What happens to the idea of value when an everyday consumable becomes an object to take care of, even when you don’t own it? In May 2021, designer Elisa van Joolen and Het Nieuwe Instituut will present the EVJ: the institute's first official museum bag, made from recycled melted plastic from disposable carrier bags. Users never own the EVJ, but take care of it for a time. Prospective borrowers can complete and sign a loan agreement via the website, in which they agree to adopt an EVJ bag for six months.
Elisa van Joolen started EVJ more than a year earlier as part of Open Studios 2020 at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. With this project, in order to disrupt assumptions and expectations around value, she replaced the usual promotional tote bag with an institutional print with handmade, upcycled copies. Instead of disposable bags or the apparently more sustainable alternative of the square fabric bag, with EVJ she offers a conscious design object. Each bag is unique and constructed by hand from deconstructed plastic bags. Visitors could take an EVJ bag with them for free, but without it coming into their personal possession – they signed an agreement to return their loan to the academy.
EVJ x HNI
In collaboration with Het Nieuwe Instituut, the designer is giving the project a restart in 2021. From spring onwards, visitors, participants or users of the institute will have the opportunity to actively relate to the value, responsibility and ownership of something as mundane as the carrier bag that you take with you after a museum visit. As borrowers, or temporary 'bag caretaker', they can pick up an EVJ bag they have selected online for free from the NAi Booksellers' store after completing an agreement. (If they want to have the bag shipped, the shipping is at their own expense).
The new series consists of 300 unique examples, each equipped with a special carry strap with the institute’s logo. The bags ask borrowers whether something seemingly worthless can gain value the moment it is handed over to our care. What does it mean to take care of something that doesn't belong to you, and that does not represent any monetary value?
Common goods as common goods?
We buy things or receive them as gifts; we might rent something from time to time. But it is much less common to borrow something from a stranger – without having to pay for it – that you need to take care of. The idea behind the EVJ touches on concepts that may have fallen out of fashion, yet are hugely important. Nowadays we seem to have forgotten notions related to commonality, and no longer know what to do with shared spaces or shared resources and facilities. You could say that the commons is no longer common. Because what we literally have in common are values and ideas such as care, commitment, responsibility, maintenance, trust and transcending value. With EVJ, Elisa van Joolen tries to bring such ideas as daily practice back into daily use.
For a more detailed explanation of the EVJ project, you can visit the special website that Van Joolen has set up for this purpose: www.evjbags.com. The site includes an extensive background text about the entire project, a series of sources of inspiration from the designer and a list of FAQs. The website also functions as a living archive of user and care experiences; there will be more and more EVJ stories and photos from borrowers documenting how they look after ‘their’ bag for a while. Perhaps most importantly, it is also the place where you can find an up-to-date overview of the available EVJ bags and bags that are currently on loan.
Elisa van Joolen
Elisa van Joolen is a designer based in Amsterdam. Her approach to clothing design is characterised by intervention and reconfiguration strategies. Van Joolen’s projects often express specific social contexts and emphasise collaboration and participation. They expose the relational aspects of clothing and undermine the underlying value production processes. Elisa van Joolen studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam and at Parsons in New York, obtaining her BA and MFA respectively. She was an artist in residence at IASPIS in Stockholm and the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. She teaches at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. She runs her own studio and, together with Hanka van der Voet and Femke de Vries, founded Warehouse, a place for contextualised clothing in Amsterdam.
TNL! Design Dialogues: Value and Care in Design
In this second edition of Design Dialogues on May 6, 2020, Elisa van Joolen is joined by archaeologist Maikel Kuipers, philosopher Patricia de Vries, designer Karim Adduchi, designer Baby Reni, journalist Lynn Berger and experienced ‘bag caretakers’. They discuss what it means to take care of things that are not ours, assign value to disposable items, and look after everyday objects.
An ecological institute of many voices
The decision to collaborate with Van Joolen for the first museum bag is in line with Het Nieuwe Instituut's policy choice to make multivocality – space for different voices – a guiding principle, from a social as well as ecological perspective. For example, we are making our own building more sustainable by, for example, publishing and complying with a sustainability vision for the institute. We also recycle materials from exhibitions at the end of their run as far as possible, or donate them to someone who can use them elsewhere.
Het Nieuwe Instituut as client
The institute sees it as one of its assignments to act as a client for the design field. This provision of assignments is reflected, for example, in the innovative graphic and spatial design of exhibitions and (international) presentations, printed matter and digital means for institutional and project-specific communication and the design and decoration of its own building. An (as yet incomplete) overview can be found on the Design Platform of designers who, since 2013, have fulfilled one or more design assignments on behalf of Het Nieuwe Instituut.