch cities.  Coming up with the fictitious town of “Diepenvoort” he presented images of ugly windowless buildings that combine to create a town that feels like a fairly typical post-war Dutch town.
The sort of post-war architecture that dominates Dutch townscapes was initially not to Van der Wardt’s liking.  “But once I started taking photographs, I came to appreciate that there is something interesting in it.  It has its own character and you could never find it in Belgium, for example … I think it says a lot about the country and whether or not you like it is very personal.”

The point of Diepenvoort is to make people look at their surroundings and to recognize that they are mostly blind or immune to its effects.

Jetty Iestra from the Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten presents her literal and very funny “Detox Machine”.  Her method, like an alchemist, is to take everyday objects and detach them from their original context.  She is interested in transformation by means of interaction. “I look for an instinctive reevaluation of objects,” she says, “and I hope to find ‘gold’ at the moment that the objects rise above their essence and become works of art.”

By releasing an object - in this case a baby’s cot - from the preconceptions we hold, Iestra injects them with, or perhaps strips them back to a more pure and essential form. From there, fresh insights and solutions can be determined – it’s a very creative way of working, to free objects from the way they are usually perceived and then to encourage viewers to rethink how their relationships, both mental and physical, can evolve.

“I also think this particular project links with the way we treat children in our society,” Iestra says.  “It is a comment on how everything is about economics and never the quality of life.”

Amaury Poudray from the Ecole Superieure d’Art et Design Saint Etienne likes to combine materials, shapes, living elements and ecosystems for effect.  In the same way writers combine letters into words and then words into sentences, he seeks meaning through combination. In this way, he conducts research into the construction of structures and their boundaries.

For this project, Poudray juxtaposed a shaped fish tank (with a living fish that delighted the children in attendance), a single bench and a stool, which intrigued onlookers who weren’t sure why, but felt struck by the work.

“It is about materials and shapes and how I can compose it all together,” says Poudray.  “I like to create a paradox and play with balance.”

Poudray says his teachers respected his experimental approach.  “I always want to be in design danger,” he says.  “It’s about doing things that people do not expect.”

Another intriguing but difficult work is by Chrysa Chouliara from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy.  “Habits, John, Mary and Peter” is about human habits.  “We are really very repetitive beings,” says Choulliara.  “I wanted people to imagine what it would look like if they got stuck in a habit and just kept on doing it and doing it.”

For this exhibition Mary is on display – a TV addict.  "She might even be a TV companion,” says Chouliara.  “She never says anything, never interrupts, just watches.”

This work is a sort of anti-robot – most robots are perfect and clean, but these creatures have terrible sloth-like posture and bad habits – robots that people can relate to.  “I try to make them as imperfect as possible,” Chouliara says.

Karin Rönmark from Konstfack in Sweden presents “The Theory of Everything”, a project that deals with science, the universe and eternity.  Her area of interest is that narrow and controversial terrain where science and fact touch fantasy, science fiction and religion.  Through her research she concludes that there is no real coherence and no absolute truth.

“I really wanted to tell science as a story,” she says.  “I’m interested to know more about how we build our own realities.  Of course this is all that is possible because the universe can only ever actually exist in our heads.  The real universe is so far away in both dimension and mind, and our image of it can only ever be fantasy.”

In other words, there is no straight line between what is truth and what is fantasy because our capacity to grasp and understand is so limited.  We will never really know if scientific conclusions are accurate and even if they are, they are constantly changing and improving.

“In some ways the only thing we can really ever do is try to understand what is out there because reality is not fixed,” Rönmark says .  It is always moving and that is what my project is about.”

“Talent 2009” runs until November 30 at Designhuis in Eindhoven.  Part II of our review will appear next week.

Top page and main pic at top – Karin Rönmark’s “The Theory of Everything”
Small from top:
Yoeri Treffers  
Yoeri Treffers
Merlijn van der Wardt
Merlijn van der Wardt
Jetty Iestra by Damian Thomas
Amaury Poudray by Damian Thomas
Amaury Poudray
Chrysa Chouliara
Karin Rönmark x2
With thanks to Damian Thomas from Rubberneckphotos

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