Up and Coming
A Drawn Interview with Mieke Meijer

If you read Sight Unseen often enough, you know that we’re supporters of all things creative, collaborative, and multidisciplinary. Matylda Krzykowski may be known for her curating talents (which we’ve featured here once or twice before), but she’s also a designer and a blogger — in other words, she’s someone who gets as few hours of sleep each week as we do. Being such a like-minded individual, we invited Krzykowski to contribute a guest post for Sight Unseen in a format similar to the one she employs on her own site, Mat and Me: Interviews that invite personalities from the design world to respond to questions with small, charming pencil drawings rather than mere spoken words. She in turn posed the challenge to Mieke Meijer, an Eindhoven-based product designer who recently contributed to the first in a series of projects at the new Depot Basel space, an open-ended design workshop in an old Swiss grain silo for which Krzykowski sits on the curation board. We’d been following Meijer’s work ourselves ever since we spotted her Gravel Plant project in Milan last year, which channels the geometries of industrial buildings into a system of storage modules whose functions are as myriad as their randomized profiles. Posted here is a selection of the drawings she submitted, plus photos that Krzykowski shot while visiting her studio last month. The captions have all been written by Krzykowski.


During this year’s Dutch Design Week, Meijer is part of the “Copy Nature: Elementary Sentiments” exhibition of objects crafted at the Beeldenstorm artists’ workshop, for which she made three containers out of cast metal. “A remarkable characteristic of copper and copper alloys like bronze is that it acts as a cellular poison for germs: Recent studies show that products made of copper have up to 95 percent fewer microorganisms than those made of other materials,” Meijer says. “Especially objects that are frequently touched by different people, that property offers a new tool in preventing the spread of infections.” The tableware—called Touchables—responds to use by developing a localized patina and by killing any associated germs. “A nice side effect is that food presented on bronze surfaces stays fresh longer,” Meijer notes.


Favorite material to work with: In the beginning of her career as designer, Meijer worked mainly with ceramics. “It’s incredible that by mixing clay and water you can make amazing shapes. It’s like making something out of nothing. But you need precision and patience for it.”


Another recent material exploration is NewspaperWood, a collaboration with the Dutch label Vij5 that compresses used newspapers into boards that are then carved to mimic the quality of real wood. In 2003, when Meijer was in her third year in the Atelier department at the Design Academy Eindhoven, she took her classes in the middle of a workshop, and experimenting with materials was the basis for each assignment. “The assignment themed around wood got me thinking,” she says. “Wood is, in its smallest form, the basis of paper. Once turned into paper, it doesn’t come out of the paper recycling cycle anymore: it stays paper. I thought it would be nice to turn the process around and turn paper into wood again.”


For the Matter in Time exhibition of Dutch Invertuals in 2010, Meijer made three so-called Relativitijdsmeters: special clocks rendered in medieval oak, glass tubes, wheels, and weights. “We don’t experience time as an equal passing event,” she says. “Sometimes, time appears to pass slower or faster. Since time seems to rule over us nowadays, I designed three objects that mark off a certain period of time not in hours or minutes, but in volume, weight, and temperature. The pieces keep your attention, and before you know it, it’s much later than you would expect.”


Design object you wish you'd made: Maarten van Severen’s 2005 Kast console for Vitra, which he worked on during the last few months of his life. “I very much appreciate his work in general,” Meijer says. “It’s simple and honest in its choice of materials and constructions, unified in a function-bound form.”


Most inspiring design movement: “Memphis—not so much the work itself, but the way the movement came into existence and the way its practitioners worked,” Meijer says. “Their goal was to react against the mainstream design at that time and to do something distinctive. I sometimes compare it with the Dutch Invertuals collective I’m part of. With designers from different disciplines, we sit together until late at night and brainstorm crazy ideas in order to present interesting exhibitions.”


Most inspiring place you've been to: “In 2008 I took part in an architecture excursion and visited the former Zeche Zollverein coal mine in Essen, Germany,” she explains. “It’s a very imposing place to visit. The scale of the buildings is overwhelming. The fact that these structures still remain and are being reused is very special—usually they’re torn down when mining is no longer commercially interesting."


"By tracing the contours of the structures there, I found that the drawings were no longer recognizable as industrial buildings. The sense of scale disappeared and the buildings became something different: pieces of furniture, vases, lamps, etc. When asked to participate in the Dutch Invertuals show in Milan in 2010, I instantly knew that this would become my project. I also knew that this would never be a single object. I was so fascinated by the matter that I saw endless possibilities.”


In Meijer’s studio is a wall full of photos of industrial buildings, of which the Zollverein shaft tower is one of the best-known examples. Her interest in the engineered structures and aesthetics associated with the buildings she collects heavily influences many of her designs. "They’re not meant to be aesthetically pleasing in the first place, and that's what gives them their beauty," she says.


Another of Meijer’s interior objects based on industrial architecture and objects: The Gravel Plant cabinets, a series of random modular elements titled to reflect the type of building that inspired the design.


Models of the ongoing series that Meijer keeps on a shelf in her studio. She prefers model-making to drawing, insisting — like many designers do — that she can't draw (despite the results of this exercise).


Least favorite thing about Eindhoven: The most horrible piece in Eindhoven, in Meijer’s eyes, stands in front of Usine, a restaurant in the former Philips lamp factory. It’s an information screen in the shape of a droplet. “I really don’t understand why the local government would grant permission for something like this. The intention was probably to combine design and technology in one object, but this is just too much of everything. Beside that, it totally overpowers the bronze statue of a girl with a light bulb which reflects the history of the city.”


Her own studio, like so many in Eindhoven, is located in a former Philips building: "The Yard" area of the Strijp R creative complex in Eindhoven — also home to Kiki and Joost. Meijer shares a workshop there with fellow designers Daphna Isaacs and Laurens Manders. The old machine factory was renovated two years ago in order to incubate creative workshops. It’s a huge space filled with stacked cargo boxes that serve as lockable offices.


That may be why Meijer felt right at home when, in late August, she participated in a 5-day workshop at Depot Basel, my new open-ended design platform space inside a former grain silo in Switzerland. Commissioned to build a service desk on the premises, she utilized the yellow planks that are found at every Swiss building site and made a light structure for the massive building.


Her objects in general are the result of an ongoing investigation into what she calls the “unperceived aesthetics of everyday life.” Adds Meijer of the Depot Basel installation above: “I decided to make this piece more or less intuitively. I used basic construction principles to create a display annex space divider. The blue material was leftover material and it matched the Depot Basel identity well.”


What you collect: Other girls collect shoes or handbags; Meijer rather works towards an extended assortment of tools. Her favorite brand is Festool. Last year she spent a fortune on tools and machinery. “It’s a lifetime investment,” she says.


Mieke is a very organised person. Every day, after using her tools, she cleans up her entire workshop and brings everything in the right order. Her husband build this storage system for her. He obviously knows what his wife likes to get as a present.


What you do when you’re not designing: “What do I do?” Mieke asks her husband after I ask her. He laughs and answers that she there’s nothing else she does all the time other than designing. Finally, Meijer decides to draw an image of Italy, because she likes to go there for the culture, the good weather, and the food.


In reality, though, most of Meijer's meals look like this: the typical lunch she shares in the studio with Isaacs and Manders. It’s an important moment of the day, because it brings them and their different tastes together, as you can see on the variety of food on the table. A sandwich for lunch is a very common thing in the Netherlands.