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DDW20 Ambassador: Sabine Marcelis

20 October 2020

┬ęGijs Kast
Lidewij Edelkoort, the world's leading trend forecaster, international designer Sabine Marcelis, and Sean Carney who is responsible for Healthcare Transformation Services at Philips. The three ambassadors of this year's DDW embody the very breadth of the current design paradigm.

From different disciplines and backgrounds, the ambassadors use their role to inspire, to make us look at things differently and to emphasize that the creativity of designers is perhaps more valuable than ever. Sabine Marcelis: "I use my role to inspire a generation of young designers. Not in a 'Look at me' way, but by letting them see what our solution is to be able to experience intimate interactions with art and design within a digitally driven society. That is what I want to share."
As varied as Marcelis' work is – from private commissions to enormous installations in collaboration with architects and for museums, shops and galleries – so is the diversity of the ambassadors. "I think it's important that each of us represents the breadth of the area with our own platform," she says, "because the profession is also vast – from a revolutionary, life-saving pipette for testing cancer to the other end where I'm going. I don't make world-changing designs, but I can also indirectly provoke emotions with aesthetics and technique." In this way, she adds poetic beauty to the world, using her spatial and layered experiences.
Marcelis develops her work from a fascination and love for shiny and precious materials such as marble, casting resin, but also neon and glass. She plays with colour, transparency, reflection and the effects of light on used materials. Blocks of casting resin poured and polished in her studio into perfect cubes in subtle colours resemble overgrown blocks of tasty food. But you can't see or touch it in person at the moment. Because fairs are being cancelled and shows in galleries aren't happening. "Nobody can experience art and design in the flesh, and that is exactly what my art is all about," she says. "Everyone is switching to online, where you have to enter thirty passwords before you can enter a digital gallery environment. That level of effort is not rewarded: the experience just doesn't do justice to the physical piece."

Sabine Marcelis | Tactility
┬ę ┬ęSabine Marcelis

Tactile digital experience

That's why she searched in her Rotterdam studio for a solution to get as close to reality as possible by translating tactility into a digital experience and by communicating as effectively as possible. On her quest for tech partners in coordination with Dutch Design Foundation, she ended up with 5G HUB from Eindhoven and Dimenco from Veldhoven. Dimenco made a screen with integrated eyeball and hand tracking so that instead of walking around an object yourself, you can rotate the object in front of you in 3D without using AR glasses. This technology will be released next year with a laptop manufacturer, so you will really be able to experience it from the comfort of your own home. The smart tool is great for using during the corona pandemic, but in the future it will also be an useful tool when proposing designs. Because she can't show it physically, you can use the programme on her website to rotate simulations of her objects with your mouse. "Supplemented with material samples, colour options and marbles samples, you can visualise what flat visuals can't do. This offers opportunities for private commissions and potential clients. Instead of making something in the hope that someone will buy it, you can make customised work without using raw materials," she says.

Communication with moving images

She uses other digital tools for her dream project: a thirty-meter high kinetic installation that she commissioned for the atrium, the entrance to a shopping mall in Shanghai. She calls this a triple challenge, because she has never been there, so she doesn't know what the space looks like and can't go there now to physically present what she has produced in the studio. On top of that, she doesn't speak the language. "More than ever we have to talk with moving images, we are getting better digitally and technically, especially not to be lost in translation," she says. For this project she works for example with Sketchfab which enables her to give presentations in 3D with annotations in Chinese. "In these days, when you can't travel to China and have your installation produced there, trust in the other and clarity in your communication has become much more important."
In addition, the designer is investigating new possibilities to experience four light objects – i.e. no simulations or 3D scans – at a distance in collaboration with her Belgian gallery Victor Hunt Gallery. An exhibit with her works has been set up in their storage space. The DDW visitor can book a time slot on the website and then gets control of a number of cameras placed in the room. This way, the cameras temporarily become your eyes, and you can experience the physical work. This technique will be launched on a larger scale next year together with a laptop producer.

Uplift each other

With all these new possibilities, Marcelis is not trying to say 'look at me'. "I want to show that this is how we are doing it now. I want to share that experience and inspire others with it. I think it's very important that we not just think about ourselves. It is our task – as visible designers with a platform – to help the not yet visible young, recently graduated designers by sharing knowledge, working together and uplifting each other. I am 100 percent convinced that the more generous you are, the more you get back. Especially now."
"Of course, we all miss the physical and social encounters. I missed the funny moments together in the studio when we were working at home, but now that my team and I are working in the studio again, communication has become clearer and more efficient. You no longer have the luxury to talk about everything, we think twice before we bother someone. The team has become more responsible, makes better decisions on their own. I am not the micro-manager who makes the decisions, but they are an extension of my brain, like in that episode of the British TV series Black Mirror."
Last year this time the fresh ambassador said: “I would like to use the year to create a large-scale travelling installation with which to inspire others. I would also like to show how I constantly develop and realise new possibilities within production processes. As an ambassador, I hope to use the year to do this on a major scale and at a higher level.”