Juliette Warmenhoven grew up in Holland’s so-called bulb district, near Haarlem, in a small village called Hillegom. Her father is a flower farmer. If it all sounds very quaint, it might have been 20 years ago — but then tulip production went the way of the meat industry thanks to globalization, and farming became a race to create the maximum amount of homogenous bulbs in the shortest amount of time. “My father feels farming is like working in a factory now,” says the Arnhem-based designer. Just as shrink-wrapped steak has been divorced from the killing of the cow, plants are more about the perfection of the end product than the actual growing process. “I believe that when you explain that process to people, they get more feeling out of it,” she says. For Everyday Growing, her graduation project at Arnhem’s ArtEZ school this January, she built a series of small monuments to plants’ humble — and often imperfect — origins.
As a kid, Warmenhoven remembers lovingly gathering and making art out of branches, leaves, and whatever other materials she could find in her backyard. But with Everyday Growing, and an earlier group of ceramic vases chemically coated to look like iridescent insects, she uses conspicuously artificial materials in her explorations of the natural world. There’s a low-tech bonsai incubator molded in liquid plastic and fiberglass, and a working music box that’s cut out of paper, dipped in plastic, and loaded with a tiny sprouting potato that spins as the music plays. “The first idea was to give all the attention to the plant,” she says of her fanciful creations. “But then I wanted to show that culture and nature are equally important.” On the other hand, there’s also a wry reference in there to the plastic foliage which has grown in popularity in Europe in recent years, and which she thoroughly loathes.
Warmenhoven managed to make every part of every object in the Everyday Growing series herself, except for the music box movement, a handmade version of which she’s working on now. When a piece required special knowledge — like how to naturally irrigate the soil in the incubator using water tanks, or how to mold fiberglass — she worked out her own approach just by experimenting. When we initially spotted the project at DMY in Berlin, it was accompanied by a beautiful book of photographs documenting that process; a selection of those images are reprinted here, along with a closer look at how each object aims to change our perceptions of plant life.
You only need to know a few things about Belgrade to understand where Ana Kraš comes from: It's been invaded countless times throughout history, even by the Nazis, after which it was then ravaged by Tito, Milošević, the Kosovo War, and the associated NATO bombings. When it finally emerged from its troubles in 1999, its government and economy were in shambles; the average salary in Belgrade is still less than 400 euros per month. To have become a designer in this context is exceedingly difficult — Kraš's design school had no workshop, materials, or experienced professors, and almost none of her compatriots can afford to spend money on furniture — and yet you won't find a trace of that struggle in the talented 26-year-old's work. At least not by looking at it.
When Sarah Illenberger picks up the phone, the first thing she does is apologize: There's a loud, repetitive popping noise going off in the background of her Berlin studio, which turns out to be the firing of a staple gun. She doesn't say what her assistants are constructing with the staples, but judging from her past illustration work, it's likely they'll be built up by the thousands onto a substrate until their glinting mass reveals some kind of representational image — a skyscraper, maybe, or a ball of tinfoil. Almost all of Illenberger's work involves using handicraft to manipulate one thing into looking like something else entirely, and almost all of it entails such a meticulous construction process that there's no time to silence it for interviews.
Between the two of them, Julie Ho and Nicholas Andersen had designed clothing, jewelry, movie sets, music videos, and Martha Stewart shoots, plus dabbled in painting, drawing, pattern-making, sewing, and crocheting before teaming up creatively in 2008. Ho had even been a studio assistant for Tom Sachs, making foam Hello Kittys with a medical scalpel (and slicing open her hands almost weekly in the process). So it took a particular kind of alchemy for the pair to decide that — out of all their talents and interests — they would devote their days to making paper party decorations, the kind you'd expect to find in a dollar store.