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Shaped by Nature

A recurring theme with emerging Dutch designers this year in Milan is how materials, nature and the odd insect - guided gently by the designer's hand - really do the talking for the product.  

By No author / 14-04-2010

Sometimes an object or piece of furniture is not so much the result of a designer’s pen, computer or ingenious mind, but is determined by the materials and techniques she or he uses. And above all, nature. This is a recurring theme in the Dutch contribution to the 2010 Salone.

“The shape is formed by the sand and the materials, not by me,” says Sjoerd Jonkers, a newcomer to the Tuttobene group show being held in Zona Tortona. The shapes he is referring to are his vases and containers made using sand moulds into which polyurethane is poured. The end result is a series of primitive-looking vessels that look like they have been around for hundreds of years but are so light that they can be lifted with one hand. ‘Neolastic vases’ is what the 26-year-old designer calls this new take on plastic. The mistakes in the product make it more beautiful. “It has to do with acceptance,” says Jonkers.

Over in the centre of town, another design set-up has taken this concept even further. EDHV are showing as part of Dutch Invertuals, a collective of former Design Academy graduates curated by the enthusiastic guiding hand of Wendy Plomp. ‘Debug’ is EDHV’s contribution and as a project it is dictated by a bunch of insects and an ingenious piece of software or script that translates the movement of insects into lines. Insects, sea beetles and wood lice wander around a tiny 3D model of a chair and literally design it. Sometimes they need a bit of encouragement says creative direct Remco van de Craats, "a bit of sugared water" for instance, but generally they are quite happy to mill about and unknowingly create pieces of furniture.

EDHV started out designing posters this way but soon moved on to 3D items such as shelving and chairs when they saw the possibilities. Van de Craats can tell which insects have been at work by looking at the results. “All insects have different behaviours. Wood lice walk around edges, crickets walk very fast and stop and start, flies are also very jumpy and sea beetles are more random.” The insects even choose the colour of the item they are designing by the direction they take. The designs have been turned into models and will hopefully be transformed into real furniture (the chairs with only three legs may have to be handed back to the insects for a second draft however!)

Over at the imposing Triennale building, Gijs Bakkers has assembled a project called Yii in which a group of Taiwanese designers have worked closely with traditional Taiwanese craftsmen to make everyday objects that would not look out of place in a display cabinet or museum installation. ‘Cocoon Plan’ is an innovative collaboration between designer Rock Wang and craftsman Kao-ming Chen. First Kao-ming Chen skilfully wove and intertwined bamboo strips into a strong and flexible sinuous sofa, then Wang set a bunch of silk worms to work on the structure. After five days the structure was covered in a thick translucent white fabric that Wang coated with rice glue to strengthen it. “I have been called a farmer-designer,” he smiles and then goes on to assure us that no worms were harmed in the process. He even points out one or two stains on the sofa that turn out to be worm shit. (That’s nature for you.) The whole process of making a sofa this way takes days and weeks. ‘Calligraphy Cupboard’ is the baby of designer Po-ching Liao with a lacquerware artist and wood carver and took an even longer-four months. Liao chose driftwood from a local beach and lovingly assembled it and lacquered it 23 times in black to turn it into a graceful and delicate cabinet with stately hinges.

This is design shaped by nature, you might even call it random design. Yet the gently guiding hand of the designer is never far away, slowly, slowly getting the most out of his or her chosen materials. Or, in some cases, insects.

Main image: Tuttobene 2010 presentation, photography: Ilco Kemmere
Images 1&2: Sjoerd Jonkers
Images 3&4: EDHV
Images 5&6: Rock Wang
Image 7: Po-ching Liao

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