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Thomas Widdershoven takes the DAE to New York

We talk to Thomas Widdershoven who this month will take the Design Academy Eindhoven’s exhibition “Self Unself” to New York’s Collective Design Fair, which is held simultaneously with the Frieze Art Fair.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 30-04-2014

The upcoming presentation of “Self Unself” in New York is the exhibition’s 5th showing.   It has travelled from the DAE to the Van Abbemuseum, Shenzhen in China and the Salone del Mobile in Milan. 

“Preparing these types of shows is a form of research for me,” says Thomas Widdershoven, creative director of Design Academy Eindhoven.  “We get to exhibit but also to participate in the broader design discussion.  There is never any funding so it is about finding opportunities and acting.”

The words self and unself came to Widdershoven when he saw the graduation work of 2013. “Our students are presenting self-initiated projects with an unselfish inclination,” he says. “Many of their projects raise social issues and are geared towards the collective good.”

Widdershoven says he notices a change within the student body.  “They seem to be addressing bigger issues and designing more to help the world and themselves,” he says.  “They are more social, economical and political than five to ten years ago.  In that sense I see more graduates moving away from the cultural sector and into different fields.  Of course the cultural world is still important and we need to keep it close, but we also must open up to society.”

Traditionally the DAE has attracted a lot of Asian students, but mostly Koreans.  “I see that changing too,” says Widdershoven. “More and more Chinese students are coming and having now seen some of the design schools in Beijing, I am really pleased with the standards.  We even signed an agreement to maintain an exchange programme.”

Foreign students comprise 60% of the Bachelor’s and 90% of the Master’s programme at the DAE so it is imperative that the school show itself internationally.  That will become even more of a focus as Widdershoven’s plan for the school takes off after summer.  “This past year has been hard and intense,” he says, “but since Tonny Holtrust moved in as head of education things have really started to get better.”

From September a new system designed to relieve some of the pressure the students are under will start.  The departments will be rearranged into eight majors and a series of minors, which is more consistent with how it is done overseas.

But next up is New York, which also presents some fantastic opportunities.  “Design criticism and debate is of the highest level there,” Widdershoven says. “A lot of people come to Dutch Design Week and it is true that Eindhoven has become a part of the global village, but it is not yet a main player.”

For the “Self Unself” exhibition seven lots of two related projects are placed next to each other. They are connected in meaning, material or medium, but represent different approaches to the same topic.

Sometimes the pairs are clear examples of the “self unself-approach”. Inge Kuipers designed a teapot that requires the use of both hands. It makes pouring easier, especially for people with arthritis. She designs for the unself. Ma’ayan Pesach’s work, on the other hand, is closer to her own identity. In Food for Thought she fuses common household items, wigs and cloth to form a series of highly idiosyncratic totems. They hint at a functional past but have transcended it through Ma’ayan’s specific handwriting.

In other cases the projects placed alongside each other share the same design method, but have different origins and outcomes. François Duquesnoy as well as the duo Dienke Dekker and Daniel Costa work in a tradition of assemblage and collage. François collects materials and fuses them into a furniture set. Daniel and Dienke combine porcelain and clay in one piece. They have researched how these materials behave in the oven and how they turn out as a unified object.

“I like these sorts of opposing words,” says Widdershoven.  “They provide a space that students can position themselves between.  It is up to them to decide on a position that best suits their design approach.”

In New York Nikki Gonnissen will participate in one of the “Collective Conversations”
 about students designing for the future. These events are an intimate series of discussions centered around design and the creative process. The series will be held onsite at Collective 2.  Nikki will speak with Ellen Lupton, a curator at Cooper-Hewitt, on Sunday May 11th at 11:30 am.

"Self Unself" exhibition is part of the Collective Design Fair 2 in New York.

Dates: 8-11 May

Address: Skylight at Moynihan Station, 360 West 33rd Street, New York, NY 10001

Thursday May 8: 11am — 7pm

Friday May 9 (Museum Day): 11am — 9pm

Saturday May 10: 11am — 7pm

Sunday May 11: 11am — 5pm

Images: main at top Ma'ayan Pesach vs Inge Kuipers.  Small from top Dienke Dekker &
Daniel Costa, François Duquesnoy.