Tessel: This is the workshop. We’re often messing about here, but not right now. We’re really looking forward to painting again and getting to behave like artists.
Really? Like “When I grow up, I want to be an artist?”
Julia: Well, I always wanted to be a dictator and I’m now trying to realise my dream in a very unorthodox way.
Why did you want to be a dictator?
Julia: Politics: I think, is the highest form of art. It has everything: theatre, design, persuasion. When I applied to Design Academy Eindhoven, I said: “The highest goal is to design the perfect potato peeler. Everybody has one at home and everyone's life would change without them realising it!” The dictatorship evolved from these kinds of ideas. I’m no longer convinced that it’s an attainable goal, but the political arena still fascinates me.
Your work is really close to politics, isn’t it?
Julia: It certainly is. This was my most political attempt so far, Breunion Boys. This project was our attempt to get Great Britain back into the EU. They still haven’t left, so never say never.
They keep postponing. It’s a really bad break-up.
Julia: It’s the worst break-up ever. It feels less and less earth-shattering though. I remember how upset I was when they voted in favour of Brexit. Now I’m a bit numb.
Tessel: The Breunion Boys were a boy band…
Julia: …to get Great Britain back to the EU…
Tessel: …with love songs.
Julia: Like ‘Britain come back’. We made a videoclip for it on the beach, rolling in the sand.
It had all these lovely Take That references.
Tessel: The best thing Britain gave to us, the boy band. To deploy that as a Trojan horse to bring them back.
Julia: We did make the crossing, because we were on British television and John Oliver wrote a piece about it. In that sense it was a big success. It was interesting as well to see that both ‘Remainers’ and ‘Leavers’ became a bit uncomfortable. They didn’t really know how to relate to the Breunion Boys, which made it easier to talk to them.
Your own opinion wasn’t obvious.
Julia: Right, it was confusing enough to open things up. At that time especially, the two sides were completely divided. People had just stopped talking to each other.
Tessel: This project exposed all kinds of fringes. We couldn’t promote the Breunion Boys on Facebook because it would be for political goals outside your own country. While we were clearly doing something for the EU…
Julia: … and that is our country! It tells a lot about Facebook’s outlook. They don’t see the EU as a unified whole. That’s interesting in itself.
This was even more apparent with Corona. Suddenly, all the borders have become much stricter.
Julia: That’s true. Before the Corona outbreak, I was supposed to tour Europe with the Breunion Boys to engage with young Europeans. But the whimsical character of the Breunion Boys is out of tune with the current situation. I wouldn’t do anything with them right now.
Tessel: The cracks within the EU have become increasingly obvious, making you realise how vulnerable the EU is.
Who is your target audience? Who should see it?
Tessel: To me it’s really important that our work is really accessible and doesn’t necessarily take place in design or high art. Our work belongs to the street, to mass culture.
Julia: We always carefully choose a context where we position our work. Doing a performance in a museum is not the same as doing a performance on the street. The Breunion Boys were a means to start a conversation about Brexit. Now, everyone is suffering from Brexit fatigue. There’s less and less debate, even though it’s still extremely important.
The discussion was no longer about the arguments.
Julia: No, it wasn’t. We did have substantive talks as a result of this project, because I had drilled those boys real hard on all the relevant issues. So they always came up with the right response. With the Breunion Boys, we made use of pop culture to bring up more difficult topics.
The Breunion Boys is a great example of the activism in design in all of your projects. How do you see the role of activism in design?
Tessel: I believe that activism should be visible. That’s why we are very outspoken about our activism, because we’re tired of keeping our mouths shut. With the Black Lives Matter movement, I decided I would no longer stay quiet if people are racist. Really, staying quiet is so passé. You might colour inside the lines and create something inclusive, but I would rather hear you say out loud: “I hate things that are not inclusive! I’m against them and I will do anything in my power to drown them out!”
Julia: By being really seductive and loud. We should no longer avoid the means that populists use.
Tessel: And we shouldn’t fear negative reactions or mistakes.
It could all be a bit less cautious.
Julia: Exactly! It’s fine to fall flat on your face sometimes.
Tessel: Our activism is colourful, positive and funny, and certainly not the wallowing kind of activism that only shows how bad things really are.
Julia: No one cares for that, really. Thierry Baudet likes to use a lot of smoke machines and fireworks. If he had tigers, I’m sure he would have them walking around on stage as well.
Tessel: For instance, we were at an event about feminism, which was like preaching to the choir. Everyone already agrees so you won’t actually reach anyone. It has zero impact.
Julia: It should just be more in your face…
Tessel: …for people who do not already think the same way.
So, actually you should be at an ADO Den Haag - Ajax football match.
Julia: For a half-time show. That would be really cool.
Tessel: Well, let’s propose it to ADO Den Haag. I think it’s a great idea.
Julia: We simply want justice in the world.
Tessel: Yes, and we’re coming to create it!