22 October 2013
To give the tradition of ceramics its own place in the era we live in, Jan Tichelaar enters into special alliances with artists and designers. Hella Jongerius, Studio Job and Alexander van Slobbe among them. Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum welcome the up-and-coming generation too. Atelier NL (Eindhoven), for example, designed Fundamentals of Makkum.
Atelier NL is the laboratory run by the design duo Lonny van Ryswyck (1978) and Nadine Sterk (1977). They both graduated from the Design Academy in Eindhoven in 2006. Since then they have worked on ‘their own thing’ at the Four Apostles Church in Eindhoven. Their main motivation? To be freelance and independent. Lonny: ‘I can’t even imagine what it’s like to work for someone else. I want to explore, initiate projects, link people together and do what I have in my own mind, on the basis of my own questions.’
Inspired by their choice of an existence as independent designers, in 2012 Lonny and Nadine worked on a research project among their fellow students. It resulted in Curious Minds, an installation that can be described as an ‘archive of dreams’. What happens to you when you graduate? What does your environment do to you? How do you handle media attention, or the lack of it? Curious Minds also reveals the motivations of Atelier NL itself: a journey through time to origins, identity and authenticity. ‘And the journey is at least as important as the destination, the project or the product that results from it,’ says Nadine.
In 2008, for instance, Atelier NL sought out the heart of the farmer’s existence, without letting themselves be led astray by false romanticism. Some extraordinary encounters were captured in Farmer Portraits (2008), part of a broader project appropriately called Veldwerk Noordoostpolder/North-East Polder Fieldwork, which resulted in exhibitions in Eindhoven, London and New York and was rounded off with an open-air meal for all the farmers who had helped implement the project. In 2010, on commission to the Audex Textile Museum in Tilburg, Aterlier NL designed the ‘Yarn Machine’, a collector’s item on the theme of sustainability, for the Re-Think exhibition. Inspired by the wealth of natural fibres, a lively, hand-powered fantasy installation took shape, processing the utterly Dutch potato into thread.
‘We do things differently from what the design world is used to and sometimes that leads to confusion. We are ‘process designers’, which means that in the main we seek out the stories behind the people, materials and products.’
At the present time Nadine and Lonny are on a quest for the possibilities of sand as a raw material. This journey through time takes them to Roman settlements in the Netherlands, Belgium and France and to the very first formal idioms in glass – from times long past. And where will the journey lead? Nadine: ‘We still have no idea. We take inspiration from what we come across. It is much more interesting to think in terms of raw materials and local conditions than an end product. We call ourselves ‘process designers’ because we are above all interested in the story behind the product and in bringing different worlds together.’
Lonny: ‘We are looking for answers that enable us to give a comprehensible place to products and visual impressions. Why do we live the way we do? How much connection do we still have with our local history? In our view designing means meeting. We want to make the new order, which we are trying to introduce on the basis of our own wonder, visible to as broad a public as possible by means of projects and products.’
For Nadine, the question of how one can fuse natural and technical functionality with the emotional world is an inexhaustible source of ideas and concepts. Lonny can observe and reflect endlessly on details that are self-evident to others. They are on the same wavelength and complement each other. Both at the reflection and concept stages and in the execution. While Lonny is ceaselessly seeing connections, making associations and asking questions, Nadine is quicker to pick up her sketchbook to experience literally in which direction her perceptions are more or less forcing her. This symbiosis defines Atelier NL’s own idiom, one which many contemporaries can identify with and which is attracting increasing attention at home and abroad.
Immersed in the material
For Fundamentals of Makkum, Atelier NL literally went digging in their hunt for ‘the order of things’. Their encounter with Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum and the origins of ceramics (fired clay) immediately raised the question: how many sorts of clay do we actually have in the Netherlands? Lonny and Nadine set to work as modern gold-diggers and experienced their very own ‘moments of happiness’. The result is crockery in clay, in its most elementary form. The colours and texture reveal the soul of the material, and thereby also the soul of the Dutch soil and everything that has taken place on it over the centuries. Nadine and Lonny: ‘But there is nothing wrong with simply enjoying it as unique and authentic crockery, if you don’t experience all the background to it!’
Identity and Spirit of the Age
Authenticity is a key word in the work of Atelier NL. Where do forms come from, what lies behind them? This is design as a journey through time to ‘the soul of things’ and thus also to your own identity and the essence of life. Getting a grip on the spirit of the age by digging deep. ‘There is more than just design. We incorporate every aspect into our concepts and formal idiom: the purity of the material you are working in, the strength of local initiatives, the history of our immediate surroundings. Studying everything and staying as close as possible to yourself in everything you do. Giving things a place in time and the surroundings. If we are ever able to communicate this feeling by means of a retrospective exhibition, we shall have realised part of the dream we set up Atelier NL with.’