Fascinated by form, colour and storytelling, founder and curator of Dutch Invertuals, Wendy Plomp, has found her place running the collective and shaping the narratives of visual exhibitions. The group of designers has been conquering the design world through their experimental touch and vision. They seek to find a deeper understanding of our relation with our physical context, identity and culture. Always tactile, preferably vulnerable, they explore new futures through a radical way of looking at things. They don’t plan to stick to design, they hope to inspire change in the world at large. Read through the interview and discover, from Wendy Plomp herself, about the journey of this collective.
First of all, we’d like to ask you, who is Wendy Plomp?
I am a designer, graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven, who has done a lot of work in photography and design. These two worlds have come together as a good amalgamation within visual exhibitions. I have a fascination for form, colour and storytelling. By coming up with a new ‘upside-down’ world, I hope to innovate and work with different materials and techniques, I’m curious about experimenting. I focus on shaping narratives to find the tribal of design and discover new traditions by analysing our culture and time.
Could you tell us a bit about your background? When did your interest in design start?
After graduating in Photography from the Design Academy, I formed my own vision on design. For me, designing is a process of opposing and reversing things – inverse – that is where the name Invertuals came from. It’s like seeing the world upside-down from a radical, new angle. Seeing the world from this broad view, noting the ideas and then playing with them is what interests me. I like to work with designers and artists from different disciplines to rethink ideas from radical new perspectives. In photography, daring is important: photography is taking the moment when it is there, documenting it at the right time. I think that fits well with my vision on design.
You’re the founder, curator and creative director of Dutch Invertuals. Why did you decide to start the collective? How has it evolved till today?
Dutch Invertuals was founded by chance in 2009 during its first show in Milan. An invitation to exhibit Dutch Design at a venue in the centre of Milan was what later set off a string of group shows mainly in Milan and Eindhoven. A group of designers came together, all with the same commitment, mentality and willingness to work together and to create new projects. We shared and showed our vision on design in order to find a deeper understanding of our relation with our physical context, identity and culture. That’s when Dutch Invertuals was born. After eight years of pioneering, now we evolved into a mature brand.
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What’s its main mission and what value does it add to the design industry?
We exist because we want to inspire change. The changes that we initiate do not just affect the world of design, but the world at large. By seeing things from an original and playful perspective and by projecting our radical thoughts into design, we depart from our common. Not being restrained by commercial objectives, we can truly play and experiment with design.
What does a designer need to take part in Dutch Invertuals? What do you value the most when selecting new members for the team?
Dutch Invertuals collaborates with designers from all disciplines who share our vision. Their work ethic and approach have to fit within the mentality of our collective. Respecting and embracing the collective is important. Dutch Invertuals challenges the skills of passionate, talented and vision-driven designers. We’re constantly adding new members to the team in order to make the collective move forward.
The collective meets every two weeks to discuss topics and share knowledge, which later is translated into the exhibitions that happen twice a year. Could you tell us some examples of topics that are often discussed? Was there any dialogue or meeting that touched you especially?
A recurring theme is the physical and the digital within our environment. The digital world is changing more and more, so our way of life is changing too; this intrigues many people because it is so changeable. The future is also a common theme. We need to be stimulated more and more and we have to look for tactile materials. What does the future look like? Tactile, since the human senses need to be stimulated. Humanity and identity are what designers are working on in this ever-changing environment.
“Everything around us might become a robot in the future, but human rituals like washing your hands will always exist.”
I assume not everyone can attend every meeting, so how do you manage people’s absence? How do you coordinate? What are the downsides of being that many people?
Then it’s very important to focus on getting a close relationship with each designer individually. You have to know them on a personal level to get the best out of someone and to create a comfortable group dynamic. We are actually a kind of small society with different people. Every individual has his or her own competences within the collective.
We have to get to know each other and find a balance.
The design world is often seen as egocentric since a lot of designers rather compete against each other than collaborate. In Dutch Invertuals we see that collaborating can lead to wonderful results that maybe would never be reachable by one designer alone. What’s your view on this topic? Do you believe that collaboration between designers is essential? Why?
What I notice is that a lot of designers don’t want to be superstars anymore. They don’t want to be famous, they like to team up and work together. And it’s necessary to work this way, to push design into a new direction, to create totally new objects and thinking patterns. So, in a way, design has become more transparent and more about sharing knowledge. Together within this field, we explore our future and our habitat. By working together, you are more powerful and the individual is placed on a higher platform.
In your exhibition, Fundamentals, you invited designers to bring together objects that fascinate them but that normally remain hidden in their studios. The result was a portrait of a generation of young designers. How did you come up with this idea? Could you tell us about the process, from gathering the objects until having the exhibition ready?
