Four years ago, Sight Unseen featured the first product by what was then a brand-new studio on the scene: The Syzygy series by Dutch duo Os ∆ Oos consisted of three lamps whose intensity depended on the subtle rotation of three light-filtering discs placed in front of the bulb; it was inspired by the astronomical phenomenon of three celestial bodies aligning in space. As a design product, it was both conceptually driven and artistically minded, but it was, at the end of the day, a lamp. “We’re definitely not artists; we’re designers,” clarifies Oskar Peet, who with Sophie Mensen makes up the Eindhoven-based studio. “We like to make functional projects.”
That mix of dreamy ingenuity, conceptual rigor, and deft practicality is what’s come to define Os ∆ Oos in the four years since and what’s brought them to the forefront of the Dutch scene. “We always try to make everything a bit too complex, but it’s an urge that we have. It can’t just be another light sitting there; it has to have another layer to it,’”says Mensen of the inherent way their objects tempt the viewer to take a closer look.
Looking around the duo’s studio — as we did this fall when we visited them during the annual Dutch Design Week — it’s clear that this conceptual thinking plays out as a synthesis of configuration and experimentation. Mensen and Peet share the same feeling for shape, form and materiality, an appreciation they honed while studying together at the Design Academy Eindhoven. They’re often drawn to the unpredictable behaviors of new materials, a fascination that sees them constantly forging relationships with unusual suppliers or manufacturers with whom they can push new material applications.
“We try not to make things that could have been made 50 or 100 years ago,” Peet says. “It’s nice if you look at the materials that are newly available to you at this moment and try do something with those.” (It’s why the two don’t naturally gravitate towards working with, say, wood.) For instance, the conjoining elements of their LED Mono-Lights are made from a specially developed extruded silicone foam, allowing them to flex accordingly. Other interesting materials that have crossed the designers’ paths include Hi-Macs, an acrylic stone surface that allows for malleable, yet durable, surfaces; Italian veneers; and, most recently, recycled glass.
And so what’s behind their name? “Os is from Oskar — that’s quite obvious,” laughs Mensen, who reveals that the name “Oos” is a family nickname from her childhood. “Oskar is of course my boyfriend, so when he came into my family they were always like, ‘Hey Os and Oos!’ So before we even had that name for our studio, we were named like that by my family.”
In our recap of the most recent Dutch Design Week on Monday, we alluded to the economic quagmire that’s been enveloping the Netherlands' insanely prolific creative class. But one of the week’s exhibitions actually addressed the crisis head-on: Objects for Sale, which asked eight designers to create products within three price brackets (<€50, €50-500, >€500) and to explain how choices within their design and production processes affected the bottom line.
It's been a tough two years for Dutch design. First a newly elected right-wing government slashed the tiny country's legendary arts funding, causing seemingly irreparable damage to its institutions and grant programs, and then a series of high-profile resignations called into question the inner workings of Eindhoven's hallowed Design Academy. But even if there are signs that the fairy-tale may not last — that creativity and experimentalism can't elude the death-grip of capitalism forever, even in a place where designers still benefit from squatters' rights — we still look forward to Dutch Design Week as a reminder of the happier consequences of those values. While we couldn't attend this year ourselves, we asked our faithful contributor Marco Tabasso, who's second-in-command at Rossana Orlandi gallery in Milan, to report back on his experiences at the festival — from his mixed feelings about the Design Academy show to the paella dinner he and Rossana shared with Nacho Carbonell in the designer's studio, above.
We made the rounds in Eindhoven this year in order to scout out our favorite projects from an event that consistently introduces top emerging talents into the European design scene. Here's our guide to the names and projects to know from DDW 2015.