The Canadian designer produces thought-provoking objects and installations that explore our digital inner lives.
FROM ONTARIO TO AMSTERDAM
In a way, I fell into being a designer. My father is a carpenter, and I grew up in a workshop. When I applied to university, I opted for industrial design at the Ontario College of Art and Design, and I became obsessed with Dutch design. The work of Gijs Bakker, his sense of fun and playfulness, is what lured me to the Netherlands. I went to the Design Academy Eindhoven to get some portfolio advice, and to my surprise I was accepted on the spot, so I left OCAD and moved there. Aldo Bakker, Gijs’s son, evaluated my work and gave me the offer. His work is form driven and precise. It widened my perception of Dutch design, and he remains an inspiration. It’s difficult to pinpoint precisely what in my work is Dutch or Canadian. It’s a mix between the two.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT
The first time my work was shown on an international scale was at my Eindhoven graduation show, where I presented the Curiosity Cabinet, my attempt at bringing my meaningful physical and digital things together. I wasn’t sure the cabinet would resonate with a larger public, but people really responded to it, recognizing the problem of wanting to hold on to their favourite digital photos, movies, music – files destined to be hidden away on a hard drive – as well as cherished objects.
The cabinet’s first incarnation alternated physical drawers and digital ones with embedded memory and radio frequency identification tags, which enable digital content to pop up on a nearby computer. After the first RFID model, I experimented with other ways to bring the digital and the physical together. A popular version of the cabinet incorporates engraved data matrix codes in the wood.
I take much of my inspiration from contemporary artists, such as the Belgian artist David Claerbout. In his digital video projections, he presents seemingly ordinary scenes with a surreal twist, in a manner that forces you to look in a new way. I try to translate this way of looking but apply it to a daily personal context, by framing a sense of richness and intimacy with our digital media. This is a reaction against the speed, impersonality and information overload of today’s communication. I find it essential that we select, curate and make choices regarding our digital things, to make them meaningful, which is why some of my projects are purposely limiting. For example, my Imaginary Museum, a digitally hacked View-Master, allows a sequence of just seven images to be shown on each disc.
I like using different materials, whether new or old. Whatever I am working on, I want to discover the craft behind it and learn from those who have worked in that medium for a long time. Meanwhile, having a naive viewpoint can be interesting. It’s important to draw in experts from other disciplines, whether woodworkers or computer programmers, and I like to ask questions, push and provoke, to find new ways to design. I work on the borders of art, technology and design, yet I ultimately see myself as a designer, since I am making for others. A piece can be aesthetically beautiful, but if it does not respond to people it’s not as satisfying.
As part of the W Hotels Designer of the Future Award from Design Miami ⁄ Basel, I was sent to Verbier, Switzerland, to envision an installation for the new W Hotel opening there this December. I was introduced to the local photographer Guido Perrini, and we collaborated on an abstract timepiece to bring the beauty of the Alps to Basel. Claude Glass is a round black mirror that displays digital reflections of the landscape through the glass. The image changes every minute, showing photos captured from a 72-hour time-lapse set-up. To change the hour or witness a whole day passing, you rotate the edge of the Claude Glass, and time will advance or reverse in the speed and direction you turn. For the final installation in the W Hotel, I envision summer shown in winter. As most guests only visit Verbier during ski season, this might entice them to return in summer.
I am now working with contemporary art spaces in Belgium and the Netherlands to develop a tool kit that mediates the memory of these spaces. One of the first pieces consists of a small convex wall mirror and a pull cord. The mirror reflects the installations on show, but when one pulls the cord the image is captured and displayed at the art centre. You can project yourself into the exhibition while creating a whole new participatory archive that the institute can document.
I find working on memory and contemporary art centres especially exciting, since it seems to be a sort of paradox. These spaces have no collections, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have stories to tell. This project will revolve around telling narratives as they happen in real time.
Waterford, Ontario, 1984
2013 Design Academy Eindhoven, the Netherlands, master’s degree in social design
2005–08 Design Academy Eindhoven, graduated cum laude from the man and well-being department
2013 W Hotels Designers of the Future Award, Design Miami ⁄ Basel
2008 Nominated for the Melkweg Design Prize, the Netherlands
2013 Design Miami ⁄ Basel
2011 ⁄ 2012 Salone Internazionale del Mobile, Milan
2008 Curiosity Cabinet added to the Design Huis permanent collection, the Netherlands
2008 Rene Smeets prize for best all-around project at Design Academy Eindhoven
Caroline Van Hoek (Brussels)
Victor Hunt (Brussels)
Dutch Association of Public Libraries
House for Contemporary Art Z33