Paul, when you started out, what was the most difficult of all?
The constant investing. People really want to see your work before they buy it. So you can't say: I have a cool idea, give me money and I'll go and make it. It works the other way around. So first you have to invest a lot of precious time and money for materials. It's always a gamble if something becomes a success or not. Sometimes it takes two or three years before it sells. Some items you will sell five or six times or they just keep on selling. Other items you will only sell once. You always take a certain risk, trying to hit a target while you only have a single bullet.
How do you know what the bullet is going to look like?
Things I make are always a derivative of earlier works. I sometimes get fascinated by things I see, from hinges I come across at a scrapyard or the mechanism of a throw away umbrella. That's what I start to investigate. Recently I gained a lot of insight into geometry by using flat materials to build a globe. With flat parts you can also build really organic shapes and that is more or less the direction my work is heading in at the moment. From the angular to the dynamic. It's a typical example of the evolution of certain rules in my work. That's the scientific side; the experiments with the laws of nature that are a foundation of the countless manifestations of the living and lifeless nature. I see myself both as a scientist and an artist. The human body is a machine, nature is a machine, but as an artist you are preoccupied with the soul, or ghost of things. Things you can't grab hold of or rationalize, things that are being made unimportant in society. That's why the artist part is so important, not having to calculate or account for certain aspects.
What kept you going in difficult times?
In the beginning I received a lot of support from Piet Hein Eek and Cok de Rooij (Frozen Fountain). They coached me and encouraged me to keep going. Certain galleries have also been important for me. When I did my internship at Piet Hein Eek I noticed a lot of orders where coming in from Frozen Fountain, a gallery in Amsterdam. I immediately thought; I have to get my foot in the door there. You have to have a certain starting point, a wheelbarrow of sorts. At my graduation show at the Design Academy I had a very nice conversation with a man. He gave me his card and said, "I'm sure we will end up working together". I looked at the card and noticed it was one of the directors of Frozen Fountain. That's the little bit of luck that you also need.
You radiate a certain calm and confidence now. Has that grown like this?
When I started at the Design Academy age 24, I was just a really young guy, having seen nothing of the world and not knowing at all what really mattered. During the course of my study I gave myself the time to figure out who I am as a person, as a designer, and the story I want to tell the world. I remember very clearly how during graduation the final piece of the puzzle fit. After that, when you start working for yourself, you really go off the deep end. To move here, to Sectie-C, was an ideal first step for me. Sharing everything together, machines, tools, and it's also the bit of feedback you receive from other people.
That "together" is really at the heart of Sectie-C.
If you want to start for yourself, you have to collaborate. It's also very normal for people here to set up projects together. Sectie-C is really a reaction on the establishment, the big companies. There are a lot of societal outsiders who don't care about "the system". They want to go back from global to local and that is exactly what we are doing here, together.
I sense some frustration there.
I'm not a fan of the throwaway society, consumerism and materialism. Of big companies involved in a race to the bottom making it very difficult for people to start making their own furniture. When I buy a closet with one of those companies the wood is often cheaper than when I have to buy it wholesale myself. That's impossible?! All those small shops, local specialities are being killed by big companies. They have a monopoly on everything, everything is the same and everything is mediocre. And that's exactly the reason why I want to do the opposite. People appreciate that because they think: ‘Why do you do things like this?’.
Is striving for the unique a goal on its own for you?
No, not necessarily. But it is important if you want to end up in the corner where I want to end up. The corner of collectors who have the money to afford things that very few people can. Those are the people that like the idea of having something unique. So, it's also just a commercial strategy. While I do actually think it should be possible for everybody to buy my work.
The full interview with Paul Heijnen can be found in the first edition of BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE. You can follow BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE here.
Interview: Thomas Dal / Photography: Britt Roelse / Tekst editor: Martijn van der Ven / Translator: Tanya Long