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Bad boy Van Beek’s latest work grapples with the image of design and how it can be twisted by by turning those images into reality.  Disney was his obvious muse.

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 31-01-2013

Disney and its garish creations have always been of interest to Bas van Beek.  So much so that in 2010 when he visited the wonderland’s Hong Kong branch – his first ever visit – he became obsessed and needed to create.  

“At Disney artificial is simply better than the real thing,” he says. “I found this amazing teapot that was actually a container for a Princess Tea-set.  I guess now is the time to admit that I have a bit of a teapot obsession, although it is nothing to worry about.  Yet.”

The teapot was not a copy of an original, but a unique object and Van Beek wondered if he could reverse the usual process and “copy” the concept into porcelain.

“I had the molds made in Jingdezhen, China and shipped them back to the Netherlands to have Bob van Schie make some casts,” he says.

Almost immediately, the Stedelijk Museum ‘s-Hertogenbosch bought the objects for their collection.

“I was always interested in Bas’ work,” says the museum’s curator Frederic Baas.  His rip-offs really irritated some designers, but that was his thinking.  To challenge the status of design and question why Dutch design became such a thing.  I liked that he unraveled the tendency for design to be really about nothing else but design.”

“Last year I went back to Jingdezhen with my students from the Rietveld Academy,” Van Beek continues, “I asked them to design and produce a tea-set in under 3.5 weeks.”

The students were asked to extrapolate an aesthetic that has always mysteriously intrigued them. “The skill and speed of the craftsmen in Jingdezhen can not be found anywhere else,” says Van Beek.  “The magic word is outsourcing, why make a mould yourself when you can have it made locally for 20 euros.”

“All of the students succeeded except me because I ended up having issues with the glazing … but the photos alone of my unfinished and failed works were enough for the Stedelijk Museum ‘s-Hertogenbosch.  Again they wanted to buy the work.  I agreed under the condition that I could come back and make them again.”

Van Beek has since re-watched all his favourite Disney films.  He noticed animated tea sets in Alice in Wonderland, Sword in the Stone and Beauty and the Beast. Tea-sets that are alive and have a personality of their own.

“You can see in a lot of his work that fascination with distilling iconic objects to a mere silhouette,” says Baas.  "From there you get to branding and just a short distance to the imagery of design.  In these tea objects he is not so much unraveling the imagery of design, but looking at how the image of design influences the physicality of it.”

“What fascinates me is that the sets are quite well designed without any knowledge of the ceramic process,” Van Beek adds.  “But they are not sold in the parks. Instead, they sell sugar, plastic and fat. Through their immersive environment it is hard to resist, I tried, but surrendered after 15 minutes. You get high on sugar, which makes you receptive to buy the fantastic plastic merchandise, craving fat afterwards to come down from your high.

“Once home, however, the plastic is out of context and you don’t know what to do with it anymore. There is some disappointment involved especially when you do not want to turn your home into a theme park. But the design of it is so well considered and executed. I ended up wanting to experience the real thing so I had the sets made.

“It was quite a challenge, making a drawing is one thing, executing it in porcelain is a whole different ballgame. Thanks to the skills and expertise of the craftsmen in Jingdezhen, it all worked out fine. The Beauty and the Beast tea-set will go into production. I am already taking orders”

On a more academic note, Baas sees a connection between Van Beek’s work and the writings of philosopher Baudrillard.  “He wrote a lot about how once we based models, like maps for example, on reality.  But somewhere in the 80s he saw a reversal.  People wanted to become a model – a model of lifestyle or being.  I think Big Brother is the best example of this and Van Beek's work also plays with this notion.”

The CEO of Disney said after the success of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” that good storytelling has nothing to do with the success of the film but good production values.  That really ties in nicely with the old modernistic idea of design: good design sells itself.

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