A fantastic film was presented last week in Milan about iconic designer Maarten van Severen, his four sons and their creative and sometimes troubled journeys.
Film director Moon Blaisse was originally asked to make a short promo for a Maarten Van Severen exhibition, but what she discovered during her research was too good to condense into a few minutes. Two and half years later she presents “Addicted To Every Possibility”.
“Addicted to Every Possibility” is a brilliant documentary that delves into the mind of designer Maarten van Severen. His was a tragic personal trajectory.
“Design starts with the memory,” the virtuoso once said in an interview. “I want to be able to understand the space. Master it.”
Blaisse aligns the success and downfall of her hero with his four sons who early in their careers already appear to exhibit similar fluctuations in their creative processes. “Instability encourages creativity,” one admits.
The Van Severen family drama is gripping. The mother of the eldest two boys escapes to Japan. There she sings karaoke with the locals and films herself sultrily smoking a cigarette and reading a letter aloud to her husband.
She tells him he is childish and that she won’t “make the biggest mistake of her life” by returning to him (and her own two sons) unless two conditions are met: that he remove those aspects of his personality that she deems childish, and that he quit denigrating everything that is not architecture. She concludes the letter with a demand that he write back professing his love for her.
Instead, Van Severen finds a new wife who looks remarkably similar to the old wife. Marij de Brabandere endures the tempestuous ups and downs of her creative genius husband and reflects throughout the film with remarkable calm and forgiveness.
Marij talks of her husband’s obsession with making archetypes “Not just a stool, but the stool,” she says.
William Phlips, a friend of Van Severen, offers a fabulous anecdote about a call he receives from his friend when the prototype for his now iconic chair is finished. Phlips catches a cab to Van Severn’s workshop and asks the cab driver how long he has been driving cabs for. 35 years is the reply. He makes the cab driver go in to see the chair explaining to Van Severen that he is no chair expert, but this man has been sitting for 35 years so is. Together the three men open a bottle of champagne with the expert sitter declaring the chair good.
Rem Koolhaas with whom Van Severen worked on many projects spoke of the late designer as his equal, admitting that there are few others he ever felt as excited to work with. Koolhaas trusted Van Severen to find the right balance between plain and imaginative. “Even finding a tension between the two,” Koolhaas says.
But Van Severen was a perfectionist – and prone to alcohol, drugs and violence. Not at all unlike his own father who apparently believed in only three things: painting, mathematics and philosophy. “Everything else was second rate,” says Van Severen’s brother.
But the real spiral downwards for Van Severen came after he was discovered by Rolf Fehlbaum of Vitra. Overnight fame combined with intense pressure and the need to hand over control of how his work was produced crated a lot of inner turmoil.
“In the real world you must deal with issues of cost, weight, price, quality, long life, ecology, ergonomics … there are many criteria a product must fulfil,” says Fehlbaum. “In the world of [limited] editions none of this matters.”
And wit all the difficulties Van Severen’s chair did end up achieving the ultimate – commercial success as well as intellectual and creative status in the design discipline.
And with all the chatter in the current design debate focussing on the idea that enough is enough when it comes to chair design, Van Severen wholeheartedly disagrees. “Of course new chairs have to be made,” he tells a journalist. “We have been making them for 40 000 years so why stop now?”
The film closes with a touching moment between Van Severen and his youngest son who wrote and dedicated a song to his father titled “Addicted To Every Possibility.” It was this that gave Van Severen the strength to continue creating throughout his illness right to the very end.
Addicted To Every Possibility
Director & Writer: Moon Blaisse
Producer: Jules Debrocks (Pain Perdu Audiovisual productions)
Co-producer: CTM Pictures