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Geo-Design: Sand

09 November 2020

Geo-Design: Sand, Van Abbemuseum ©Max Kneefel
This year, Van Abbemuseum and former students of Design Academy Eindhoven worked together on a new edition of Geo-Design. After 'Geo-Design Alibaba' and 'Geo-Design: Junk', sand is the main focus.

In 2018, former students of Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE) conducted innovative research into the socio-economic, geographical and geopolitical forces that play a role in the work of today's designers. This led to the Geo-Design series, of which Geo-Design: Sand is the third edition. Once again, Sand ( painfully) reveals what is often invisible or tucked away.

After water, sand is the most commonly used material on earth. However, it is certainly not present in inexhaustible quantities. In fact, it is becoming scarce. Moreover, sand-mining is one of the major causes of disturbance to ecosystems all over the world. After all, we use the material in huge quantities mainly to build homes for the growing number of people in the world. But sand is also used for our glasses, for the silicon chips in our computers and smartphones as well as in cosmetics. In various ways and all over the world, the nine DAE alumni provide insight into these different aspects and current problems related to the material sand in an often confronting way.


For example, last year's graduates Romain Laval and Baiba Soma present the Landscope research project, an exploration of the importance of sand for Morocco's mining, construction and economic development. The country's coast is changing because a lot of sand is being extracted for construction. Ironically and in total contradiction, at the same time King Mohammed VI announces in the so-called Vision Plan 2020 that he aims to attract twenty million visitors to this sand. The government wants to build a large number of tourist resorts along the seaside so tourists can enjoy a beach holiday along Morocco's 3,500 kilometre-long Atlantic and Mediterranean coastline. The natural capital will therefore be destroyed at the same time, both literally and figuratively.

© Max Kneefel

Nine Dragons

Bich Tran, who also graduated last year, describes himself as an anti-disciplinary designer. He shows the devastating impact of mass tourism. In his unusual installation depicting a coastline of moving rows of stones chafing against each other powered by a simple engine, he studied the urban landscape of Vietnam. A country that is determined by the enormous growth of its population; in Ho Chi Minh City there is an increase from 1.9 million (1970) to 8.6 million (2020). They are currently building enormous skyscrapers and a complete infrastructure made of concrete, for which sand is one of the key ingredients. Every day - often illegally - sand is extracted from the river bed of the Mekong River Delta (called Nine Dragons) to meet this all-consuming need. In the project entitled Death of the Nine Dragons, the designer presents the fictional travel agency Dark Water Tours, which offers a guided tour along the site of the ecological disaster. With this, the name of the travel agency refers to the phenomenon Dark Tourism: tourists who travel to places where human tragedies have taken place, such as Chernobyl or Auschwitz - and also Nine Dragons.

© Max Kneefel


Matteo Dal Lago focuses on a completely different aspect of sand. The mineral Mica (Latin: micare) has the property of reflecting light and is a highly sought-after raw material for the cosmetics industry, particularly in China, Japan and Belgium. India is the largest supplier of this glistening material; it is mainly extracted along the so-called Mica- belt along the eastern states of Bihar and Jharkhand, where it is extracted in a traditional but illegal way by underpaid families in hundreds of small villages. There is no control or legislation to stop it. 

Finally, as a tribute to Atelier NL's long-running sand research project, Geo-Design invited Nadine Sterk and Lonny Van Ryswyck to exhibit their project: To See a World in a Grain of Sand, a massive collection of sand grains sent to the designers from all corners of the world. Together they compose a joint archive of sand samples with accompanying stories.

The research projects of nine DAE alumni: Rawad Baaklini, Soline Bredin, Elissa Brunato, Matteo Dal Lago, Christoph Dichmann, Lucas Dubois, Romain Laval, Tiiu Meiner, Leo Orta, Bich Tran Quang, Anna Diljá Sigurðardóttir, Baiba Soma, Wu Yanjin and Atelier NL. 

Geo-Design: Sand is curated by Martina Muzi, the editor/editor is Jeannette Petrik and the graphic design is by Soline Bredin and Lucas Dubois. The exhibition runs until 15 November 2020 in Van Abbemuseum.