Whether it’s due to the quality of their design academies – like Eindhoven, or the influence of organizations like Droog, the Dutch seem to think and design in unique ways with a high level of personal expression.
Bertjan Pot is a prime example. His designs are process led and come from a deep interest in materials and techniques – nothing new here, many designers talk about this as a mainstay of their work – but Pot is not particularly driven by shape and decoration – these aspects tend to evolve naturally out of the process itself. The thought of product comes well after he has explored the medium and feels comfortable with where it has taken him.
“Every material has it’s own ‘right’ appearance… For me the technique often comes first, with the appearance coming later. Depending on the technique, a product could end up big fat and blobby or thin and fragile – I like both! I did the ‘Slim’ table with the Dutch brand Arco in 2005 then five years later we did the ‘Fat’ table because it was an exploration of the opposite method and material”.
Pot graduated from Eindhoven Design Academy in 1998 and became one half of the Monkey Boys with Eindhoven classmate Daniel White until 2003 when he set up his own studio. Now a well-known name in furniture and lighting design circles Pot quickly achieved successes with products like his ‘Random’ light for Moooi released in 1999 and his ‘Carbon’ chair released five years later. But for Bertjan Pot, design is not about product, success and sales. His approach is constantly playful and unpretentious.
Rather than working for more and more international brands as he becomes more well known, Pot prefers to remain in his studio in Rotterdam and only works on projects that he can develop in the Netherlands. Pot feels that being involved in the process is essential.
“The types of products I design need regular visits to the factory so I can develop the design through fully understanding the manufacturing process. For that reason they are all made in Holland – even the ‘Jumper’ chair for the British company Established & Sons. I have made a few attempts with Italian companies but I have found that they consider a designer’s work a masterpiece that they must faithfully reproduce. I don’t really work that way – I prefer to be more open to learning new things as I go and often the design develops in a different direction because of this.”
Many of his early designs used resin to stiffen pliable materials like string or woven fibers and he was intensely interested in carbon fiber – a material he still admires but is not so happy about using these days. “I don’t know that I would accept a proposal to design something in carbon fiber or fiberglass anymore because they are non-recyclable. It’s alright that those chairs already exist – hopefully their owners wont throw them out in a hurry – but even though it’s a very nice and simple technique there are lots of other things to explore”.
“Without innovation minimalism quickly becomes a dead end”.
Pot has had an interest in fabrics and been a keen sewer since he developed a childhood fascination for kites. “When I was fourteen I used to make a lot of kites and I had a kite buggy. To save money I used to make my kites myself – well actually at first I got my mother to sew them – until one day she got fed up with that and told me to make my own! So I learnt to sew and I still really enjoy the technique”, says Pot.
Since 2010 he has been making masks from rope – sewn together on a domestic sewing machine in the studio. “I had a lot of rope left over from a rope sofa I made for the Tilburg textile museum, so one day I decided I’d try to make a very big carpet by stitching the coiled rope together. It wasn’t working very well because it wouldn’t stay flat, so I decided to quit when it was still quite small. Just at that moment my assistant came along and said – “Oh, that looks like a mask” and that was it. From then on I’ve been making masks whenever the mood strikes me’ says Pot. “In fact my first ever solo exhibition was in Australia. It was curated by Sarah King for her very small Gallery ‘Oh’ at ‘The School’ in Sydney. It consisted of just one of my masks. I was the only artist on show so I guess that qualifies! laughs Pot.
The range of Pot’s work is what is so intriguing about him. While one minute he is happy creating primitive masks, the next he is developing a complex fabric called ‘Font of the Loom’ on a Jacquard machine, with his favourite pages from Wikipedia woven into the fabric. “Jacquard has been around for a long time – normally it’s controlled by cards with holes in them – sort of like early computer programs – but with this particular Dornier machine, every thread on the loom is connected to a servomotor and is programmed by a computer. So every one of the 3600 and something threads can be pulled up or down while weaving”, explains Pot.
While Pot is quite happy to use craft as a starting point for many of his ideas, these often end up with a much greater emphasis on technology when turned into a production item. In 2009 Pot presented an idea for a chandelier style light to Moooi that involved stick-like branches dividing more and more as they moved away from the central trunk – just as in nature – but the soldering costs were deemed far too expensive. Some time later, Marcel Wanders and Pot came to the conclusion that dipping the ‘branches’ in metal twice – one coating to carry positive, the other negative, would be the ideal solution. Called ‘Heracleum’ the light was released by Moooi in 2010, and also benefitted from Marcel Wanders newly developed LED sandwich technology, so the light was free of wires and extremely lightweight. “I don’t see ‘Heracleum’ as hi-tech, it doesn’t use any microchips or anything like that. I just think it’s a clever solution. Anyway, the hi-tech part was all Marcel Wanders. I just developed the shape”, says Pot modestly.
There is a constant playfulness in Pot’s work that frequently borders on the madcap whether it’s a chandelier in the form of an upside down industrial ladder fitted with carnival lights or an outdoor chair made from a tennis net.
His ‘Revolving Chandelier’ for Moooi released in 2009 is like a carousel spinning around through the heat given off by it’s three halogen bulbs. It is as much a kinetic sculpture as it is a pendant light. “I like to keep it playful. For me it’s a way of being more open. If you take things too seriously it blocks out other possibilities”, says Pot. The light has yet to go into production but this never seems to bother the designer as he finds the time spent researching materials and techniques are never wasted. He frequently ‘parks’ ideas with the knowledge that they may turn into a product in the future. “That’s also how I like to work: starting with something small; a shape, a technique or an effect, and seeing how big I can make it. Maybe it will become a light, a chair, a table or a mask”, says Pot.
While Pot likes to inject a sense of humour into many of his products and relishes the freedom to explore whatever direction takes his fancy, he is adamant that products made purely to be outrageous or funny are not his style.
“I don’t make jokes for jokes sake. If the joke washes off there should still be a good product underneath”.