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Could this be done differently?

Interview with Christien Meindertsma

How do you define transparency? What is the value of local production? How does commodity trading work? For Dutch artist Christien Meindertsma, design is an instrument for critically examining our established modes of consumption – with the aim of disrupting thinking patterns and creating new approaches. She meticulously documents her design process along the way. An exhibition of her work entitled ‘Beyond the Surface’ is on view at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery until 20 January 2019.

Christien, your approach to design is very unique. How did you develop in this direction?

After graduating from university, I shared a studio with a few friends. Some of them became very successful right away. Their work was very tangible from the beginning; it attracted media interest and was immediately acquired by museums. My work was much harder to grasp. I was doing research about products made from parts of a pig and decided to produce a book. Everyone predicted I would just end up with a garage full of books. But then, slowly, it caught on and received more attention. The moment when the project won a Dutch Design Award was a turning point. I realised the work I did was also valuable, that it was possible to be successful as a ‘one woman company’ and as someone who dedicates a lot of energy and thought to research.

You went to the Design Academy Eindhoven, which is known for an approach to design that is more experimental and research-based. How would you describe the ethos there during your time as a student?

There was a great energy. Droog Design was really hitting its stride, and the school was going through some fundamental changes. Hella Jongerius and Jurgen Bey were teachers – they all achieved their breakthrough around that time. After I had been there a year, Li Edelkoort became head of the school and introduced a much more international approach. We went to Brazil, to New York, to Milan. Because of her influence, we were much more exposed to the world. You really felt a lot of ambition and enthusiasm. But also, the style of teaching changed. When I first started it was really theoretical; we would be thinking about something for three months and then make something at the last minute. But then Hella Jongerius started a new department called Atelier. On the first day of a semester, you were given a material and then you had to work with it for a time. So the theoretical approach and the material were both at the heart of the school. They were both equally important – you had to work with your hands and your head.

You sometimes describe yourself as a ‘documentary designer’. It appears that you have instinctively understood that in order to make your work valuable, you have to make it attractive for your audience. You do this with beautifully produced publications such as PIG 05049 or Bottom Ash Observatory, and also with films. How did you develop this practice?

It was a slow process. My graduation project was a book about the objects that are confiscated at airport security. I had bought a whole container load full of ‘dangerous’ objects that were confiscated over the course of a week at Schiphol Airport. I called the project ‘Checked Baggage’. For some reason, the British photographer and curator Martin Parr included it in a published list of his favourite photo books. Through this list and my subsequent research projects, I discovered the potential of photography for exhibiting my work and illustrating my design process. Sometime later, I started to employ film as a documentary medium. I have a longstanding professional relationship with filmmaker Roel van Tour, who has created films on my work with virgin wool, with flax, and with recycled wool, which are all shown in the exhibition.

Christien Meindertsma: Beyond the Surface
Vitra Design Museum Gallery
18.08.2018 – 20.01.2019


Publication Date: 24.8.18
Author: Vitra Design Museum
Images: Installation views "Christien Meindertsma: Beyond the Surface", © Vitra Design Museum, photo: Bettina Matthiessen
Film: Marek Iwicki