In the Making

The work of last year's graduating students from ArtEZ School for Interior Architectuur, Zwolle, is reflected upon in the following essay called 'In the Making'.

Drawing of a shifting horticultural shed

It is often said by those who have undergone prolongued training of any kind that the early years of study are formative, that they shape the way we think and that those things you begin to ask, you keep on asking in the years that follow. When reviewing this year’s work, as when trying to understand all young creative beings, to find the question that each and every student is asking, is not always an easy task. To see if they themselves have found their critical stance sometimes means trying to follow the thoughts and ideas each student is beginning to develop and that, like a path that is opening up towards something known, seem as very fine threads of understanding running through each work. These strands of knowing are not always easy to find but in this year’s work there seem to be many such threads and, like a cord, these have not remained apart from each other but rather have become entwined and knotted. There is a certain coherence in this knotting that has been going on in the research through design in the last two years. It was this that, as an entwined cord of knowing at the end of year show that I have tried to get a grip of, follow and through doing so to understand.

If much of the curriculum means that as well as working on their own, there are also several weeks in which learning is carried out in groups, shared experiences and tendencies are likely to emerge, with this year being no exception, where things are on the move as no other. A kind of kinetic architecture of hinges, wheels, sliding mechanisms, stackings and foldings, an unending to-ing and fro-ing of walls, floors, furniture and fittings was on show. As one of the students says: ‘your best position is your next position’ [1].

To make sense of this tendency towards the mobile and shifting state of things I have been following in the footsteps, as it were, of an anthropologist and visual artist. Tim Ingold maintains that knowledge is forged in movement and how a correspondence enabled by movement is what makes us perceive our surroundings. The second line of thought is taken from Olafur Eliasson who, by researching models as experimental set-ups, maintains that these help us understand how, through engaging with our surroundings, we can bring our spatial awareness to the fore. What is common to both the thinking of anthropologist and the work of artist is the way in which they understand knowledge as being gained along the way of making and how this leads to works which are open-ended and where the making of, that can be read in the work itself, invites engagement by the user.

No designer knows when they begin a work where it will lead them. They may have a set of intentions or a ‘gut feeling’ but the design cannot be seen in its end state at the beginning of making. Things happen or occur along the way of making and many designers wish for this going on to carry on going, even after the time has come to show the work. No end state is intended, no fixed form or state of being is put forward, but rather an open-ended apparatus with which the intended user could carry on using. This is so for both the intended and imagined user which we may call the inhabitant, or the temporary inhabitant or guests who came to see the designed things in the show. Because the designer and inhabitant both do not know when they begin making a thing or engaging with a thing once made where it will lead them they may be called ‘wayfarers’, for, as Ingold says, ‘lives are not led inside places but through, around, to and from them, from and to places elsewhere’ [2]. This he says is an embodied experience. We lead our lives not unlike the Inuit hunters who perceive the hunted animal and their own movements in terms of lines of movements traced in the ground. As soon as someone moves they become a line.

As I understand it, unlike most shows of visual art, those that were invited were not kept away from touching the exhibited models. These were not then fixed as complete objects which were only to be looked at. Instead visitors were asked to open up screens, slide walls or textiles, stack containers, wheel furniture and hoist up ceilings. In one work an assorted collection of outdoor furniture like components of a stage set invited correspondence between a street and its temporary inhabitants. The way in which the things were moved and a relationship made between designed furniture and the temporary inhabitant can be traced back to how the things were made and in the developing correspondence between thing and maker. It as if this knowledge is somehow passed on or shared in the designed thing itself.

Mapping of household movement by Stephanie Klein Holkenborg

If, as Ingold says, knowledge is forged in movement in the passage from place to place and changing horizons along the way then it follows that the way the designed thing has come about is also forged in movement. When we make are we not trying things out and setting off on a path of knowing by doing, for doing something is a movement and is in the very nature of making? It is because this way of gaining knowledge leaves open the likelihood for the intended inhabitant to carry on their way through the interior, that they too can begin a correspondence with the designed thing. This, after Ingold, we may call wayfaring one’s way through the interior. The temporary inhabitant as guest to the show, is brought into the carrying on of this knowledge making since the knowledge itself is forged in movement.

Another of the works serves as a good example of how lines of movement open up a path of learning. In researching the daily movement within a student’s home it was found that much of the room was not used. As an alternative to the static solid wall, another wall of textile was made that could be shaped daily in manifold ways according to the daily handlings or ways of using something. A canvas screen could be hinged open, pulled out from a wall, its pockets and folds used to store, keep, flap open and sleeve things. They invited use, without prescribing how things were to be used. There are some things you can do with the screen that other screens and a wall would not allow so the presence of the screen opens up a path of development for those who would like to take up using the screen, engaging with it, sometimes in a very intimate way. For some, the screen is something to be touched and worn even, to become part of one’s skin, and something too in which to gather the bits and pieces of everyday life and to fold them away [3].

