Here’s (More) Proof That Dutch Design Has Gone Super Minimal
It’s rare to come across a body of work and a design approach as radical as that of Dutch designer Tijmen Smeulders. Give his portfolio a quick browse, and you’ll find only the barest essentials: dimensions, material, and year of production. Focused on technical exploration and highly sculptural, his pieces offer the viewer no explanation of their existence or even a hint as to the concept behind them — they are pure form. Each object conjures up its own universe — a polyester piece that appears to be floating in the air, a mirror that distorts the reflection reality — and so manages to exist in its own right with no need for words.
Smeulders rejects storytelling all together. It is his silent backlash against the superficiality of design that permits a lack of attention to form and material. “I aim to make products that create their own context as in my opinion a product should never be dependent on the explanation of its concept. We should not use words as an excuse or protection for our products,” he points out. Instead, he focuses on methodical examination of material qualities and on developing a complex network of interdependencies between the form, material and color of the object. “There has to be a relation between the fundamental elements of the product. Material, texture, shape and function should strengthen each other’s presence,” explains Smeulders.
In real life, his products are puzzling and uncanny, as if their material qualities extended beyond the laws of physics. Our first encounter with his work was coming across the Light Object, a rounded resin form that appeared so luminous it could only be explained by containing its own source of light. When we caught up last week, Smeulders finally explained that the piece was an experiment in destabilizing the qualities of the color and that through manipulating its shape the object could harness the light from its surroundings. For Smeulders, each object is a study in expanding the physical qualities of a given material and adding new treatments to his own aesthetic lexicon. Read on to find out what he has in store for us next.
Describe your most recent project and how it was made.
My most recent project (shown here deconstructed and in its final form at the top of this post) is called Parts and it is a result of investigating ways in which we can breathe life into the often-monotonous skins of products. The piece is a bench made from polyester yarns using a CNC-tufting machine. I chose this material because of its complex, dual qualities — the length of the yarn reflects the light but the ends absorb it. This tension and interaction results in a rich and versatile skin.
The surface of the bench can be very soft and quiet, showing only subtle nuances of the blue but it can come to life and reflect light when placed in the sun. There is also a direct relation between the material and the shape as the characteristics of the yarn guided the form. The bench has a rounded seat in order the help the yarns fall open and create a clear separation line where the light is being absorbed. From here the yarns fall down as a sort of textile waterfall and as soon as they reach the floor they blend with the horizontal surface.
Describe your next project and how you’re currently making it.
My next two projects, as well as the Parts bench, will be on show next week in Milan as part of a new exhibition Advanced Relics by Dutch Invertuals.
At the moment I’m working on a wall fixture that explores the behavior of light and our interaction with it. Imagine a stick hanging against the wall; it instructs you about its purpose by giving small (formalistic) hints. You pull the handle and as soon as the light leaves the vertical axis the lamp will gradually switch on. It starts with a soft and warm light but when you start turning it more horizontal, it becomes brighter and cooler.
It was very important for me to achieve a sense of unity and seamlessness between the movement and the appearance of the light; they had to function in unison. I researched different types of coating for the aluminum to find the right color and finish so that the appearance of the fixture in each position mimics in its own way the changing type and amount of light.
Next to the light I’m debuting a new small standing mirror made of a thick sheet of brass, which has been folded at the bottom to create support. The entire surface of the piece is reflective so the bottom part of the image will be distorted and gradually emerge out of the pleat to create a truthful reflection. The project is a continuation of a solid aluminum mirror I created in 2013 (above), in which the rounded shape of the form distorted the edges of the reflection. The piece combined practical purpose of a mirror with an exploration of the visual qualities of a reflective surface.
Tell us one thing that’s been inspiring you lately and why.
I find inspiration in many things. The way light reflects on or changes a texture, color or material often becomes a motivation to start a project. I’m intuitively attracted to these types of sensorial stimuli.
At the moment I’m collecting different types of technical yarn. I want to understand their material characteristics and figure out the best techniques to process them and find out why they fascinate me. Then I can look for interesting applications for it.
Already the way they are made in production is very intriguing. Some yarns are extremely thin but surprisingly strong, some are anonymous and others are very outspoken in color and finish. Their industrial and precise look in combination with their surprising traits delivers an interesting tactility that speaks to me.
Show us your studio and tell us what you like about it.
First of all it’s the location. Together with my girlfriend I moved to Rotterdam about half a year ago and it’s a city where we feel at home while being exposed to new things every day.
At the moment I don’t have an official studio space but an office at home. I like it because it’s completely my own domain and it’s very quiet — a perfect space for reading, questioning and reflecting; a good place to think and make new plans. I keep around some prototypes and materials but I prefer my workspace to be a clean slate so most of the sketches, models and old projects are quickly moved to the basement.
My workspace is for reflection and developing concepts whereas the production takes place in collaboration with industrial producers, craftsmen or other specialists in professional workshops. It is very important to me to work with the actual materials myself so I often visit them for color and texture research. Every new idea is guided by the process and the material.