The first of two new exhibitions at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam explores the creative design process of the Dutch designer Bertjan Pot through his unique style of combining materials.
Bertjan Pot, born 1975, studied at the Design Academy Eindhoven and, alongside the likes of Maarten Baas, Hella Jongerius, and Richard Hutten, produces work which is known as quintessential Dutch Design. A style of product design which can be characterised as quirky, humorous and innovative; combining existing materials and traditional techniques to create new forms.
Pot’s design process begins with exploring the characteristics of materials, particularly that of textiles in an attempt to get the best out of them in an opportunistic manner. This process aims to create an end product that is greater than the sum of its parts; creating something valuable and desirable despite its raw material and awkward construction. The work on display at the Boijmans in this exhibition, titled Hot Glue, focuses on realising his own ideas and doesn’t include any commissions, client work or pieces produced by manufacturers. The playful pieces on show are made from simple materials: rope, beads, plastic bags, tape and other materials bound with hot glue.
The pieces I recognised instantly and have become symbolic of Pot’s design process are the masks he creates from coloured rope; a contemporary rendition of tribal and folkloric masks. Initially intended as rope carpets, these masks are a strange juxtaposition of creepy, over-emphasised facial features with bright and beautiful colours. The use of rope creates a fluid and visible circuit and the masks themselves exemplify Pot’s curious and opportunistic approach through stretching the possibilities of materiality; when exhibited together hanging off a wall and without somebody’s head inside them they have an ornamental feeling of busts or hung animal heads which is interesting due to the soft material used.
“These masks tell stories, this again started out as a material experiment. I wanted to find out if by stitching a rope together I could make a large flat carpet. Instead of flat, the samples got curvy. When I was about to give up on the carpet, we came up with the idea of shaping the rope into masks. The possibilities are endless, I’m meeting new faces every day.”
“The entire shape is generated by what I can do with a piece of string. Over the years I’ve become quite skilled at it.”
This same principle and process has been utilised to create a series of gloves made from rope which are equally as interesting to look at and have a feeling of a knight’s gauntlet but in bright and vibrant colours and soft material. The reason behind the gloves is also quite funny:
“A bit tired too with all the ethnographical references I receive on the masks, which are interesting, but not my drive. The gloves work better for me in several ways. For instance you don’t need a mirror to see what it looks like when you wear it.”
Weaving material is also an important process to Pot, he is particularly interested in taking existing furniture and weaving a material into it as a way of creating a form of permanent upholstery. Weaving allows Pot to explore colour and material combinations that he may never normally create by way of more human process, a weaving machine creates these combinations for him and they can be taken into other designs. Pot is consistently aware of the state of the design world and he says himself he is disinterested whether people call their work art or design; he is only interested in making things:
“I’m certainly a child of the industrial revolution. If you’re making things today, you have to acknowledge that, whether you’re using your hands or machines. Just as every contemporary painter has to recognise the existence of photography.”
Hot Glue also features a large table installation of lamps by Pot which even more so epitomise Pot’s methods of combining materials and ‘stuff’ together. Here he has created around 25–30 lamps by gluing together pieces of wood, bricks, hose-pipes, plastic bottles, foam, rocks, plastic bags, paper and other stuff which one might refer to as ‘trash’. They are effectively sculptures with a lightbulb or LED strip inside them to create a lamp but they hark back to what I mentioned earlier, they are the result of the process to create an end product that is greater than the sum of its parts; creating something valuable and desirable despite its raw materials and awkward construction. They are certainly made from raw materials and their construction is indeed awkward but some of these lamps are beautiful pieces of design when light shines through them. They show that anything, especially rubbish and found objects can be turned into something desirable if you have a humorous and open mind about product design; typical of Dutch design.
“That’s what I like about these lights. When they’re off it’s ugly plastic, but when they’re switched on I’m looking at for things that give a pretty kind of light…they don’t appear to be what they [actually] are.”
Taking this principle into a more commercial setting is Pot’s Downstairs, an unconventional chandelier—which is not in the Hot Glue exhibition but in the Boijmans permanent collection—where he has taken a simple and commonplace stepladder and transformed it into a eye-catching light-piece by inverting it, hanging it from chains and attaching lightbulbs. Coming in 3 sizes: 4 steps, 6 steps and 8 steps, Downstairs is one of my favourite pieces of Dutch Design; its humorous and weird yet fascinating design, amongst several other pieces, epitomises Dutch Design to me.
So much so that when in 2017 I was asked to produce a magazine cover and poster for FONK Magazine for their issue focusing on a generation of Dutch designers, I chose ‘Downstairs’ by Pot as one of 3 images to include in my design (bottom left in green); the other 2 were pieces by Pieke Bergmans (Light Blubs: red) and Maarten Baas (Clay Dining Chair: blue).
For a nice change, this is a kind of exhibition which is not a retrospective of an artist or designer’s life and work but what a productive and progressive designer can create in a short amount of time as a way of playing and exploring materials and what they can do; finding interesting accidents and applying them to something. In his own words:
“For me, Hot Glue has bee nan invitation to look ahead, to develop ideas that might lead to possible new products. What you see are tests that could lead in many different directions. The exhibition is a beginning and certainly not a conclusion. There was more than one reason to make each work, so there are also numerous ways of looking at them. You can see these try-outs as individual samples, but perhas the aesthetic as a whole is something you want to see in a real product. In some works, the material tricks the eye and it is no longer what it seems. But perhaps the this deceit is teh material’s most valuable application. And what happens if you try to make everything from the same material? Will it be boring or does it in fact lead you to a logical form?”
The exhibition is on at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen until the 30th of September and is worth checking out to ascertain your own opinion on Pot’s design process and methods but also the aesthetics of his work.