Design Academy Eindhoven Graduation Show
In an era where design education is more focussed on research, graduation exhibitions are getting harder to present. The DAE show held during DDW showcased some bright minds who appear determined to embrace design differently - fewer chairs, more research and an increased emphasis on social design.
It’s harder for graduates to really wow an audience in the current design climate given that a lot of their projects are research-based. This is a good thing. Fewer tricks, far less Dutch humour and an almost somber realization of where the world is headed. Again, all good things.
It does, however, mean that the Design Academy Eindhoven show lacks a bit of the pizzazz that it’s grown famous for. It takes longer to understand the projects and requires a bigger commitment from the visitor. There were a few misses, a lot of middle-ground work and some stand-out projects that showed how some students understand very well the role design must play from here on.
Wouter Lancee’s project set the scene. His films and explanations attracted a constant crowd of onlookers who were not only impressed with his concept, but who couldn’t really believe he had done it.
Fascinated by remorse for past deeds and unable to move on, Lancee decided to visit a priest for a Catholic confession.
“I am a Catholic, but not a practicing one,” Lancee explains. “I am the sort of person who never puts his feelings aside, if something happens I try to deal with it head on.”
After confessing to the priest, Lancee noticed that voicing a regret forces one to relive the actual moment. The hurt and pain returns.
“And it was that feeling that I wanted to try to visualize,” he says.
Lancee’s brother is a tattoo artist so that is a culture he is very familiar with. What he wasn’t sure about was whether a tattoo could be done without ink.
“We didn’t know if anyone had ever done it before,” he says.
After a small experiment on his arm to check that the scars would completely heal, Lancee had his back tattooed with a list of all his sins.
“I wouldn’t have done it if it had left a permanent scar because that would confuse the message,” he says. “I don’t believe you should live with your sins forever because there has to be forgiveness.”
A girlfriend’s abortion, a small boy he bullied at school, drug abuse and general arrogance were some of the regrets Lancee had etched onto his back.
Another project with great impact was by Michael Kluver. He presented a satirical piece that both questioned and challenged the direction design is taking. He based it around the chair – the holy grail of product design and the object every designer aspires to create. His challenge, though, is why?
“Design became so fashionable,” he says. “It is ridiculous. Why do we need a new chair every season?”
Unsurprisingly not all the teachers at the academy reacted well to the project. “Some from different departments thought it rubbed a little too hard against the grain,” he says, “but really I am just posing a question, not being critical.”
To the classic Rietveld, Eames, Breuer and Mackintosh chairs, Kluver mixed up the elements while maintaining the optimal heights and angles that were discovered generations ago. The result is four simplified but still recognizable chairs.
His point is to stress that it is time to move on. There are more important things than chairs, especially considering that the optimal parameters of a chair are well known.
“What also bothers me is that iconic original chair designers were not just trying to create a new product," Kluver says. "Their work was about how they viewed the world and they all had strong opinions about how life should be. Their chairs were simply a part of that vision. It is only since then that the chairs have been removed from their context and put on a pedestal to become icons.”
Chair design today lacks such context. “If a designer comes up with a new material or technique, the first thing he wants to do with it is make a chair,” Kluver says. “I think we need to create our own relevant context. We should be experimenting, inventing, questioning and researching. These great chairs were designed by people who were only doing that. They were thinking about the world and experimenting with questions.
“Now it is a different era, with different issues," he continues. "The questions should be different and so should the results. A chair, after all, is just a chair.”
Kluver, who graduated from the Man and Communication department, sees his approach as 3D writing. “An essay could do the same thing,” he says, “but I prefer this medium to communicate.”
Charlotte Porskamp also graduated from the Man and Communication department and won praise for her Face your Facebook project, which challenges people to recognize the gulf between what they would dare do in their real lives versus what they are willing to do and share on Facebook.
Porskamp used some actors, arranged for a hidden camera and hit the streets. In one scene she stood on a small stage in Dam square in Amsterdam. An actor invited passersby to join her on stage to share what they were doing .
“Nobody would join in,” she says, “which is weird seeing that on Facebook people feel fine sharing actions publicly.”
In another scene she had an actor racing around physically tagging people.
“The point is to make people think about whether what they do on Facebook is really normal,” Porskamp says. “It is not finger pointing, or anti-facebook, but just encouraging people to reconsider whether their online lives are connected to their real lives.” The Man and Communication department went through a number of head changes since this graduating class commenced. This class started out with Anthon Beeke and after some temporary appointments ended with the Stone twins. “For me it was a better fit, but there was a very big difference in philosophy between the different heads and not everyone coped well with that,” Porskamp says.
The focus in the department under Beeke was more about personal fascinations and observations – expressing through projects one’s own position and experiences. The Stone twins have a different outlook. “They wanted us to look at the world and to use our talent to show people where things go wrong. It had to be less about what was going in your own mind and more about showing how bigger problems could be solved.”
A number of high-school teachers saw Porskamp’s project during the graduation show and thought it would be great as a school presentation. “So many kids don’t know what friendship is anymore,” she says. “They confuse it with a popularity meter. They end up struggling to share their deepest feelings in life because they don’t do it online.”
Out of all the designers Roland Smit was perhaps the most surprised by the overwhelming response his project garnered from the audience. He has been so engrossed in the work for the past six months that he had lost track of how it might impact on others.
And that impact was huge.
Today it costs 3,50 euros to have a sheep shorn, and the farmer makes 2,50 euro for the wool.
“It actually loses money, but in the past Holland was a major wool exporter,” Smit says.
Smit traveled to Texel in North Holland to try to connect with some existing sheep infrastructure and he came across a workshop for the mentally and physically impaired. He started noticing how people work differently depending on their disability.
“People with Down Syndrome work roughly and quickly and find it easier to use thicker yarns, but autistic people work more deliberately and with a lot of precision and prefer thinner yarns,” he says.
Smit then designed looms to suit these differences and held workshops with the different groups to help them weave products. Seven blankets are the result and each one clearly shows a very different approach to handling the wool.
Hand-made, locally sourced materials and fair prices characterize these products and other areas of Holland have already voiced interest in Smit doing similar workshops in their communities. “It could work for many different materials so I have already started researching,” he says.
Boudewien van den Berg was already enrolled in a social studies degree before joining the academy, a background that informs her projects. For her work in the Man and Leisure department she was inspired by the intrinsically competitive nature of man and how modernity plays on that.
“Technology means that we are comparing ourselves to more and more people,” Van den Berg says. “And at the same time, our lives can be more and more designed adding pressure to make ourselves and our lifestyles even more perfect.”
Designed, however, does not mean real.
For her project, Interpretation of a Generation she interviewed young people about how they relate to the context we are now living in. To show the outcome of this research, she photoshopped the faces of the interviewees until they were perfectly proportioned. Like others in her year, she visualized this research rather then trying to create any sort of product.
“The school does not tell us to avoid product design, but there were definitely more suggestions about social, service and system design,” Van den Berg says.
Trying to avoid what she describes as the “black hole” a lot of graduates fall into after finishing their studies, Van den Berg was accepted and is undergoing a traineeship at OMA.
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