Het Nieuwe Instituut participates in Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven (19—27 October 2019) with contributions that reveal transitions in the field of design in the current state of planetary crisis. Environmentally conscious material explorations by the New Material Award fellows and nominees can be found in locations across the city; Open Archive explores the creative re-use of digital material beyond copyright restrictions; Neuhaus x Het Collectief collaboratively develops objects and tools with a more-than-human agenda; while the Open Call for Venice seeks to explore multispecies relationships in our cities. And at the request of the Dutch Consulate General in New York, the institute organises a visitors programme, which also includes Dutch Design Week.
Perceived as a barometer for the spirit of our times, Dutch Design Week (DDW) provides an annual celebratory moment of, for and by design. Strolling between numerous booths and pavilions, the visitor is presented with an environment that is both fragmented and narrated. Combining characteristics of a festival, a fair and a museum presentation, the DDW simultaneously represents a diversity of developments in the field, and aims at creating spaces for criticality.
Design as Material Culture
Many sub-themes of this year’s edition of DDW "If Not Now, Then When?" resonate with ongoing programmes at Het Nieuwe Instituut. Distinctive here is the growing attention for design as a field of knowledge (moving away from an industry solely preoccupied with products), and an approach to design as a domain of material culture. Design is embedded in myriad invisible infrastructures, military-industrial systems, technologies and commodities. Instead of focusing on isolated objects of desire, this approach reveals our complex relationships with - and reliance on - things, and the interlacing of their aesthetic power with political and economic agency. In practice, that means prioritizing research and critical inquiry over techno-optimistic and solutionist design approaches. Examples of this method can be traced across central venues of DDW 2019. For instance, Geo—Design: Junk, a city-wide exhibition produced in collaboration with the Van Abbemuseum, showcases 18 projects by DAE alumni that focus on the global systems of discarded things, their hidden cartographies and regulations, and their new realities and potentialities.
Since 2014, Het Nieuwe Instituut’s research track Things and Materials has been exploring possibilities of practice beyond mere production. The Series on Materials, developed with the support of materials fellows, has examined individual materials from historic and speculative perspectives. In 2015 designer, researcher and curator Tal Erez investigated plastic as one of the most persistent polluters of our times for the exhibition PLASTIC: Promises of a Home-made Future. Innovating with plastic has also been a recurring theme among numerous New Material Award (NMA) nominees, as well as the introduction of scalable bioplastic alternatives to our over-plasticised futures. For instance, New Material Award 2018 winners Eric Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros of Studio Klarenbeek & Dros in collaboration with Atelier Luma developed algae-based polymers to replace synthetic and fossil fuel based plastic. Initiated in collaboration with Stichting DOEN and Fonds Kwadraat, the New Material Award supports such material developments, and showcases them via biennial exhibitions. After being displayed at the DDW in 2018, the latest edition of NMA travelled on to the Salone del Mobile in Milan, and is currently in the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein. At the 2019 edition, the latest outcomes of environmentally conscious material explorations by the NMA nominees can be found in numerous locations across the city.
The current contribution by Het Nieuwe Instituut, titled Open Archive, explores possibilities to critically engage with increasingly digitized materials. Developed in collaboration with The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, the project invites a new generation of makers to experiment with creative reuse of digital heritage, working with archive documents from their digital collections, and pushing the limits of copyright and individual authorship.
From Material to Matter: A New Paradigm
Preoccupied with the agency of things, the material culture approach still places humans centre stage. However, the current state of planetary exhaustion and the escalating environmental crisis call for a different perspective, an entirely new paradigm: one that considers non-humans on equal terms, and considers the material world as commons shared by all biological and technological beings. This can be achieved through thinking in terms of Matter, rather than through Materials. First introduced within the Neuhaus programme for more-than-human knowledge (running between May—September 2019 at Het Nieuwe Instituut) this chapter is currently gaining in strength with a research project, Matter, focused on non-human centric and non-exploitative forms of engagement with materiality. More information about the Neuhaus curriculum and the outcomes of its learning trails can be found here.
So what does expanding the domain of material culture towards matter entail? Thinking in terms of products and materials still plays an important role within the design discourse, however this understanding often reduces the physical environment to an inert supplier of usable raw materials. If material (as a concept) is entirely subordinated to human productivity, matter is in everything that precedes and exceeds material, it has its own agency, vitality, function and meaning. At the same time, the operation of digital platforms and ubiquitous computation are deeply dependent on the material processes of transformation of matter, metallurgic alchemies and geopolitics of minerals. At DDW 2019, Het Nieuwe Instituut introduces this radical shift in perspective by posing a research question: how can designers develop approaches that are non-exploitative to our environment, and place multispecies interests at the centre of the design process?
One way to answer that is provided by Neuhaus x Het Collectief, a group of master students from Design Academy Eindhoven. Het Collectief was born out of UnKnown, a collective formed during the Neuhaus programme as an independent satellite. Moving away from products and prototypes as market-driven, trend-setting tools, the collective develops a set of probes: instruments to explore the unknown, and to reveal the invisible entanglements of objects with non-human agents. During DDW, the collective will present a second generation of Border Objects, artefacts that suggest the possibilities of moving beyond human-centred practices, and will assemble (and disassemble) new types of design instruments.
Another initiative that positions multispecies relationships at its centre is the Open Call for Venice that will be launched during the DDW by Het Nieuwe Instituut in collaboration with the Creative Industries Fund NL. The open call invites researchers and designers in the fields of architecture, urban design and landscape to think about the quality of cities from the perspective of more-than-human needs: from animals and plants to soil life and artificial cognitive systems. The selected projects will form the public parallel programme of the Dutch pavilion during the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia in 2020. An information session about the Open Call will be held during Dutch Design Week on 22 October 2019.
A new initiative: ‘Reading Sites’
The shifting position of the designer, the expanding role of design research and critical inquiry, as well as the changing status of objects and materials in the face of escalating environmental crisis have led to a new initiative by Het Nieuwe Instituut. An initiative that reconfirms the existing role of the institute and is geared towards stimulating critical reflection in the broader field of design and the creative industries. With this new initiative, titled 'Reading Sites’, Het Nieuwe Instituut will invite three researchers/writers to reflect on sites and projects by both formal and informal parties at the 2019 edition of Dutch Design Week. Het Nieuwe Instituut is interested in the way that individual projects could form a basis of a new commons, and open alternative narratives for collective, shared and non-exploitative futures. ‘Reading Sites: Dutch Design Week 2019’ is the first in a series of texts that will cover a variety of events in the design field. More details to follow soon.