Getting to interview Arvid&Marie is a bit, eh, adventurous. Chances are, you will find them on some alienating location. Where, and in what country, cannot be predicted. For this Blank Space Magazine edition, the design-love-couple invited us to Woudenberg, near Utrecht. 32 year old Arvid Jense (TU Eindhoven, Industrial Design 2015) and 28 year old Marie Caye (Design Academy Eindhoven, 2017), their bicycle, two suitcases and two backpacks have temporarily landed at, what appears to be, a mental facility.
M: This is a sheltered housing facility, or healthcare institution, for severe mentally and physically handicapped people with a need for daily care.
A: The people who live here would have a lot of issues living within society. Here, they live just outside of society, with as much connection to others as possible.
Why are you here?
M: Before corona happened, we were supposed to do workshops with a number of groups living in the institution. With these circumstances, we have to be very careful, because these people are very vulnerable. We now work with only one group per day. With some of them you can communicate non-verbally, some of them can ride a bike, some need a wheelchair. It’s quite divers.
A: We responded to an open call (ed. from Creative Industries Fund). This artist-in-residence project is called ‘Re-creatie’ (Re-creation) by artist-duo Sjaak Langenberg and Rosé de Beer. Based on the waste produced within the institution (old inventory, plastic, etc.) and waste materials from the surrounding recreational area, we develop activities and products that add value to recreation on site and make a connection with the surroundings: physical and social repair.
M: We are here for three months.
So once you are unpacked, you can start packing again.
M: For us, this is actually a really long time. Normally we don't stay in the same place for more than a month. W don’t have our own house, so we travel from place to place.
It feels like you are a bohemian couple, designer nomads. Is that what we might call you?
M: I guess. But we’re not bohemians, because we are very privileged to be able to do this and still have a lot of security. We often rent places, even hotels. We don't have to worry. There are people out there that are actually homeless. That’s an entirely different thing.
A: We are privileged in a way that we both have parents that support us and many friends that are always happy to host us.
M: There are many designers and artists who struggle with this way of life. We chose to live this way and are fortunate to still have a lot of security.
You had your breakthrough with the tech-based project SAM. With this project you explore the possibilities of machines employing humans for food production and that operate as independent companies. What’s the status of that project?
M: There are now four SAM’s (Symbiotic Autonomous Machine) around the world. We are trying to develop the project slowly into a DIY manual, so that other people can make a SAM at home to experiment with it.
A: It’s all about robots and machines that become part of society. We placed SAM in the public space, but if you place a robot in your own house, a machine that works just for you, what questions does that raise about ethics?
SAM is a concept, while it could also be a commercial product. Something that can be sold. Isn't a steady income something you would want?
A: One of the reasons we don't want to make SAM into a commercial product, is that it would change the meaning of the project. SAM is a conversation piece, displayed in public spaces. If we were going to sell it, it would become something completely different.
M: Somebody’s property.
A: And if you would produce several of them, it would interact in a completely different way.
You made your statement, you started the discussion. What is wrong with selling it and make money off of it? Is that an ethical matter?
A: We received requests from people who wanted to buy Sam for their restaurant. They would make a slave out of SAM.
So you actually felt sorry for SAM?
M: Yes, because it was not our idea to create another slave machine.
But SAM doesn’t care.
M: No, but we do.
Arvid, you called your work ‘provocative design’ in an interview. Are you an angry rebel?
A: I think it’s about triggering a reaction. Bringing things into the world to make something happen. It's the opposite of designing a chair and having someone else sell it. This year we have studied protest, protest sculpture and protest methods. The design of protest. We try to make a change with the things that we create. People who protest, activist movements, use very diverse tools, but try to change the world in the same way.
M: We were in Hong Kong last year for an exhibition during the mass protests there. In the eye of the storm.
A: Protesters were blocking parts of the city to stop traffic by using stones as roadblocks. These roadblocks became more and more innovative every day. If you put the stones upright, cars could just drive over them. That's why people started using bamboo poles from building sites and scaffoldings.
M: Hour by hour, the strategies became better and the designs of these barricades became more and more effective. Somehow this information ended up with other protesters and they built the same kind of barricades. That was very interesting. A lot of communication happened through posters that were made and distributed at night.
What kind of project are you planning to make out of this?
M: We don't know yet, we just started. First we will be residents at the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht. We will be staying there for a full year, which, for us, is incredible!
Text: Martijn van der Ven / Photography: Pierre Castignola