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Behind Design: Christien Meindertsma

Christien Meindertsma’s solo show at the Vitra Design Museum, ‘Beyond the Surface’, captures the Dutch designer’s fascination with materials and manufacturing

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“Behind every product that you see or use is a world of development. Materials, People, Processes.”  These are the words of Dutch designer, Christien Meindertsma. It is a statement defines the works of Meindertsma, whose investigative approach to design has led to projects that understand objects and their manufacture in intriguing and fascinating ways. The Vitra Design Museum is currently hosting Christien Meindertsma’s first solo show outside the Netherlands entitled Beyond the Surface.

On display are projects that range from publications to installations to furniture. These include One Sheep Sweater (2010)–a series of sweaters in which the size of each garment was defined by how much wool came from a single sheep–and The Bottom Ash Observatory project (2015) which examines the valuable materials found in the residue of household waste incineration.

However, the exhibition does not soley focus on the designer’s final products but invites visitors to take a deep dive into Christien Meindertsma’s thorough design process. It presents material samples, prototypes, photographs and documentary style films, produced in collaboration with filmmaker Roel van Tour. This variety of media makes visible the complex world of industrial production, allowing outsiders to access otherwise unattainable information.

Meindertsma strongly believes that “every object could be the start of a documentary if you unravel its story.” The exhibition embodies her endless curiosity for all things man-made. It was this same curiosity which led her to make PIG 05049, a book that catalogs all the products that can come from a single pig including ammunition, heart valves, chewing gum and even biodiesel. The project took three years to complete.

This depth of research is seen in each of Meinderstma’s projects which are long-term and based around first-hand field research. The designer visits factories, farmers and anyone involved with the production whatever material she is working with. Reflecting on her process, Meindertsma enjoys that it leads to “finding things that you did not know you were looking for.”

Another project highlighted in the exhibition is Flax Chair, for which Meindertsma won the New Material Award and the Dutch Design Award in 2016. This biodegradable chair was part of a much larger investigation into flax. After discovering it’s strong Dutch origin, Meindertsma purchased a whole flax harvest from a farmer and carefully followed the process of farming it. Whilst exploring all manners of potential uses for flax she produced items such as tea towels, ropes and, finally the chair.

The unique projects of Meindertsma highlight industrial processes and, in doing so, they create a platform from which to examine them. Her work questions whether things could or, perhaps, should be made differently. She urges us to think about materials and objects in a new light and value the immense time and effort that goes into everything we touch, hold, use and, ultimately, throw away.

Beyond the Surface will be on display at The Vitra Design Museum until January 20, 2019.

Christien Meindertsma
Bookcover, "PIG 05049", Christien Meindertsma (2007)
Pages from "PIG 05049", Christien Meindertsma (2007)
 Christien Meindertsma
Sheep whose wool was used in the »One Sheep Sweater« Project (2010) © Christien Meindertsma, photo: Roel van Tour
Christien Meindertsma
Progress of the »One Sheep Sweater« Project (2010) © Christien Meindertsma, photo: Roel van Tour
Christien Meindertsma
Production Chain for "Flax Chair" Christien Meindertsma (2015)
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