I’ve been following you as a designer ever since our Graduation Show at the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2012. There is such a strong signature that resonates throughout your work—how would you describe this?
My work is a personal research into who I am in this world and how I fit within it as a designer. I use existing materials that bind all of my projects together—you could say that I hardly make anything new. Even in interior projects where many pieces of the same object have to be produced, I look for ways to do this with leftover material. I’m always searching for that which is no longer in use such as the foam blocks that are in my studio. Normally this would be thrown away, but I’m looking at what I can do with it.
So you derive the shape and function from the found material?
Exactly. At the moment I’m working on making sofas for the interior of a hotel, so I purchased a foam saw. I create the shapes and then have them upholstered by someone else. I tend to do most of the production by myself, as much as possible.
At the same time, Sport for Children—a charity that collects and ships sporting goods to poorer countries—asked me to design a product that they could sell to raise money. For this project I’m working on large foam dolls.
I notice that you don’t throw the residual forms away.
These shapes are nothing as of yet, but they could become something. I just let them be in my studio for weeks; from time to time I look at them and at a certain moment I do something with them. I’m now thinking of using all the residual forms as furniture with various sitting or lying functionalities. It is a simple idea, but a logical one by how they are standing here. I’ll then take pictures and send them to design labels to inquire if they want to do something with the objects.
The reuse of materials has been a theme in your work since your graduation project. Where does this interest come from?
It partly had to do with the fact that I didn’t have much money. Looking back, I’ve always worked that way. When I was young there was an abundance of materials lying around on my grandfather’s farm. I used to make all kinds of things from it.
Ten years ago, when we arrived at Sectie-C with Collaboration-O to create our own universe, we also had no money. We had to work with any material we could find or was given to us. I believe that within these restrictions lies the best kind of creativity. During my travels throughout China I witnessed how people make super practical objects with anything they can find. I just find that amazing.
The ‘Do It Yourself’ principle is very present here in your studio. It almost seems as if you’re in the middle of a clean up, but that is not the case. All these things could be material for your work, which has a sort of curated messiness. I say this wit
By isolating the work and photographing it in a white-cube or completely different setting, it becomes a real object. I’m very conscious about working with the context of the object. During my graduation period no one understood what I was doing until they saw the final product images.
You mentioned that your work is a personal investigation into your position within the design world. How do you position your work within society?
I’m interested in our relationship with the mass-produced products that we use every day. Take my Dashilar Flagship Store project, for instance. In that project I created a fictional shoe brand with a temporary store in the Dashilar neighborhood in Beijing. It is a project about using creativity to make your own products, and from that, gaining social status. Youth around the world want big brand shoes from the West. I question this globalization of social status. Secondly, this globalization has a massive impact on our production process. Everything we make we outsource to low-wage countries. We might be able to design products, but we can’t make anything anymore that is truly for regular people.
What do you mean by that?
Unique objects can be made in the Netherlands, but that is for a niche. True daily products like shoes or toothbrushes—the essentials—can’t be produced here anymore. That is because all of our production is outsourced to countries where people are paid very poorly and work in unsafe environments. In our society we don’t question this. Right now everyone is protesting against racism, but they do this in their Primark shirts and Nike shoes. I find this hypocritical. The production industry represents a modern day slavery and if we strive for a fair and equal world, we are going about it in the wrong way.
In what way should we do it then?
That’s the hard part. We want a free world in which everything is possible, yet on the other hand, this type of production system should be forbidden. The Netherlands will never do that of course. Europe and the whole Western world should take a stand in this.
In the beginning I fought against this system, but now not so much. I have accepted the world as it is. In my birthplace, Winterswijk, the local shop-owners have been disappearing for a long time now, and big chains like Cool Cat or Flying Tiger take over with their crap. It is a certain inevitability. My parents own a building that they rent out to shop-owners. There comes a point when they can’t be idealistic anymore because rent has to be paid. They can’t keep on waiting for a shop that does good for the world. We have to keep on going, all of us. We are surviving.
Do you see a role for yourself as a designer?
Definitely. With my Dashilar Flagship Store I proposed a different way to approach the system of production, consumption, and social status. The next phase would ideally be that I do this project again with a big Western brand. In that way I hope these companies might see the value of the people, materials, and techniques that can be found in low-wage countries. It could provide an alternative to the dominant influence these brands have right now. This is something I would find very interesting to see—it requires a critical mindset to get to a better future.
The full interview with Sander Wassink can be found in the third edition of BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE. You can follow BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE here.