Lucas Maassen managed to emotionally move a room full of design experts who probably thought they’d had seen everything there was to see. His new project “Valerie My Crystal Sister” is now showing at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery.
“Confrontations: Contemporary Dutch Design” opened this week at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery during Design Miami/Basel.
Next door to the “Gerrit Rietveld – The Revolution of Space” exhibition in the main museum, “Confrontations” further delves into the Dutch master’s ongoing relevance by presenting six young Dutch designers whose work somehow captures Rietveld’s experimental thinking.
Curator Amelie Znidaric matched each designer with producing partners from the surrounding Basel and Freiburg area who provided materials and know-how with the goal of jointly developing an object or installation.
“I love Lucas,” Znidaric says of Lucas Maassen whose chandelier “Valerie My Crystal Sister” was being constructed live – as a design performance - this past Tuesday.
Znidaric paired Maassen up with biomedical company Roche - one of the world’s leading research-oriented healthcare companies specializing in pharmaceuticals and diagnostics. The “Discovery Chemistry” division at Roche consists of experts in the fields of medicinal chemistry and computer-assisted molecular design who work to develop new molecules as potential new medicines towards the improvement of patients’ lives.
It worked because Maassen works with science. “His approach is to use these little tiny tiny personal ideas that leap into something really huge and inevitably beautiful,” Znidaric says.
An earlier project - Nano Chair - was just five micrometers tall and was “built” in collaboration with a physicist using an ion milling technique. The chair is only visible through a special focused ion beam microscope and challenges notions of how big an object has to be before we call it an object. When does a chair become a chair?
In another project Maassen employed his three young sons to paint furniture. He strictly abided by Dutch law with regards to child labour laws and the number of hours a youth can work for, and agreed to pay the boys one euro per finished unit.
He discovered that under such circumstances, it would be impossible to produce anywhere near what child labour in Asian factories are producing – in terms of quantity and cost.
His challenge this time concerned industrial production itself. Do we need it? What sort of people, and what sort of environment has it created?
Of course design’s beloved modernists craved for their work to be mass-produced in order to improve the lives and surroundings of the common man.
Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Rietveld, Bauhaus – it was all about access and anti-elitism.
In this new project with Roche, Maassen started with the idea of being able to use the organic process that created himself to create a design process that would lead to an object.
He asked Roche whether it was possible to crystallize a fragment of his own DNA. It was scientifically possible, but not legal. “In Switzerland you can’t copy DNA,” Znidaric explains. Instead, Roche created a synthetic copy, crystallized it and sent the microscopic crystal to Vienna-based crystal manufacturer Lobmeyr. There the crystal was magnified and then reproduced one thousand times.
Maassen then called his parents – divorced for twenty years – and asked them to meet him in Vitra. He wanted them to stand together on a platform, in front of an audience and to assemble the crystals into a chandelier thus crating Valerie, their non existent daughter and the sister Maassen never got.
“Once again he starts with this micro idea that leaps into this huge and complex issue,” Znidaric says.
The confrontation runs deep – between his divorced parents, between design and science, but also between the microscopic molecules that attract and detract in an almost chilling similarity to his parents own relationship.
While they are silently performing the design process, a film plays in the background. It cleverly juxtaposes an interview between Maassen’s parents about their relationship with a talk by the Roche scientist who is dealing with the equally independent and unpredictable personalities of the molecules.
Meanwhile the audience silently watches, wondering what went wrong between these two people who are designing their daughter on stage. They seem so focused, so together, so able to create something beautiful. She pushes one crystal into place, steps back, looks uncertain and he moves in to reassure her that the positioning looks just right.
Ultimately, this project is about the visualization of life. DNA is the basic code of life, an essential part of every organism. But ideas that start well – like a relationship, like industrial production – can just as easily go wrong.
“It is so poetic and beautiful,” says Znidaric. “Valerie was the name he would have been given had he been a girl.
This project also captures a broader movement in design, which has traditionally been about finding solutions, but now seems qualified to be used as a tool to ask questions.
“And to analyze social problems,” Znidaric adds.
Over the next few weeks design.nl will publish more stories from other design studios involved in “Confrontations: Contemporary Dutch Design”. The participating studios are - 2012Architecten, Catalogtree, Studio Formafantasma, Lucas Maassen, Dirk Vander Kooij and Studio Wieki Somers. This exhibition was realized is cooperation with Premsela, the Dutch Institute for Design and Fashion.
Images of the Velerie chandelier being constructed by Maassen's parents by Mike Roelofs.
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