“We (Be)Come One”: Belgium at Adorno London 2021

“…To tackle these global challenges, and come up with innovative answers, we need to join hands. Or, as some might say in Belgium: unity makes us strong.”

– Elien Haentjens, curator of the Belgian collection, “We (Be)Come One”

© 2021 – www.atomium.be – SOFAM

“We (Be)Come One” is part of Adorno London 2021, presented during London Design Festival, 18 – 26 September. “We (Be)Come One” is kindly supported by the Flanders DCWallonie-Bruxelles International, and MAD Brussels.

The rounded ceiling creates a sense of continuity, while the floor resembles ripples in a pond. The space feels complex, yet simple at the same time. This room is one of many, all interconnected to form a historical icon from an era where there was a strong desire to reunite and look forward. The role of iron is apparent: not only is it the material of choice for the outside of the structure, the structure itself – with its molecule-like, bonded spheres – resembles an iron crystal. In these rooms, science and culture collide. The desire for progress and interconnectedness is palpable. Here, we are asked to reflect on the kind of future we want and seek out the keys to secure it.

Presented in the Atomium, a structure built for the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958, “We (Be)Come One”, curated by Elien Haentjens, recognizes that we are all connected in one way or another; the problems occurring on one side of the world have an effect on the other. Therefore, we must all do what we can in order to preserve ourselves and the planet we inhabit. Pieces like “Blend” by Zaventem Ateliers and “Mabo Plates” by ecoBirdy tackle this issue by taking material wastes and turning them into unique pieces of design. Through their unusual forms, “Comrades” by Studio Plastique addresses an issue – alcohol abuse, specifically among young people – that is sometimes swept aside or even dismissed as an integral part of culture. “Stratum Saxum Coffee Table 01” by Daan De Wit is an experiment in minimalism and a rejection of unnecessary extravagance and over-indulgence. Altogether, “We (Be)Come One” is a call to action: as we move forward, let us forget about our differences, focus on what we have in common, and work together to create a future that benefits us all.

“We (Be)Come One” features work by Berre Brans, Daan De Wit, Delphine Cobbaert, DWA Design Studio, ecoBirdy, Emma Cogné, La Gadoue, Studio Plastique, and Zaventem Ateliers.

We (Be)Come One

What are the main themes present in “We (Be)Come One”?

Collectiveness, cocreation, sustainability, upcycling, recycling, societal challenges such as alcoholism and interculturality.

Top: Daan De Wit, “Stratum Saxum Coffee Table 01” // Bottom: Delphine Cobbaert, “Resonance”

What is the significance of the Atomium, in which your collection is presented?

The Atomium was originally built for the World Expo of 58 in Brussels, which showed innovative and cultural products from all around the globe. In this sense it joins the idea of the Designing Futures exhibition by Adorno nowadays. Although it was meant to stay only for six months during the event, it immediately became a crowd favourite and – later – a national symbol. The Atomium visualises the general theme of the World Expo in 58: a strong believe in freedom and progress after World War II. In this optimism of the fifties iron played a major role as a new material. That’s why engineer André Waterkeyn transformed the crystal structure of iron into his monumental, 102 metres high sculpture. The magnified element shows how all cells are interconnected to one another in nature and brings together science and culture. In one way or the other, this interconnectedness applies to everything and everybody on this planet. To solve our global challenges we should value the collective more.

How would you describe the contemporary design scene in Belgium?

Although Belgium has a long tradition in industrial design – the fair Interieur Kortrijk was founded in 1968, as the second fair in the world only a few years after Salone del Mobile in Milan – during recent years the design scene has evolved just as other scenes around the globe. Although industrial design still plays a major role, the collectible design world gained much more importance. More and more designers not only conceive but also produce their pieces themselves. Doing so, they add a human touch or soul to their objects, which stimulates an emotional bond with their future owners. Besides, more designers try to make a difference for the world with their creations by formulating answers to environmental or societal questions. To be more capable to answer these often-complicated quests, they often join forces with other designers, universities or start-ups.

DWA Design Studio, “Crack” Collection

“We (Be)Come One” reflects on the importance of unity and the coming together of the design community for a more sustainable future. What role do you see collaboration and collective approaches to design playing in the future of Belgian design?

It will be less about designers as individual stars who just create new stylish products for the sake of selling more. We have to rethink the industrialised world as we constructed it during the past decades. It will be more about joining forces with start-ups from other industries in order to find innovative ecological materials, with other designers to challenge each other thoughts and peer groups or even the general public in order to get all possible relevant insights and adapt products or services as good as possible to their needs and context.

Last year’s Belgian collection, “Ceci N’est Pas…”, investigated the subconscious and the surreal in design during an uncertain moment of time. In what ways do you think last year’s uncertainty has impacted this desire for unity and collectivity amongst designers?

The pandemic made it even more clear that we are all connected to each other and that the challenges we face are often global. To formulate answers to these rather complicated questions it’s necessary to join forces. At the same time, it can also feel convenient to increasingly polarizing reality and look for inspiring people with the same mind-set. This creative bubble can feel as a safe bubble.

How do the pieces in your collection relate to the theme of Adorno London 2021, “Designing Futures”?

