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Column: Post-industrial tinker design

17 October 2021

8 min. to read

Design Perron, photo by Britt Roelse
What happens when young designers are forced into lockdown, and their world shrinks down to their studios? They start making things, of course.

Column by Jeroen Junte |

This positive effect of the pandemic became abundantly clear at the Design Academy's Graduation Show at Beursgebouw. Dozens of students showcased original creations that were clearly made by their - sometimes somewhat unsteady - hands. From tables made of paper maché (Vincent Dassi), to a lounge chair that's shaped around the body, made of advertising brochures (Matthieu Henry). Just as original is the work by Barbora Stredová, she designed an ode to cleaners, the diligent workers who did not receive national applause last year, but whose work was just as indispensable. She immortalised a bin, bucket and mop in cheerfully colourful ceramics.

This trend of ehm ... well, let's call it 'tinker design', was kicked off last year by Teun Zwets, who graduated from the Design Academy with Teunland, a room completely furnished with furniture that has been sawn, screwed or plastered. He created each piece of furniture in this personal flat in less than a day. Since then, Zwets - without the aid of a Graduation Show or other presentations - has made a rapid breakthrough with an exhibition in De Kazerne. Apparently, tinker design strikes a chord.

It is remarkable that these designers often work with waste materials and other 'readily available’ resources, such as loam or straw. But to dismiss these designs as a statement against our throw-away society would be too easy. Soon, there will be nothing left to throw away, because raw materials are becoming increasingly scarce. Printing houses have to wait weeks for paper, construction sites are at a standstill due to a lack of cement, and wood prices have doubled. This scarcity, amplified by a social lockdown, requires a do-it-ourselves mentality and the ability to improvise. Exactly what this new generation of designers is doing. Perhaps it is a prelude to a post-industrial future. After all, if one container ship stuck in the Suez Canal can disrupt the world economy, we'd better brace ourselves. When things go south, all we have left are imagination and self-reliance.

Incidentally, it is not just designers from Eindhoven who work this way. The exhibition Only Good News by the international design platform Isola features homemade design from various EU countries. At Design Perron, Annemijn Adriaensen, who has just graduated from the Maastricht Institute of Arts, presents Cheap Characters. This collection of ordinary furniture has been given a new cheerful and playful look through colourful layers of paint and skilfully knotted ropes. Under the label Playfulness, the Rotterdam-based designer Sophia Schullan launches a series of - as the name suggests - playful objects. Perhaps this playfulness is an escape into a fantasy world and a weapon against the often bleak reality.

Oh well, you could say there is nothing new about this traditional craftsmanship. A decade ago, designers already discovered glassblowers, woodworkers and bronze casters. The difference now is that craftsmanship is no longer the main objective. The starting point shifted to ‘anyone can design’, as Joni Veizaj shows with 'Dat kan mijn kleine nichtje ook' (My little niece can do that too), a collection that wants to emphasise the joy of making. In a world ruled by cold algorithms and large scale stressors, such as the housing shortage and climate change, designers give space to innocent imagination and childlike uninhibitedness.

In tinker design, there is no such thing as ugliness or failure, merely happy accidents. No wonder there are so many DIY design workshops. At Klerezooi, for example, you can follow a workshop on tie-dye, the technique used to decorate textiles in colourful ways. Imagine, after a whole day of zooming (or getting stuck in traffic again) you can craft your own products at home. Even better: as a producing consumer, or prosumer, you don't even need a computer, let alone a 3D printer. Tinkering design is therefore not only post-industrial but even post-digital.

Want more?

Check out Jeroens previous column on this year's theme: the magic of The Greater Number.

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