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His work, projects, philosophy and savoir faire are a statement against our throwaway society. Sander Wassink is the type of person that our society needs the most, especially since the alarming facts about how much we’re destroying the planet we live in keep arising. He is an artist, an artisan, a maker, a thinker. His work can’t be easily defined, but we can tell it’s beautiful both aesthetically and conceptually. By collaborating with local producers from countries like China and Morocco, the Dutch sheds light to the problems that the over-producing capitalist system has been creating for decades. Having many interesting and committed projects going on in his studio, he found some time to chat with us about his thoughts and his artworks. 
Your work is a mix between product design, conceptual art and even architecture. How would you define it?  
My interests in the world didn’t develop in my academic years, but long before. I just learned the mediums and a form to express them during my studies. I guess the act of creation is a divine one; it involves independency, mankind progress, and maybe an opening to something new. However, the systems that we use to produce, promote, sell, buy and distribute are extremely perverted and keep us from reaching our true potential. My work is a reflection of some excesses of the contemporary global and local culture in which I grew up. I find it very hard to find a place in this world that makes sense, so I try to find alternatives in my practice, true projects like Dashilar Flagship Store and The Smugglers Route. They address issues like the quality of fake products, reconsideration of status, brand identity, the relation between global and local, community pride and the universal language of creativity. I guess the act of creation is something I see as an extremely positive thing, because it is a language without borders.
As you say, you turn your attention to the discarded, abandoned and left over. Why is that? What do you find attractive in half-destroyed objects/places/things? 
In the discarded and the abandoned we find unbelievably rich information and potential. So why not learn from this and use it to our benefit?
I believe in the evolutionary process and the flow of things. By totally erasing something as if it had never existed and replacing it with something new, we don’t have the opportunity to learn or to find potential for something new. Sadly, our western culture –and especially the Dutch one– is like this. We are stopping the flow and evolution of things through rules, regulations and pragmatism. We cultivate our historical monuments behind glass walls, but fail to do so in our daily lives. Even though I appreciate my country very much, I feel that we are blocking new opportunities, bathing in great collective fear for the future that results in a scary form of escapism into nostalgia. Instead of going forward or into the unknown, we are moving backwards, hiding in a world built by façades of our past. Repurposing and revaluing the discarded and abandoned or breaking something on purpose means opening up new possibilities of exploring new true paths that not only show beauty, but also touch all aspects of life. I guess by peaking behind the curtain of things you become aware of how things really work and there is no way back. Especially in this time of abundance, creating something from scratch feels somehow a waste of time and energy. 
Tell us about the first thing/object you created.
I don’t really remember. I was so young! I remember making many things in my grandfather’s old farm. He was a great collector. He died when I was 4, so I never got to know him personally, but I did get to know him through his things. Every weekend I would make something there.

There is a photographer called Joel Peter Witkin who is also attracted and captures images of “discarded, abandoned and social misfits” like dwarfs, homosexuals and people with physical malformations. Could you relate your work to his (even if it’s just in a conceptual way)? What artists are your referents?
I think Peter Witkin is focusing on individual, unique misfits. My interest lies more in those daily discarded and abandoned that we don’t really notice or don’t see any potential in. In my work, people only transcend through the objects I make or show. They are not physically present.
As the song says, “we’re living in a material world,” and objects are a very important element in our society. Do you think that we give too much importance to them?
No, I believe we give too little importance to them. We tend to follow trends and discard objects way too fast. The throwaway society is for me a reflection of the lack of importance with which we treat objects. If objects were truly valuable to us we would keep them much longer, we would repair them and carry them around with pride and know their history and origin; we would be aware of the relation they have with our culture and us. The fact that we replace everything so quickly and we can change our total appearance overnight shows that we are experiencing an identity crisis. I understand this feeling in a time of hyper-individualism, where we are all expected to become something. The pressure is very high. I think many young people actually feel a lack of identity in a time where we can become anything, but belong to nothing, really. I think the contemporary culture is a façade without real content, and our challenge is to strive for new “real” values that give us some purpose. I believe we should strive for the things we own in order to become the physical manifestations of our individual and collective values, dreams, and aspirations.
It’s known that many companies produce objects with the so-called planned obsolescence, so that they’d stop being useful in a short period of time and people have to buy more. What do you think about this as a product designer and artist?
Planned obsolescence is a very logical and necessary part of the capitalist system, because mass-production would eventually lead to overproduction. They needed to make sure that either things break or a desire for something new is created; that way, factories can keep producing and jobs are secured, which results in people being able to feed their families. Edward Bernays understood the necessity of planned obsolescence very early. Public relations and advertisement –invented in the beginning of the 20th century– are tools that create desire, resulting in “voluntary” planned obsolescence. Creating desire for something new is the best planned obsolescence you can design because people believe they’ve made their own decision. If you take a close look at the capitalist market economy you will see that it’s full of planned obsolescence designed to keep the masses under control. We have created endless amounts of useless jobs that actually make our lives more difficult and complicated in order for us to maintain the things we think we want. For me, planned obsolescence makes painfully visible how perverted our systems are. We have examples like Primark, which pollutes our world with cheap, poorly made, copied products that are produced under the worst circumstances –but still being accepted by society and our law systems–, and this is beyond my understanding. I don’t really fit in this system, so I am trying to find alternative ways of building something new through my work.
Actually, I started out my career in advertisement, and I started to understand that my profession consisted in designing something to control the masses. We make images to trick people into believing that they need something, and we scramble their brains by making programs that entertain instead of educating. I find that the type of planned obsolescence in which products break after a certain time is very primitive and a bad magic trick, because people will eventually find out they are being tricked. Just look at what recently happened to Volkswagen.

