It was with the Knotted Chair that Dutch designer Marcel Wanders first shot to fame back in 1996. A design sensibility of mixing up the organic with the fabricated, an admiration for traditional techniques and modern technologies, was what he began with, and it has marked his journey so far. The Knotted Chair was a combination of industrial techniques and handcrafting. A thread made of synthetic fibres was knotted into the shape of a chair and then infused with epoxy resin—a substance used as a hardener—and hung in a frame to dry, leaving the final form in the hands of gravity. The chair is now a part of the permanent collections of museums such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
In 2001, Wanders co-founded the design label Moooi, which designs products and interiors for international brands. From furniture for high-end brands such as B&B Italia, Cappellini, Christofle, Flos and Magis, to mass brands like Marks & Spencer, as well as interiors for hotels and residences, Wanders has managed to marry functionality with absurdity, wit and madness.
Wanders, 49, is one of the pioneers of an art-design phenomenon that has now become established. Like his peers Philippe Starck and Karim Rashid, his work constantly blurs the lines between disciplines, creating a fantasy around objects and spaces.
Wanders is visiting the Capital for the three-day India Design ID 2013 starting on Friday. In a phone conversation with Mint, he talked of the throwaway society we’ve become and how designers can change that. Edited excerpts:
Is this your first trip to India? Are there any Indian associations in your designs?
I was there once before, but I just flew in and out. This time I have planned a lot more time so that I can see some more of your beautiful country. Regarding work, we try to combine histories and cultures of the world in some projects, so of course there have been moments when colours and textures that resemble India’s have shown up. While I may not look for specific inspiration, it’s inevitable that at some point things look like they are from your country, because of the fantastic history and culture India has. You can’t really go past it.
What do you plan to talk about at India Design 2013?
I will do an interview on stage, a form of presentation I really like, because I can react spontaneously to questions in that surrounding. I’m sure we’ll talk about traditions and cultures, about durability in our society, about the problems we face with modernism, and about your country currently being in a very interesting state of time.
What makes you say that it is an interesting time for India?
The other day someone asked me, “Wouldn’t you like to live in another age?” I said, “No way!” It’s such an incredible time with such possibilities. And I do think it is especially true for India. Twenty years ago the world was not open to India, but there’s a lot of movement today. India is opening up to the world and the world is opening to India. There’s fantastic opportunity for life, for change, for new ideas, and India is contributing to this in a big way.
Give us a peek into your thought process while designing. What are your considerations—functionality, the visual appeal or emotional value?
I think about my audience. There is no one I’d like to exclude when I design. It’s not like I’m trying to design for everyone. Probably can’t do that. Yet I try not to exclude anyone. It’s the same but it’s really different. I look at all these beautiful people, I know that some get information through their eyes, some get the understanding of the world through their rational minds, some people just feel the world. I want to make sure that my work connects to all of them. I try to embed valuable information for all kinds of people.
For instance, when I was designing the Dressed cookware for Alessi, I thought of mothers and fathers who cook for their families. They are not industrial cooks. Yet look at the existing ideas on cookware, it usually looks like it’s out of a factory. So I wanted to do something which does not look industrial, but human. Also, in a lot of cultures, people dine in the kitchen. I wanted to make something that will bring the table and kitchen together. To transfer food into a bowl from a pan that you’ve just cooked in, it’s a loss of energy, it’s wasteful. People think it’s very sophisticated, I don’t think it’s so smart. And finally I wanted to make something that would make the eating experience more wonderful, so that you can celebrate a meal, eat like it’s a special day, even if it’s a normal day. Eat on a Monday like it’s Sunday.
What you would like to change about the world today, design-wise?
The one thing we should address is how design can play a role in the psychological durability of objects, to think of how objects can be engineered in a way that they will be good over time. I feel that we hardly speak about what is the true reason why people throw things away. It could be because they don’t care, or there’s a new piece which is nicer. So of course there is a material problem, but more importantly there’s a psychological problem. When it comes to the durability of our society, it’s an area where designers can really make a major difference. We can show that we are the ambassadors of the new but we also have respect for the old. That’s what my work has been all about. I’m trying to show that the new and the old together make the current. We are in the middle. Now is not new. I love to show this respect. If we want a world that is truly sustainable, we have to realize that something old can also be perfect, otherwise we’ll just throw away our yesterday.
Sometimes I see these hyper new shapes that are highly celebrated, but we like to do objects that are hybrid between technology and humankind, they can be handcrafted, a bit imperfect, a little decorative—this is the path I’m still working on today.
What are your other interests?
I love opera. I am lucky that in Amsterdam we have an opera house that is very modern and innovative, yet old-fashioned. I love opera because it’s such an overall art. It’s nice to write a book or make a sculpture, but you have to see how an opera really encompasses all the arts. It’s about the text, the presentation, the light, form, art, and all the senses coming together.