“Blend” consists out of the waste of the 32 design studios based at Zaventem Ateliers. These residues of production have been meticulously crushed and are blend together into a series of unique stools. These stools reflect not only the peculiar practice of each studio, but above all the collective power and cocreative energy of Zaventem Ateliers. Moreover the stool stimulates reflection about waste, and possible solutions such as recycling and upcycling. Blend turns waste into a unique, desirable object.

At first sight, the “Mabo” Plates by Ecobirdy look like they’re made out of marble. In fact, Ecobirdy developed a new way of recycling and upcycling plastic kitchen waste, which makes it possible to play with colour gradients and patterns. As designers Vanessa Yuan and Joris Vanbriel become artisanal makers, who choose to turn waste into new products instead of exploiting more marble.

In close collaboration with the Italian artisan Manuel Coltri the Belgian-Italian duo of DWA Design Studio – Frederik De Wachter and Alberto Artesani – commemorates the technical possibilities of marble. In their project Hacker they transformed small pieces of discarded marble into magnificent objects. The deconstructed stratification refers to the natural origin of the marble itself. Also in their new project, “Crack”, the duo wants to hack the material and break the rules of the classical techniques. Crack is the result of a controlled crack on a stone slab, which becomes the pretext for highlighting and enhancing its fragile side. As it’s impossible to fully control this process, each product becomes unique.

While most of the textile industry has moved to the east, textile designer Delphine Cobbaert decided to launch her own small weaving mill after graduating. By combining natural materials such as wool and flax, which is strongly connected to the Belgian history, she creates unique and limited edition tapestries or carpets. Her hands-on approach results in beautifully imperfect and intimate, tactile pieces, which emotionally appeal to our senses. In Resonance she experiments with a twisted wire, made on a self-constructed machine, as protagonist of the piece.

Studio Plastique isn’t interested in just adding more products to this world, but always takes into account our world and society as a whole. This results in surprising concepts and objects, which stimulate reflection. With “Comrades”, Theresa Bastek and Archibald Godts question the increasing alcohol abuse by youngsters. This collection of drinking vessels is a kind of game, but also offers control. As somebody becomes drunk, the vessels become more illogic. With Comrades the duo wants to reposition alcohol as something valuable.

For his “Post Orientalism – A Kid’s Instinct” series, Berre Brans deconstructed the stool as we know it. Practically the tabouret can be deconstructed into two different heights: the Western seating of 42 cm and the more natural squatting position of 20 cm. Although our bodies are not particularly suited to sit on a chair, the Western chair spread globally. As it evolves from a throne, it’s still a symbol of power rather than function. With this project Berre Brans wants to shift the perspective of the user and challenge the social status quo for a better future.

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting sectors in the world. That’s why Eloise Maes and Audrey Werthle, together studio La Gadoue, reuse textile waste into their creations. For their collection of colourful curtains, as for example “Grande Bleu”, they dismantle and reuse the unworn parts of shirts. By playfully combining different tones of blue, their pieces get a beautiful gradient pattern.

In his “Stratum Saxum” series Daan De Wit explores the possibilities of creating objects with as little material as possible. His collection of vases, stools and coffee tables is made out of bamboo sheets, which are cut into concentric layers and afterwards assembled by hand in his studio. His hollow, organically shaped objects prevent unneccessary loss of material.

Emma Cogné sees her practice as fundamentally collaborative, and likes to make bridges between textiles, design and architecture. She considers textile as a way to connect things together, both physically and metaphorically. She loves to remove materials from their usual context and to insert them into another one to find surprising outcomes. In her partition system “Turborama” she combines inexpensive recyclable plastic tubes, which are normally hidden inside walls and can be found on construction sites, with handknotted ropes. As it’s fully and easily customizable and can easily be broken down and put back together, it relates to issues such as the housing and ecological crisis.

What do you think the future has in store for contemporary design in Belgium?

In a post-industrial era designers are looking for ways to reintroduce vernacular practices in our daily lives. Due to the ecological crisis, local and sustainable materials and practices gain importance. As designers and small start-ups research these new possibilities, they will force the industry to follow their path.

Zaventem Ateliers, “Blend”

Elien Haentjens, curator of “We (Be)Come One”

As a freelance journalist, Elien Haentjens has specialised in the fields of design and art since 2006. By doing so, she has further developed the expertise she gained while studying Art History at KU Leuven and Journalism at Vlekho in Brussels. Over the past ten years, she has interviewed numerous interesting designers, artists, gallery owners and entrepreneurs.

Since 2013, she has used this knowledge to curate exhibitions about Belgian design in Brazil. While she selected and showed finished pieces at first, she decided to intensify the Belgian-Brazilian dialogue by inviting Belgian designers to work with Brazilian artisans. This incentive resulted in two projects: Caro Barro and Joias.

Through design and art, she wants to make people confident enough to open up to others. This way, she wants to stimulate the global dialogue and at the same time ensure that people don’t lose their own identity and local culture. This intercultural human dialogue gives the objects their emotional power.

Can you give a bit of insight into your approach to curating this collection?

I always work in a very intuitive way. It slowly takes shape in my mind. I write down names and ideas. Step by step the collection comes to life. As I’m unconsciously working on the collection, at a certain point the right title or the right virtual environment just pop up in my mind.

If the viewers of “We (Be)Come One could take one concept or piece of information away from it, what would you want that to be and why?

If we want to have a more pleasant life on earth and if we want to secure our future as a species, we need to do it all together. We need to embrace our differences, instead of fighting against them.

“We (Be)Come One” is kindly supported by:

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