“My work is a reflection of some excesses of the contemporary global and local culture in which I grew up.”
You accept people applying for an internship in your studio. In what parts of the creative and creation process do the interns help you? What can they expect to learn by working with you? Is there any special lesson or message you want to teach them? 
I always try to see what the intern wants and what we can do to adapt the project according to this. I think interns like to come to my studio because it is a different experience without a direct goal. I will not teach them how to get a job at a company or how certain things are supposed to be. They get inside an alternative way of working and living that is not based on any systems, but on intuitively trying and reflecting within an ideology. I think that not all interns understand the holistic approach that we have, though. I try to teach them the delicate balance between life and work.
In the project Adaptive Manufacturing, in which you collaborate with 3D printing expert Olivier van Herpt, you experiment and research on the relationship between a machine (3D printer) and its environment. Tell us more about it.
I am very interested in how technology can be approached from the angle of diversity: machines that can be more like craftsmen or nature. Right now we use factories to feed us with many uniformed objects. Our technologies have become so advanced that we can produce endless amounts of things. My idea behind adaptive manufacturing was to make a machine that could only produce when it had a context or a connection with a human being. A factory that produces a globally equal product (like, for example, Ikea) would have in my scenario many smaller factories around the globe. The outcome of the factories would be based on one single design, but would be different according to the local context. This could be the raw material and other external influences. In the Adaptive Manufacturing project –that is still in experimentation– we tried to show this by printing objects on top of cut tree trunks. The information of the treelines is translated into the geometry and texture of the objects. The total concept still has to be applied, though. Olivier, who started an internship in my studio, developed his own machine. I think our different interests and approaches are very powerful.
The project Dashilar Flagship Store –in which local Chinese shoemakers and foreign designers collaborate and create shoes by assembling cheap and counterfeit ones– is a very good idea that can be implemented into other products. Have you thought about carrying out a similar project with different objects?
At this moment, I am working on a project called Nike Air Maroc: The Smugglers Route, as I mentioned before. I started this project in a small village called Sefrou, in Morocco. Sefrou is full of tailors, where once 1/3 (or so) Jews that were considered excellent tailors lived. Today you can still find endless workshops where men are making clothes and embroidery, or preparing yarns for production. The entire village is a small factory. Women work in small shops or make the small fabric buttons used on the traditional clothing at home, which they later sell to local shops. Also in Sefrou the fake goods shops (Armani, Nike, Adidas, Gucci) have been flourishing during the last decades. All these items produced in countries like Bangladesh, India, and China slowly push the importance of crafts to the background. Especially young boys wear less the djellaba’s and more the fake brands. When I understood the importance of the tailor crafts in the village of Sefrou and the threat of cheap fake products, I started using the fake goods as a raw material, I let it be altered by the tailors and used the embroiders to cover the logos part.

You’ve exhibited your work in cities around the world such as Washington, Beijing, London, Barcelona and Cape Town. In what new city or country would you like to exhibit and why?
I don’t really know. I like to do projects and exhibitions in specific contexts such as Morocco and Beijing. I find static exhibitions less and less interesting. I’d say I would like to do more context related projects and exhibitions.
In what other future projects are you currently working on? 
We are working on a series of lamps made out of reclaimed glassworks. We started working with craftsmen and modern technologies to add unique parts to the different glassworks. We’ve been working for two years now in order to find ways of production that allow diversity by the makers and raw materials available, but still can compete with mass-production. Some of the new products will be presented in the coming year and the beginning of next year. I am also actively working on the Nike Air Morocco project.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? 
Always a difficult question to answer, but I hope to have found some functional, alternative ways of production.

Arnau Salvadó

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