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Self Unself – the DAE conquers Van Abbe #DDW13

The Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven has joined forces with the DAE in exploring the tension between the personality of a designer and the universal purpose of his design.

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 23-10-2013

Straddling the dichotomy between art and design – that’s the goal made by the exhibition “Self Unself” that opened in Eindhoven’s temple for modern art, the Van Abbemuseum, at the start of Dutch Design Week last Saturday.

“Self”’ might be the one and only point of reference for the artist, as designers are usually more focused on creating things with a practical purpose for a certain user – the “Unself”.

Thomas Widdershoven, the new(ish) creative director of the Design Academy Eindhoven, chose Self Unself as the theme for this year’s graduation show at the DAE.

“A good design is a personal design,” writes Widdershoven in the introduction to the graduation show, asking designers to combine “self” and “unself”. He continuous to note that in present day and age, where economic and political systems are failing citizens, many graduates have chosen to express themselves via social design.

Widdershoven’s idea was picked up by the Van Abbe, where the same theme of Self-Unself is now explored via the works of 23 designers – both recent graduates and more established designers. How far do these designers take personal matters into their design?

Perhaps the most personal exhibit is Inside Out by Alicia Ongay-Perez. She asked women in her old London neighbourhood what they thought of the work (porcelain copies of vases or a lemon juicer) she created at the DAE. Ongay-Perez proceeded to record the conversations on video.

“These are all strange ideas aren’t they,” one lady says. “Are they your ideas?”
“I got high marks for this for my Masters,” Ongay-Perez tells her.
“Who are these people,” is the incredulous response.  The woman goes on to admit that she would only pay 50p on the flea market for any of the objects.

Another good example might be Masks by Bertjan Pot. Overwhelming is the sadness hidden in a mask with a gigantic smile. “Yes, I’ll be your funny friend for the day,” the mask seems to say, “but I do need this mask to play the part.”

Overall, the “Self” part of the exhibition tends to focus more on social issues, or even drama, than issues from the realm of the personal.

There is for instance Moulding Tradition, porcelain containers by Formafantasma which appear to be a play on traditional Sicilian earthenware, but at closer observation could be seen as urns for the remains of hundreds of illegal immigrants drowned off the Sicilian coast.

Mapping Malala by Monica Alisse maps the development of the story of the shooting of the young Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai, and how the story was twisted and turned to fit different purposes.

Wolwaeren is an interesting social design experiment by Ro Smit. “Beauty springs from the impairment of the weaver,” is the motto for woolen blankets woven by people with mental or physical impairments. In the process, Smit designed looms suitable for the user. It turns out people on the autism spectrum can work with thin yarn, while those with down syndrome requires thicker yarn.

The experiment of Self Unself is interesting. It is also part of an ongoing debate fueled by the limited edition trend in design: is it just a gimmick or can a piece of design be art with a value in itself?

Self Unself runs until 17 November 2013

Main image: Mask, by Bertjan Pot
Left from top:
Inside Out, by Alicia Ongay-Perez
Moulding Tradition, by Formafantasma
Mapping Malala, by Monica Alisse
Wolwaeren, by Ro Smit.

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