Friday, February 17, 2012

Designer of the Month: Hella Jongerius

week 3: technology and tradition

Nymphenburg Sketches – Animal Bowls (Fawn), 2004. Porcelain bowls, animals made by hand, glaze and hand-painted decorations. Design: Hella Jongerius. Distributors: Nymphenburg, München. Courtesy of Jongeriuslab.

Last week, I discussed the ways in which Hella Jongerius successfully combines industry and craft, one method of which is to create deliberate imperfections in an object. But for Jongerius, product design is not just about perfecting a process and then adding her own individual spin to it, nor is it about creating an object that is singular unto a specific time or place. Jongerius holds the idea of craftsmanship in high regard, and is especially conscious of the tradition surrounding this craft. However, the historical aspects of industry and of the companies that she designs for also play a role in defining Jongerius' work. As she explains:
By involving craftsman in the design process, I add something, humanity, tactility, literally the hand of the maker, who was persona non grata for years in the world of industrial design. What is more, I try to connect archival items with contemporary patterns and techniques. In fat, I create an enormous palette that appeals to the mental freedom of the viewer. I don't want to make arbitrary collages of old pictures, but to find meaning in interpreting the past in a new way.[1]
The above Animal Bowls (2004) that Jongerius designed for Nymphenburg, which celebrate the animal collection and decorative patterns found in the company's archives, are one of many examples of this; it's an arrangement from which Jongerius' most successful designs often arise.

Sampler Blankets, 2004. Felt, wool Technique: Needle-punch and embroidery. Design: Hella Jongerius. Commission: Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, New York. Courtesy of Jongeriuslab.

Delving into an archive and designing based on the resulting discoveries has been a theme throughout Jongerius' career. While this has often been the case in her designs for industry, Jongerius has been inspired by museum collections as well. The above Sampler Blankets (2004) were created at the request of the Cooper-Hewitt. The museum gave Jongerius the freedom to create based on items in their collection that sparked her interest, with samplers - fabrics on which handicraft techniques were illustrated - serving as the inspiration for her resulting designs.[2] "They were often made by bored noblewomen with a lot of time on their hands," she recalls. "In my Sampler Blankets I have reused the old motifs of the original samplers by applying a technique of cut and paste. However I have also breathed new life into old techniques with which mattresses used to be made, the needle punch...this results in unique blankets in which old motifs and techniques are brought back to life in a new way."[3] While these particular creations were non-manufactured one-offs, they subsequently served as the inspiration for an industrial version: the Layers (2006) collaboration shown below, produced with the textile manufacturer Maharam.

Layers, 2006. Wool, polyester yarn. Design: Hella Jongerius. Distributors: Maharam, New York. Courtesy of Jongeriuslab.

While Jongerius' historical explorations may not always result in a mass-produced product, this focus on experimentation within the tradition of a craft or technique is part of what makes her work so appealing. As she explains of this process:
In general, I'm not really interested in history or old stuff, but when I started designing I realized that there were lots stories and layers that I wanted to add to products. At a point, you need to decide on a form to contain all this information. This is for me is always the hardest part - which form should I make? There are already so many forms, so I started looking in old collections and found the best archetypes. While digging into history, I also discovered traditional types of craftsmanship which are beautifully detailed and in which you could see how much time the craftsman had spent on the product. In industrial processes, time is money and the products miss this quality. I am just starting this study, I have a lifetime to go...I don't want to fake imperfection - something my clients always see as a goal - because it's too expensive. First, I would love to design the machines to manufacture my ideal products.[4]

[1] Louise Schouwenberg, "A conversation that might have taken place: Misfit," from Hella Jongerius: Misfit, ed. Louise Schouwenberg, Alice Rawsthorn and Paola Antonelli, (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2010), 38.

[2] Louise Schouwenberg, "A conversation that might have taken place: Craft and Industry," from Hella Jongerius: Misfit, ed. Louise Schouwenberg, Alice Rawsthorn and Paola Antonelli, (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2010), 187.

[3] Ibid., 187-8.

[4] Design Museum online, "Hella Jongerius Q & A," from The European Design Show: Design Museum Touring Exhibition,, (accessed February 16, 2012).

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