Marcel Wanders on exhibitionist design
He has been called the peacock prince of Dutch design, which makes him sound all show without punch, but ever since his seminal ‘Knotted’ chair for Droog put him in the hot seat to stardom in the 1990s, Marcel Wanders’ provocative, exhibitionist designs have more than paid the bills. He visited New Zealand recently as the guest of ECC and Moooi. Why do you believe in design that pushes the boundaries? MARCEL WANDERS If all we needed design for was to get our life organised, we already have those products. We aim for a level of excellence, for work that has more excitement, more sparkle – and we try to express that in products that are unlike others. We want life to be extraordinary because, well, you are worthwhile. Tell us about Moooi’s recently released ‘Meshmatics’ chandelier by Rick Tegelaar. I saw Rick presenting Meshmatics in Dubai and I thought, ‘fuck, that is so cool’. At the time, he had only sold one or two to neighbours and friends. Rick does his own research and is a designer who not only knows how to do a good rendering of his idea, but how to engineer it. I respect that. Designers should take that type of responsibility for what they dream up. He uses an unassuming raw material – mesh – but when he stretches it, something magical happens to the light; there’s airiness to it. Lights are often a centrepiece for a space – a place for people to gather around – that’s why we don’t want them to be average, but sculptural, super big, soft, feminine and warm. The ‘Charleston’ chair looks like an up-ended Chesterfield sofa – what’s going on there? When I was 10, my brothers and I would sit back on a sofa and tip the whole thing over; we’d be ‘sitting’ on it but in a different way. That is what inspired me; I like to flip things around. There’s no logic in doing a crazy thing. The ‘Charleston’ would look good in an entrance space. Imagine if you visited a house or hotel and saw it there; you might think, ‘this evening could be fun’. Some people say it’s ridiculous to have an upside down couch as a chair, then they sit in it, take a photo and send it to friends. ‘O’ [a O-shaped outdoor seat] is another example of a new way to express the idea of sitting. ‘O’ is also an integral symbol in Moooi – it’s a playful piece, a surprise. Our prime minister Jacinda Ardern campaigned in a spirit of ‘relentless positivity’. Do you have something in common with her? If you’re not positive, you are better to shut up. If you are a humble person that’s fine, but when [like me], you want to try and enlarge yourself, you are responsible for what flows from you. That is true if you are talking to your neighbours but more so if you are talking to the world – there’s an exponential influence.
You once turned battered soup tins into 24-karat ‘cans of gold’ which raised money to feed the homeless. Are you still an activist? In my own way – I’m just more efficient at it as I have other things to do. I believe design is political but we don’t perceive it as such because it is seldom in contrast to the status quo. It doesn’t hurt because it doesn’t attack. Right now I’m working in the Middle East. I have always wanted to do the interior design for a mosque, so at the studio we’ve developed software to translate the very definite historical geometry of the Islamic culture into a new visual language. We call it ‘SFM’ (Study for Mosque). The patterns are printed into rugs. Our printing technology prints 12 dots per square millimetre so you can achieve unprecedented depth. By working in the Middle East it’s easier to stay connected [with that culture and religion]. I may not be changing the world, but it’s important to pay respect and be respected.
4 1. The ‘Meshmatics’ chandelier by Rick Tegelaar on show at the ECC showroom in Auckland. 2. Marcel Wanders discusses his latest projects before an audience gathered at ECC. 3. Wanders was joined in a panel discussion with Nat Cheshire of Cheshire Architects, Rhana Devenport, the director of Auckland Art Gallery and a visitor from Hawke’s Bay. 4. Wanders and a team from Designworks.