Saturday, November 29, 2008

Maurice Scheltens and Liesbeth Abbenes

Lecture and Workshop
29 Oct & 5 Nov 2008

photos by Hikaru Imamura


Maurice and Liesbeth introduce themselves as a couple, who after some time realized that their working methods were very similar and began to work together professionally. After looking at their work individually this comes as some what of a surprise as their styles are aesthetically very different.
Maurice graduated in photography at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague, The Netherlands in 1995. Ever since he has cultivated a strong studio aesthetic, meticulously arranging his client’s objects into sometimes simple and sometimes intricate images. Liesbeth she started the Gerrit Rietvelt academy in 1998 (Audiovisual department) and graduated in 1993. In this period Abbenes moved from sewn objects, to performance and photography. Her two dimensional work has a much more illustrative style where she develops her own handwriting while looking at the history of wall tapestries. When working together it is Maurice’s approach which has the more influence. Liesbeth is likely to have her input and influence on composition, but the overall look and feel of their photography remains smooth, slick and very much studio based.
The lecture that they gave us about their work included work done as editorial for magazines, and commissioned photographs for large companies (all orientated around design, fashion and commerce). As said before the methods they employ to create their images involve the manipulation of objects to create a scene. The final outcome always having a strong two dimensional shape. Many times – although what they are photographing may have a complex shape – they reduce their objects to clean geometric lines, always showing an awareness that the scenes they create will eventually only exist as a two dimensional image.
This can be seen in their work done for Adidas, which used mirrors to duplicate and abstract the straight lines created in the clothing. Similarly Nike shoes were arranged in a symmetric way and hung using the shoe laces, which again created sharp protruding lines. Work for Vitra also focused on creating an ordered two dimensional pattern out of furniture. All this symmetry means consequently that the final image used (that from the point of view of the camera) is the only perspective where the lines fit together. If the eye is moved even a fraction the lines no longer match up and the image is lost. Other work focuses not so much on arranging objects that create geometric form, but more on arranging objects that create an entirely new object all together. This new object could be fantastical creatures made from clothing or New York tower blocks made from perfume bottles.
Their work can be compared to that of other studio photographers like Dan Tobin Smith, who orientate their photography around manipulated aesthetics rather than any human element, or sense of capturing a moment. Their work evokes more a feeling of static perfection. An arrangement that is totally fixed.
For their workshop, the couple asked us all to bring in a piece of our design which we would like to photograph. Upon bringing our chosen object however, we were then “assigned” another person’s object to photograph. This was said to be an attempt to recreate some of the uncertainties of professional life. Maurice and Liesbeth specifically cited their work for Vitra, where they had planned on using large rolls of colored paper, only to find upon arrival at location that the humidity made the paper crinkled and therefore unusable.
After having objects assigned to us we went around the class and were asked to talk about our object and about how we imagined photographing them. After which the couple talked a little about how they viewed the assignment. They broadly allowed us to do as we wished with the photo. Their only stipulation was that we do not produce a simple pack shot. That we try and photograph the object in a way that will somehow reinvent it.
The following week we exhibited all the photographs and had individual tutorials on the work. Maurice and Liesbeth were engaged and pleased with the results, though they did mention that they would have liked to have an extra day in order to allow us to act upon their critiques.
In all the workshop was very helpful and the work of the couple a useful insight into professional photography.

-Thomas Saxby

photos by Hikaru Imamura

Excerpts from Editorial

"It became clear during the workshops and lectures that the design approach of the couple extends into other parts of their lives as a design philosophy. It was during the workshop that their talents were most beneficially exercised."

"Scheltens and Abbenes bridge the realms of reality and fantasy in their work, and continued in this tradition during the workshop. The participants had been asked to bring in an object that they wished to photograph or document. Each student presented the object, and explained his or her reason for choosing that object, including their intentions how they would document it. However, what Scheltens and Abbenes did next was to separate designer and object. Each student was given the object of another student, with the instructions to document it however he/she saw fit. The duo misled the group, a method which mirrored their visual work. They removed the objects from their original contexts, purposes, and meanings. In addition, they gave complete creative control to the artist/designer, which is an integral part of how they work. The workshop became an intellectually stimulating experience before the graduate students even began to document their pieces."

" can be asked whether their works are design or art. The answer to the question would largely depend upon semantics, depending on who was asked. A more interesting question is how much their approach to design and art encompasses their life. Whether it is exercised through reason or intuition, design is every action that one makes throughout the day. Scheltens and Abbenes have shown themselves to be genuine in their daily attitude... it is all about the emotional context in communication that directly affects the audience. They showed that this is best achieved through repetitive actions."

-Luke Jenkins

Video of Workshop Images

video by Thomas Saxby

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Gijs Bakker lecture

Gijs Bakker needs little introduction among designers, and in the Design Academy Eindhoven, where he teaches and heads the IM master course for many years, it seems he needs no introduction at all. So, when Gijs got up to start his lecture, it was intriguing to see what he will show. We all know the famous Droog projects, and seen them in books numerous times, and were hoping this lecture would give us something more. It did not fail. Gijs Bakker’s one hour lecture showed the life of an interesting man, not only his designs shown in chronological order, but in them woven his inspirations, the designers he admires, his environment, and his other works, finishing with his teaching career at the design academy and of course Droog.
As these kinds of lectures often go, there was no time to go in deep into the ideas and projects of Gijs. It was a quick presentation of works and anecdotes, seasoned with a bit of humor, brief and general, but Gijs has done it very gracefully, keeping his audience sharp, telling us things we didn’t know, sharing a bit of his mind.

There was even a message, not a very common thing in a one-hour general lecture. Gijs told the students of the academy: “don’t wait – do!”, telling the students not to wait for commissions, but to follow their ideas through, stating how this way of working created Dutch design as it is today.

After the lecture, the master students of the DAE had another hour of Q&A with Gijs. This much more informal and intimate meeting took place in a classroom, with about forty students, when Gijs set on as sofa, taking questions from students. For the most part Gijs answered to the point and elaborated. It seemed Gijs had very clear views on design and could convey them very well. When asked if now that he functions, besides being a designer, as one of the biggest design curators in Holland through Droog, he heads the academy masters to look for talents, Gijs answered that this is a nice side effect, but he is looking for the arguments with the students, the disagreements. This is what stimulates him to teach. On some of the questions, Gijs showed a wonderful quality reserved to really great speakers. He was able to answer a very different question then the one you asked and still be very interesting, making you feel you got your answer.

The one question that seemed a bit unanswered is around the subject that draws a lot of attention recently – the subject of limited edition. It seemed Gijs had trouble defining his view on the subject, and said he is against young designers duplicating some of their old designs in different materials and exhibiting them again. It is almost understandable why someone like Gijs would struggle with such a question – Droog, in many respects, set an example for independent, conceptual, limited (and many times expensive) products. This phenomena, as often happens, is now being taken to extreme by young designers who might be missing the point of boundaries and creativity.

There is no doubt there was a lot more to get from Gijs, but under the time limitations, he gave an interesting, honest and different view of design, by one of design’s most influencing characters in the last 15 years.

17th September 2008