” It’s their poetic silence and subtle tactility, which makes them beautiful, and gives them a global appeal.”
– Elien Haentjens
Curator of the Belgian Collection
Since leaving Mother nature’s carefully and lovingly designed home for us, humanity has been longing to construct a world shaped through materials of our own creation, for our own needs. This has led mankind’s object creators on a winding journey further and further away from our humble beginnings in a world of “primitive” natural materials. Recent developments have seen a shift in attitude and a focus on natural, responsible materials applicable for a modern urban human now define what we consider to be innovative design. Striking a thoughtful balance between man and machine, urbanism and environmentalism, is exactly what Belgian design does best, here the saying down to earth takes on a double meaning, shedding its modesty and becoming a resounding mark of pride.
Adorno is proud to present the Belgian Collection, curated by Elien Haentjens, exhibited this year at Crossovers: 2019 during London Design Fair. A New Urban Tribe: 10 Belgian designers and studios offer us a glimpse into a world of craft and material use far ahead of its time. Their works tell a unique story about the urban environment we inhabit and the modern tools we use to navigate our own personal contemporary societies.
The participating designers and studios demonstrate a wide range of material use and craft innovation including Bram Van Breda, Studio Plastique, Nel Verbeke, Ana Maria Gómez, Bram Vanderbeke, Adrian Cruz, Coralie Miessen, Linde Freya, MdSt and Sofi van Saltbommel.
Bram Van Breda and Ana Maria Gómez. Images courtesy of the artists.
The Belgian Collection
What are the main themes presented across the works in the collection?
A distinct feature of the works of the Belgian design collection is that they are very honest and down to earth, literally and figurative. International media called this the typically Belgian style, as you can find it in the realisations of, amongst others, Axel Vervoordt and Vincent Van Duysen. The colours and materials they use are closely related to the surrounding landscape. You’ll find the same love for natural materials and a rather dark colour palette in most of the pieces of this collection. It’s their poetic silence and subtle tactility, which makes them beautiful, and gives them a global appeal.
Another theme is the crossovers between disciplines. Almost all of the designers are trained in another discipline, and if not, they love to play with the borders between art, architecture, sculpture and design.
Give us 3 words that define the current design scene in Belgium.
Freedom. Poetry. Purity.
One standout element of this collection is the designers’ novel understanding of material, what is currently happening or what historical factors in the design scene in Belgium have effected this understanding of material?
Belgium not only has a long artistic history, with amongst others the Flemish Primitives who travelled to Italy, but was also – thanks to Henry van de Velde – one of the countries to first incorporate the advantages of machine made design, and doing so the new industrial design movement. The principle of Van de Velde, form follows function, is still very present in the current design scene. Furthermore, Van de Velde created the foundations of the famous Bauhaus school, which he later also applied in the Brussels arts school La Cambre, which is still working according to his principles nowadays. He stimulated the cross-overs between disciplines and he treated design, architecture, art and crafts as equal disciplines. Students were invited to freely experiment, and to combine a theoretic background with a hands-on practice.
How does this collection highlight the diversity present in Belgium today, whether this is cultural diversity, diversity of skill-set, materials etc.. ?
Belgium is the result of a cultural mix between German and Latin influences, and it’s divided in a Dutch, French and smaller German-speaking part. As we don’t have a strong nationalistic feeling, artists don’t need to make design for the prestige of their country, but they can just explore their very own personal world. Together with the lack of a very strong school and style such as for example Eindhoven or Ecal, that’s why the creative outcome can be very different. Moreover, as Brussels is today the second most diverse city in the world – only Dubai has more nationalities on its territory – you’ll see this also in the design scene and in this selection, where half of the people have foreign roots. This cultural mix increases the diversity of the design scene.
The works presented in this collection show thoughtful reactions of designers to problems related to urbanism or the modern era, how do these designers view their responsibility and the role of design in solving some of the future issues in societal development?
Different designers work around the theme of sustainability, such as MdSt who only works with leftovers from local trees that are already cut or Bram Van Breda who uses leftovers from an industrial production that would otherwise be thrown away. On the other side, Studio Plastique researches how we can use different elements of the wood to create new materials. Sofi van Saltbommel invites us with her ceramic pieces to be less rational, and to give some space to the animal inside each of us. Her work is an invitation to be free in a society where we all encounter a lot of pressure to fit in certain boxes.
Connections to World Design
What does this collection say about the state of contemporary design internationally?
The borders between disciplines are fading away. And although designers embrace the globalisation, the local context still plays an important role in their creative outcome.
Sofi van Saltbommel. Courtesy of the artist.
What is exciting about having this collection displayed together with other top design scenes from around the world?
Other than in the world of art, it doesn’t often happen in the design world that you can explore this much authorial design pieces from so many different design scenes and countries in one location. So I’m very curious to see the other collections, to explore the differences and similarities and to learn more about the creative stories of the others designers and curators.
Curated by Elien Haentjens
Elien Haentjens is trained as an Art Historian at the University of Leuven, where she specialized in Modern and Contemporary Art, before completing her education as a journalist at Vlekho in Brussels. Since 2006, she has worked as a freelance journalist specializing in art, lifestyle and especially design, for Belgian magazines and newspapers, including Collect, Trends and Feeling.
Since 2012, she has also curated and organized exhibitions, mainly in Brazil, to promote the diversity, creativity and quality of Belgian design, and to stimulate valuable cross-cultural relationships. In design, Haentjens is particularly interested in the revitalization of the handmade, authorial design and cross-cultural dialogues, exploring ways that traditional artisanal methods can be revitalized and used for contemporary products.
What attracted you both to be involved in collectible design, and work with designers working at the intersection of art and design?
This field combines my education as an Art Historian and my passion for design and storytelling. I love to see the creativity of the people I work with, to follow their process and understand how they build their very own personal language.
What is your current favourite piece of design you have encountered and why?
My favourite piece is a brick bowl from the Tijolo-collection, which is a project from the Instituto Campana. The collection is initiated by the Campana Brothers, working together with a community outside of São Paulo where homeless men try to rebuild their lives. Besides the human side of the project, the brick reminds me of my numerous trips in Brazil. When I bought the brick at the Campana Studio, we just realised the scenography for my project Joias, for which we used exactly these typically Brazilian bricks. Moreover, I love the way in which the Campana Brothers turn daily found objects into pieces of design and art, which is one of the core values of their oeuvre. Last but not least, the object is closely related to the local earth in Brazil, which is a crucial feature of the Belgian design scene.
Generously Supported by:
The General Representation of the Government of Flanders in the UK
Wallonie-Bruxelles International UK