Bert­jan Pot: The Man Be­hind the Masks

The Man Be­hind the Masks

Azure - - CONTENTS - By Maria Elena Oberti

Fresh from cre­at­ing dar­ing new work for a ma­jor mu­seum show, the Dutch mav­er­ick ex­pounds on the mer­its of im­per­fect de­sign

Dutch de­signer BERT­JAN POT doesn’t worry these days whether his work looks pretty or pol­ished. What he does care about is that it gets peo­ple think­ing. “Not ev­ery prod­uct has to be mass-pro­duced,” he tells Maria Elena Oberti in Rot­ter­dam, where an ex­hi­bi­tion show­cas­ing his lat­est cre­ations – in­clud­ing new ver­sions of his fa­mously out­landish face cov­er­ings – took over the Mu­seum Boi­j­mans Van Be­unin­gen for the sum­mer. “My de­signs might make you laugh,” he says, “but they’re also there to say some­thing.”

Bert­jan Pot isn’t like most de­sign­ers. As widely ac­claimed for his high-end com­mer­cial prod­ucts (his Ran­dom Light for Moooi is now a clas­sic) as his colour­ful wo­ven-rope masks, he clearly isn’t afraid to toy with ex­pec­ta­tions and to push the lim­its of meth­ods and ma­te­ri­als. What­ever he’s work­ing on, though, he prefers to keep things sim­ple, es­chew­ing tech­nolo­gies such as 3D print­ing in favour of tech­niques like knit­ting, knot­ting and weav­ing. In most cases, Pot starts off by tak­ing some­thing small – a piece of yarn or a bead, for in­stance – and then fol­lows a se­quence of re­peated ges­tures to turn the ev­ery­day ma­te­rial into some­thing rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent. You could say he adds the “ex­tra” to the or­di­nary. Like many of his con­tem­po­raries, Pot em­braces a hand­made aes­thetic, but with an in­tel­lec­tual fo­cus. Beauty, in his view, isn’t about per­fec­tion; it’s about find­ing so­lu­tions. And de­sign is about en­gag­ing the mind as much as the senses. De­spite their sim­ple ap­pear­ance, Pot’s ob­jects of­ten pre­sent an­swers to prob­lems we didn’t know we had. He doesn’t re­ally care about mak­ing things look pretty or pol­ished. What mat­ters most to Pot is that they get peo­ple think­ing. The past two years have marked a sig­nif­i­cant de­par­ture for the de­signer, who de­voted all of 2017 to cre­at­ing new per­sonal work. The re­sults were on dis­play this sum­mer at Rot­ter­dam’s Mu­seum Boi­j­mans Van Be­unin­gen in an ex­hi­bi­tion called Hot Glue. Play­ful as well as pro­found, the pieces on show of­fered an in­ti­mate glimpse into Pot’s unique ap­proach to de­sign.

What was the think­ing be­hind the ex­hi­bi­tion and the name Hot Glue?

I thought a great deal about what I should pre­sent at Boi­j­mans. I knew I didn’t want to show old work. The idea of hav­ing to dig up and sift through 20 years’ worth of work seemed like a te­dious and use­less ex­er­cise. I de­cided to use the ex­hi­bi­tion as an op­por­tu­nity to fo­cus my en­ergy on what I en­joy do­ing most, which is mak­ing pro­to­types. I think the first pro­to­type is of­ten the nicest, be­cause it’s still open and un­fin­ished. If you look closely, a lot of the pieces in the ex­hi­bi­tion will have strings of glue hang­ing from them. The name Hot Glue is a ref­er­ence to the quick and dirty man­ner in which [the pieces] were made.

Why was it so im­por­tant for you to fo­cus on new work?

I wanted the ex­hi­bi­tion to look for­ward, not back­ward. The ex­hi­bi­tion was also a good ex­cuse for me to de­vote an en­tire year to mak­ing things I nor­mally wouldn’t have time for. When you de­sign a prod­uct for a brand, you’re con­stricted by a brief. You start off with a hand­ful of ideas and then fil­ter them down un­til you have a prod­uct you can take into pro­duc­tion. Work­ing on an ex­hi­bi­tion has the op­po­site ef­fect. One idea quickly turns into many un­til what you have is a room filled with lights.

It’s un­usual to see so many pro­to­types on show by a sin­gle de­signer.

You shouldn’t see them as pro­to­types. Many of the pieces are fin­ished prod­ucts. Some of them are sketches that could be turned into in­dus­trial prod­ucts, but oth­ers are fin­ished prod­ucts. De­sign isn’t al­ways about per­fec­tion.

How do you know when a prod­uct is fin­ished?

When it has found its des­ti­na­tion. Take the light made out of set-square rulers. Ba­si­cally, it con­sists of 60 plas­tic tri­an­gles that are glued to­gether to form a lamp. To me, that piece is al­ready what it should be. I might make it a few more times for friends, but, as far as I’m con­cerned, it’s fin­ished.

What makes this par­tic­u­lar piece more fin­ished than oth­ers?

Even if we could make it 1,000 times over, it’s not some­thing you want to see all that of­ten. At some point the joke wears off. Not ev­ery prod­uct has to be mass-pro­duced. That said, there are things in the ex­hi­bi­tion that are the be­gin­ning of an in­dus­trial idea. Those will be done once I’ve found a com­pany that wants to pro­duce them us­ing in­dus­trial tech­niques.

You have com­pared your Table­top lights to a joke. Are your de­signs meant to be funny?

I used to get this kind of ques­tion a lot, and would be quite in­sulted by it. Yes, the lights are funny, but they’re also meant to be dead se­ri­ous. A joke needs an el­e­ment of truth in or­der to be funny. It’s the same with my de­signs. They might make you laugh, but they’re also there to say some­thing.

Your de­signs of­ten con­sist of tak­ing ev­ery­day ob­jects – like set squares – and turn­ing them on their head. What at­tracts you to or­di­nary ma­te­ri­als?

I use these things be­cause they hap­pen to be ideal. Take the light I made with all the plas­tic spoons. I could have made some­thing out of pa­per or had a mould made to get that same shape. But then I saw a plas­tic spoon and thought, why don’t I just cut the han­dle off? I don’t care whether or not peo­ple rec­og­nize it’s a spoon. That’s not the point. Us­ing these kinds of ma­te­ri­als helps me work faster. Plus, it keeps things fun.

How do you de­cide what to make and what ma­te­ri­als to use?

I’m al­ways look­ing for new ideas and think­ing about how I can com­bine things in a new way. I keep track of all my thoughts on a list in my phone. It con­sists of ran­dom notes like “paste mac­a­roni on LED lights” or “scaf­fold­ing struc­ture out of bam­boo cov­ered up in rice pa­per.” Some­times it’s just a ma­te­rial I’ve seen some­where that I’d like to ex­plore. I re­fer back to this list when­ever I need in­spi­ra­tion.

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