Design meets craft in the Netherlands

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Studio FormaFantasma's biodegradable kitchen utensils made of food
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Kieren Jones' urban kitchen coup
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At Zuiderzeen Museum, outside Amsterdam, an exhibition of works by dozens of designers demonstrates how the invention of new processes can become the goal and not just the means.

Big-scale manufacturing is hardly over, but it’s becoming more common for designers breaking into the complex world of design and production to invest their creativity in finding new ways to make stuff.

At least, that is a common thread that runs through Industrious|Artefacts, The evolution of craft, an inspiring exhibition showcasing work by 20-plus designers selected by guest curators Rianne Makkink and Jurgen Bey. The duo heads up Studio Makkink & Bey, one of the most innovative design and architecture firms now working in the Netherlands.

Within the sprawling exhibition, which fills two floors of the historic museum, an installation by Italian duo Andrea Trimmarchi and Simone Farresin of Studio Formafantasma sets the tone. They’ve created such kitchenware as mixing bowls out of recyclable food substances – a combination of flour mixed with biodegradable agricultural waste and lime.

Meanwhile, Dutch graphic design studio Raw Color explores natural dyes. In their rudimentary printing contraption, a bucket of ground-up beetroot is placed at the top of a tall ladder; aided by gravity alone, the purple juice is slowly released through a tube and absorbed into a sheet of white paper.

There’s also Merel Karhof’s knitting machine rigged to a windmill that powers it to knit endless scarves; and Greetje van Helmond‘s “unsustainable jewelry” made from crystalized sugar. The limited lifespan of her sugary jewels, says van Helmond, “ensures a different type of use. Consumers are probably more careful with these unique items, enjoying them while they last, just as one enjoys flowers until they wilt.”

A personal favourite is the plastic chair collection by Dirk van der Kooij, who rescued an outdated robotic system from a Chinese production line and retooled into a 3-D printer.

The small-scale innovations found in this exhibition are inspiring and rich, and suggest creativity and necessity are natural co-conspirators. In fact, Makkink and Bey cite as their inspiration the hardships that turned Amsterdam into a city of creativity. Its once thriving fisheries died off when dykes were built to prevent flooding. The manmade barriers killed off the herring industry for good, forcing fishermen to reinvent themselves as factory workers and farmers. Both eras share the same ability to take advantage of raw materials and mix in a bit of creative ingenuity and enterprise.

Industrious|Artefacts, The evolution of craft runs until February 12, 2012 at Zuiderzee Museum.

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