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Form, Material & Movement

The flow of continuous creation characterizes Maria Blaisse’s bamboo objects on exhibition during Dutch Design Week.  Free and lyrical, the pieces move like they are alive and defy expectations in the process.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 15-10-2009

Maria Blaisse’s “Bamboo – Moving Meshes” was first conceived in her mind two years ago when she saw a bamboo exhibition in Eindhoven.  “It was interesting,” she says, “but I was so disappointed that none of the designers used movement. Bamboo’s best quality is its flexibility.”

As with most of the design Blaisse does, the designs she went on to create in bamboo unwittingly fit back in place with her earliest influence – the toroid, or the inner tube of a car tire. 

The story goes that when her children were small, she cut open a tire to make a fireman’s helmet.  What she found, was the toroid, or inner tube with its unique set of mathematical properties that spell endless possibilities from a design perspective. Ever since, she has been designing furniture, hats and other objects using the very same properties she discovered that day.

Years spent unraveling and playing with the toroids have given Blaisse an uncanny ability to read the geometry of a surface and to anticipate the way such shapes will bend and respond to a provocation. In other words, she understands the way surfaces move.  “And I like to improvise,” she says. 

With all that as her foundation, plus her disappointment with the bamboo exhibition, Blaisse introduced her skill at plaiting, which she mastered in the 70s making leather and rope products.  Experiments in a micro format gave the confidence to go large and the result is her series of exquisite bamboo mesh objects – nameless and in some ways even alive.

On the afternoon I visited Blaisse’s studio on the Bickerseiland in Amsterdam, the sun was pouring in through the huge back windows.  The only thing shading her workbenches from the glaring sun were the clumps of bamboo planted along the edge of the canal.  “Funnily enough, it has always been there,” she says.  “I planted it years ago and I guess subconsciously, its movement really made an impact.”

Inside, perched on the floor and hanging from the ceilings are the massive bamboo objects – each one bent into a different position.  Looking closely, it’s hard to believe that these were not designed on a computer.“

I’ve never used a computer,” Blaisse says.  “That’s just not how I work.  I construct these more like a spider might his web.  I make the form and then pull at different threads to make the shapes.”  After so many years of using the basic inner tube structure and properties, the surface dynamics and possibilities are obviously etched into her way of thinking.

It wasn’t until after she started working the bamboo shapes that Blaisse discovered that they react quite gracefully to the human body.  To further experiment, she asked dancers to improvise with  the shapes to see what they would make of one another.  “I think that the forms really find their way,” she says.  “The action and reaction is quite beautiful.”

Seeing her forms move under that influence gave Blaisse a better vision of what potential uses they might have. “Even though it is always the same object, each time a dancer performed, I could see new shapes,” she says.  “It was as if it were alive.”

Which lead Blaisse to the idea of architecture. “When I see the forms come to life, I see fashion and art, but most of all I see architecture,” she says.  So she contacted the Advanced Geometry Unit of Arup and it turned out they loved her ideas and thought it would be interesting to make full size pavilions from them.  “The connections will be made from rubber and the neck points will be much stronger than my hand made ones,” she says

The pavilions will be mobile, collapsible and best of all flexible – they can be erected into different shapes depending on the requirements.

“Bamboo – Moving Meshes” is nominated for the Doen Materiaal Prize to be announced okt 17 the first day of the Dutch Design Week.

Also, Blaisse’s C-Shoe for Camper To&ether has been nominated for the Dutch Design Awards - the prize winners will also be announced on October 17th.

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