Hi Nienke! Could you describe in a few sentences who you both are, where you both come from and why you both wanted to become a designer?
I'm Nienke, born in Amsterdam, raised in The Hague, graduated from the Willem de Kooning Academy in 2013 and started the studio immediately afterwards. I wanted to be a designer because I see objects as a way to tell stories and to make people aware of problems that I think deserve attention.
Tim was born in Goes and grew up in The Hague. He graduated with a master's degree in architecture from TU Delft and works part-time in the studio. He also works at Secrid as a designer of spaces.
I've been fascinated with how things are put together since I was very young. Later the question arose, why are things put together in that way? I wanted to be a designer because it would give me the opportunity to answer this question and also improve things. Often people are not aware of the why and especially not of the fact that there could be room for improvement. With the studio, we also explain the why and show that things can be done better.
The studio bears your name, but you work together with Tim Jongerius. How does that work exactly?
That's an excellent question! Nienke started the studio and works in it full-time. Tim has been working in the background from the beginning, and for some years, we have been tackling more and more projects together. We are increasingly aware of the value of doing projects entirely together, so we do that as much as possible. We hope to be able to collaborate fully in the future, but until then we will continue working under the name Studio Nienke Hoogvliet.
You both seem to get a lot of inspiration from nature and the different ways in which humans disrupt natural processes. What do you find interesting about this?
We are looking for a holistic system. For us, that means circular, well-considered and inclusive. A way of life in which we do not harm nature, people or animals. That means, in our opinion, that we should work with nature and not try to dominate nature as is often the case nowadays. We ignore ecosystems, but they are there for a reason. We should not think that we are smarter than nature, but we can learn a lot from it and try to work together with it as well as possible. That is a long and complicated change, but one that we enjoy examining because we believe it CAN be done differently.
You have written a number of books about different design processes. What is the thought process behind those books?
Most of our projects are research projects, for which we conduct long and in-depth research on a particular topic. Which results in an object or exhibition, but there is often much more to say about the subject. That is why we started writing books. This allows people interested in the subject to delve further. In this way, we also want to raise awareness and ensure that our processes are as transparent as possible.
You shared a photo on Instagram about your most recent book: Seaweed Research. Can you tell us a bit more?
Our latest book is H.E.R.B.S., which is part of the H.E.R.B.S. project (Healthy Environment, Remedy for Body and Skin). This concerns the current system within the textile industry, in which almost only (harmful) synthetic textile paint is used. Many of us don't realise that textiles can have a detrimental effect on our health, but Greenpeace demonstrated this in their Detox My Fashion study. Your skin is able to absorb substances, and that allows them to enter your body. We were thinking, if that can have a negative effect, it can also have a positive effect. We then investigated the possibility whether dyeing with herbs will have a positive effect because of the herbs' active substances. We found some fascinating examples from history, such as the ancient Indian use of Ayurvastra and the Japanese Samurai who used to wear indigo-dyed underwear to help their wounds heal faster. The works that we have made in this project are the H.E.R.B.S. quilt and the H.E.R.B.S. installation (together at the DDW last year), and also a book, which summarises our entire research. Including the results of the lab research we did with the dyed fabrics.
What would you like to achieve with your work in the future?
Our main goal is to change the system of production to a holistic system. We approach this from different angles: we believe that if you increase consumer awareness, that they'll change their consumption habits. So the demand for industry changes and the industry will have no choice but to change with it. But we don't want to stop there, that's why we continue to develop our concepts right up until they go on the market. For example, we are working with our seaweed yarn and paint to scale up this process to that from a small, traditional scale to industrial use. So that the industry is given the opportunity to implement that change. We believe in valuing, reducing and at the same time making raw materials more sustainable and ensuring fair working conditions.
Do you often start projects on your own initiative, or mostly on behalf of customers? And how do you get new assignments?
It is a mix; we try to work 50-50% on our own initiated projects and on assignments from customers. For example, we worked for a few years on behalf of the Dutch water authorities with materials that can be recovered from sewage water. Those were very free assignments and a fantastic collaboration. In some cases, assignments inspire us in such a way that we will use it for our own projects, and sometimes we develop our own project again on assignment. So it gets mixed up. Most assignments come our way through the network that we have built up over the years at fairs, exhibitions, social media and sometimes through mutual acquaintances.
What is the most remarkable work you have ever designed/created?
We have used a lot of unexpected materials, such as fish skins and seaweed, but the weirdest is probably the 'Water treasures' project commissioned by the Dutch water authorities. For that project, we were commissioned to work with recovered toilet paper from the sewers. Of course, the very idea seems filthy, although it was thoroughly cleaned before we received it and it is very useful. Emotionally it took a while; we couldn't think too hard about where that piece of paper had been before ... But the great thing about it was that because of the extreme past, it is a lovely symbol for people's willingness to accept recycled materials. We received virtually no disgusted or negative reactions; everyone was very open and happy that even this could be recycled.
If you could choose one person in the world to work with (a designer, politician, artist, scientist or someone else), who would that be and why?
Our main goal is to change systems to a more holistic approach. We are now noticing that consumers react to this with enthusiasm and find that change is urgently needed, but it is often difficult for large companies to make the switch. They just need a little nudge. That extra boost can, or perhaps even MUST, come from the government. We would find it a special challenge to work with big political leaders. Could we also make them aware that it should be different by use of design? The biggest challenge, of course, would be working with President Trump, someone so adamant when it comes to climate change. If we can manage to convince him, we'd already be one step closer to achieving our goal.
Do you have any news to share with the DDW community?
Definitely! We are now in Austria at Schloss Hollenegg for Design where we are Artist in Residence for the upcoming exhibition 'Displacement', which will be shown in May 2021. Schloss Hollenegg is a beautiful castle, which is centuries old (since 1163) and now 3-4 design studios are invited each year to create work inspired by this location. The works become part of the interior of the castle and are passed on from generation to generation. It is nice to work in an environment where there is so much respect for spaces and objects, their origin and how this can be preserved. We would love it if we could bring that passion back into everyone's daily lives.
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