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When Local meets Global

Several shows in Milan this year explore Dutch history, local craftsmanship and manufacturing prowess. Inspiration and funding start on home turf and lead to a wider – and often ultimately global – audience.

By No author / 16-04-2010

The Netherlands may be a small country, but it has a dense and rich history. One that many of its home-grown or Netherlands-based designers draw from and celebrate in their work.

Two shows in Milan in particular celebrate Dutch heritage in very grand style and were commissioned by the active Zuiderzee museum. Zuiderzee settings is a series of seven pieces of furniture by prolific designer/artist Kiki van Eijk that references heavily the museum’s applied art collection and skillfully combines carved tulipwood with ceramics objects made by Royal Tichelaar Makkum (the oldest china manufacturer in the Netherlands). The Poor Man’s Gold is a series of four chests containing tableware and other vessels by Joost van Bleiswijk that were inspired by the travels of the Dutch East India Company. The outsized salt-and-pepper shakers and pestle-and-mortars in van Bleiswijk’s chests feel familiar and like they’ve been done before (the chests reminded me eerily of coffins), but the plates and smaller dishes are decorated with a blue-on-white scratch technique that looks at once delicate and chaotic.

The Zuiderzee museum’s archives came again into play for one of husband-and-wife design duo Scholten & Baijings’ most personal pieces at Milan this year (I say ‘one’ because believe me, they are everywhere this year!). Their ‘Amsterdam Armoir’ for Established and Sons was inspired by 17th century chests they found in the museum’s collection that were decorated by their farmer- and fisher-owners during the quiet and long winter months with status symbols from their own lives. Accordingly, Scholten & Baijings have created an updated cabinet and a modern heirloom. The doors feature their trademark geometric lines and bands of light colour, but once opened the insides are covered in black-and-white still life photos of their work. “Our wealth is our work,” they explain simply.

Two other designers who have benefited from a collaboration with the Zuiderzee museum are Aldo Bakker and Christien Meindertsma, whose works for Thomas Eyck are on show at the delightful Spazio Rossana Orlandi. The collaboration in this case came in the form of a big “bag of money” from the museum says Thomas Eyck with a twinkle in his eye; ‘money’ that enabled Bakker to explore the virtues of copper and Meindertsma to develop a theme she broached last year with her beautiful flax collection. This year she has created the small but exquisite ‘Texelaar collection’. Consisting of only an ottoman and a rug made from the wool of Dutch Texelaar sheep, the collection comes in four natural colours (brown, cream, light or dark grey) that are obtained from mixing the wools of the sheep. “No dye is used at all,” says Eyck. “The ottomans are made from 500 metres of wool that are turned into that shape,” he continues, “that’s almost 70 kilos of wool!” Everything, from the sheep shearing and wool washing to the spinning and knitting, takes place in The Netherlands, making these emblematic Dutch products.

Moving much further afield and East, the local is heavily explored in Gijs Bakker’s Yii project at the Triennale. All the objects on show celebrate local Taiwanese craftsmanship in an increasingly global world. The World Cups collection was designed by Idee Liu, and inspired by global mega-brand Starbucks, but brings together traditional Taiwanese crafts as diverse as glass-blowing, silversmithing, Koji pottery and wood-carving. Perhaps, the most iconic pieces in this show, and the ones that best represent the local-goes-global concept, are the ones by young designer Pili Wu. He has picked four of the “cheapest and most famous” Ikea products (a chair, a desk light, a table light and a table) and adorned them with local craft elements. The chair is lacquered with a subtle floral design, the table has one leg wrapped in an intricate wood carving that tells a mythical tale, the table lamp has a porcelain-embossed shade that comes into its own when the light is turned on and, my favourite piece of the show – and probably Milan so far – the desk lamp contains a silver- and gold-plated carving featuring two dragons chasing a fireball.

If Ikea were worried about the project before they saw it, they must be ecstatic now. “For them it’s a kind of homage!” says Bakker. And the perfect embodiment of centuries-long local crafts brought to a massive global audience.

Main image: Kiki van Eijk and Joost van Bleiswijk for Zuiderzee museum, photography: Ruy Teixeira
Image 1: Kiki van Eijk
Images 2&3: Joost van Bleiswijk, photography: Frank Tielemans
Images 4&5: Christien Meindertsma for Thomas Eyck
Images 6-9: Yii Design

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