Most of the works this year are meant less as beautiful objects than as instruments to be played; and in the playing there is a learning going on. As the screen is played, as it were, the more the screen gives of itself and the more things you can discover you can do. And everyone plays it in their own particular way. For each and every one of us the screen is another screen for the screen is how we play it and what we make of it. The screen in this understanding as instrument is far from a closed object with a set use. It is rather, an opening or path that opens up where knowledge is gained by the user or in this case the temporary inhabitant. In playing the instrument or inhabiting the screen through one’s daily handlings it becomes imbued with meaning. As in all playing, movement is all and in particular it is the movement of the hands that most ‘plays’ the screen. One can say that the screen becomes ‘handled’ in a particular way and through these handlings a correspondence begins. The designer makes possible a correspondence between handler and the thing handled so that it may resonate. The screen made possible resonances between the human that played and the thing that was played.

As well as this approach towards open-ended design the educational programme also stimulates the adoption of the idea that design is motivated or driven by ideology, such as the recognition of the social quality of a thing designed and its significance and bearing upon the broader society. So it is to be expected that the works indeed share this link between the form of a thing and its social context.

As perceived by many everyday users there appears in architecture to be a lack of thought about how buildings can create any kind of meaning through inviting a relationship between themselves and their surroundings. The works this year are meditations on this causality. They are acknowledgements that through active participation in our surroundings, whatever we do on whatever scale, shall have social consequences. We encounter buildings, rooms (in the broadest sense of the meaning) and things through our engagement with them and when we change them they change us. It would appear that each work owing to their potential to be adapted, shifted and appropriated for personal use is an invitation to Ingold’s correspondence. The more radical works have something very generous to offer because they embody a degree of correspondence owing to their design qualities. These structures and apparatus of the interior do something to you and more so when you do something to them; when they are activated or engaged with in a very physical and tactile way.

In order to understand, inhabit and evaluate space it is crucial to recognize its temporal aspect. For Olafur Eliasson space does not simply exist in time; it is of time and the actions of its users continually recreate its structures. Furthermore this has a social consequence. When surroundings are thought of as stable, we tend to lose a feeling of responsibility for the environments in which we move. Here space becomes just background rather than ‘a co-producer of inter-action’. Eliasson’s work, ‘Take your Time’ [4] is an invitation to correspond. He says that what takes place is an interaction with others which co-produces space and this in turn is a co-producer of interaction. By meditating on this critical correspondence between the user, ourselves and things it is possible, to bring our spatial responsibility to the fore.

For most students, the imaginative work of designing is through making models, drawings, sketching and writing. This year it is the model which appears as the most apt means to carry the main intention of the works. The models on show are made from the twin fundamental qualities of structure and time. They are able to forge the fundamental connection and correspondence between space and time and ourselves. It is as if the designers have wished to restore the model as an interior to life itself, and have found out that designing is less about the making of completed pre-determined objects but more about drawing the inhabitant in along the very paths of their making and re-making. In that they cannot ever be seen as complete in themselves, but rather as ‘goings on’ or several ‘goings on’ entwined in the construction or making of the model, they are made accessible to the user or visitor to the show. Like experimental set ups the meaning is found not only in the things themselves as seen but in the model understood as one of many ceaseless possibilities of shaping our surroundings and the ways in which we engage with each other.

When taking a look at the graduate works, the threads of meaning that can be drawn through them seem to bring the temporal dimension or time to the fore. The works are, as it were, thick with time; time is not only in them but time is of them. As models of engagement and correspondence with the world made possible through movement they can be understood as a deep rooted intention to gain more responsibility for our surroundings in which we move. The folding, hinging, sliding and stacking handlings that are of these works and their potential for correspondence between user and thing clearly raises awareness of the possibility to bring our spatial awareness to the fore.

Yet, the value of the works also lies closer to home. For is it not that when a work is made and in the making of something, not only that thing is shaped but also the thing shapes the maker? In creating something where knowledge is forged in movement the students are creating themselves. In opening up a path of learning, the role of the designer is one of creating things that allow for the path of learning in oneself, if not others. It is this open-ended making of and the way in which we as guests are invited to engage with this knowledge-making that stands out as a common thread of understanding in this year’s show. If the students are also in the making then they will quickly know that this does not end on graduation. It is but one thread in a cord of many yet to come.

1. van Rosmalen, Daphne, spoken words in her graduation show.
2. Ingold, Tim, ‘Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description’, Routledge, 2011.
3. van Dijk, Debbie, Metrpolis M, Eindexamen special 2015
4. Eliasson, Olafur, ‘Models are Real’ pp227-228 ‘Your Mobile Expectations’, Lars Muller, 2008.

A work by Olafur Eliasson