We are attracted to the glistening finish of a fresh paint job on a car but rust is seen as a sign of decay. When the surface of an antique object shows slight signs of use and damage, we speak admiringly of its ‘patina’. But we dismiss the perfectly imitated wood grain print on a plastic garden chair as fake.
How deceptive or authentic is surface design? With the exhibition Designing the Surface, on view from 27 January 2017, Het Nieuwe Instituut is continuing a series of exhibitions about materials. Following earlier exhibitions on wood, plastics and glass, Designing the Surface focuses on the final coatings applied to materials and products in the production process. The finishing touch. The glaze on the tart.
An endless range of treatments – from enamelling, gilding and polishing to sandblasting, powder coating and lacquering – is used to give materials their definitive appearance. In some cases, the surface is designed to distract attention from the poor quality of the underlying materials. Surface treatments can be employed to seduce, to conceal, to protect or to imitate. Thanks to nanotechnology, coatings can also give materials a radically different function, such as the glass on an iPhone that suddenly becomes a keyboard. Effects such as these are the result of a stringent design process.
As a fellow of Het Nieuwe Instituut, over the past year product designer Chris Kabel has conducted research into the various forms that surface design can take. He has curated Designing the Surface together with designers and exhibition makers Jannetje in 't Veld en Toon Koehorst. The exhibition features five different types of finishes such as lustre, patina and Teflon, each related to the user’s aesthetic, sensory and practical desires. Each is given its own section in the exhibition, which takes visitors on a voyage of illusions and seductions. At the centre of the installation is an immaculate fountain covered with a range of materials, designed by Lex Pott. During the course of the exhibition it will spray an acidic liquid so that the materials will gradually corrode. This object demonstrates both the beauty of decay and the need to protect the surface of materials and products.
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