For Fundamentals, I invited Raw Color, design studio and part of Dutch Invertuals, to join as guest curators. Together, we took a view on a journey into the foundations of the design process. By doing so, we shed a new light on Dutch Invertuals and the various designers it has worked with over the past years. Forty-five Invertuals revealed more than eight hundred objects that normally remain hidden in the archives of their studios. They offered a glimpse into their private collections, resulting in a distinct reflection of their personal identities. Sharing these inspirational artefacts allowed the visitors to experience various views on form, material and beauty. Hunting and collecting are in the human DNA and it is nice to make that transparent in the exhibition.
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As a curiosity, what’s an object that fascinates you? And after doing the exhibition, could you name three objects from other designers that caught your attention?
Measuring instruments like thermometers or compasses. I like their simplicity and that they have now been forgotten in a way because the process of measuring has become digital. But there’s still the ritual of wetting your finger to feel where the wind is coming from or the ritual of learning how to read the stars. This is no longer self-evident since technology has adopted it, but it’s still very valuable if you want to measure or do it yourself.
The objects from other designers that caught my attention were Raw Color’s ‘frietvorkjes’ (chip forks) and the knotting technique of Nina Bart’s Japanese hand wiper. Self-made tools really impressed me as well, such as the Tomas Ballouhey’s homemade knife handle-on.
You usually explore themes related to future global issues and technology, and the impact that these will have on humanity and design, as we can see in previous exhibitions like Harvest and Body Language. What message did you want to evoke through those exhibitions?
For Body Language, we thought: What does the future look like? Will it be like in the movies, all white and digital? No! It must be colourful and tactile because people need identity in their environments, people need to create through stuff that they gather around them.
For Harvest, we thought about how efficiency and self-sufficiency will become the new standards for us as humankind, faced with global challenges and shifts from consumerism towards next level forms of harvesting. Renewable energy, urban mining, big data, and so on make us rethink the cycle of resources, production, storage and distribution. This will drastically alter the existing economical formats our society is built upon. Economic models change and will have to bow and take their responsibility. Systems will no longer work like they do today.
I wonder then if you have a positive vision when it comes to the future of design? Do you think that new technologies will make design more interesting or may destroy its magic?
Technology and design will work together. Together they create magic. Design focuses more on the soft side and technology on the hard side, but together they become poetic. People embrace technology more easily, nowadays we do more but less focused. Together, design and technology can lead to new uses, new ways of life or daily practices that will be improved.
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You usually exhibit in the Milan Design Week. How different is the design field and practice there compared to how it is back in Eindhoven? Do you feel that exhibiting so much in Italy has influenced your practice in any way?
After having presented in many editions of Milan Design Week, we are visible and at the top of what’s always worth a visit. Many galleries and trend watchers take along our designers in their projects. Young designers recently graduated from the Design Academy are quickly launched in Milan and get many leads to build up their practice. Dutch Invertuals itself has become a familiar brand, which stands for innovation and an idiosyncratic way of presenting. Presenting in Milan remains important to us because all the design-minded people from all over the world go there. It’s a place that embraces design so strongly.
Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven is also getting bigger and stronger in terms of international and important visitors. But we see the exhibition in Eindhoven as a first sketch phase of the exhibition in Milan. I can’t directly deduce whether our practice is influenced by Milan or not. But every half year, it’s time to go there to show a new generation of designers.
If you could choose one designer, dead or alive, to be part of Dutch Invertuals, who would it be?
I am curious about the Bouroullec Brothers. They always make something new, I would be curious about what they would do within the collective, since they dare to make a lot of abstract objects. And Charles and Ray Eames, they developed many iconic furniture and techniques that were necessary at the time. Nowadays, not that many designers can do that. They were particularly experimental within all disciplines, they were form purists, expressive and an investigative duo.
What are you currently working on now? Any plans for the future that you could share with us?
Mutant Matter is our most recent exhibition, which we have presented in Milan’s Salone del Mobile. It’s a collaboration between Dutch Invertuals and FranklinnTill, a futures research agency based in London. With this exhibition, we examine materials from man-made time, we look at what we do with those materials, what we develop, and how can we embrace and revitalize the new nature. Not talking about recycling but about the revaluation of plastics and waste and how we convert this to new objects through new techniques. We look at materials’ properties and use the strong characteristics of each of them in order to create kind of ‘super materials’. In this exhibition, we presented a new selection of designers, many of them recently graduated.
Currently, we are working on a book that we want to publish next year on the occasion of our 10th anniversary. This publication intends to provoke debate and discussion about the future of design culture. Next to a series of essays, interviews and imagery on topics that moved the design sector throughout the past decade, we will give insights into the genesis of Dutch Invertuals and their design processes, positions, and visions. In this way, we would like to share the knowledge and experience gained during numerous research projects into relevant societal themes.
And we are naturally already in the preparations for the next exhibition during Dutch Design Week 2018. In an era where we relate ‘more’ to ‘growth’, Dutch Invertuals chose to work on the topic of reduction, and are currently meeting and exchanging first ideas and first prototypes. We are excited to see and present these new works soon in our nineteenth exhibition!
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