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Dear graduates,

The design world lost a great icon last week.  David Bowie was a musician, a singer, an actor but he was also a designer.

Bowie’s willingness to break rules, to experiment and to be playful was ground-breaking and his process demanded commitment. I think the song that symbolizes Bowie best and which connects most strongly to design is Changes.

Change is inherent in the DNA of this school and is the corner stone of our vision.

At Design Academy Eindhoven you change as a person.  Here you are exposed to new ideas and cultures that cannot but have a huge influence on your outlook – on the way you embrace politics, sexuality, and gender.

Babeth Rammelt’s short films parodying the porn industry, for example, and also the way Michele Degen confronts the taboo surrounding vaginas all to me represent this sort of rite-of-passage that happens to students in this building.

But it is important to remember that the changes don’t stop now.  You change to learn, but you also learn to change.  To change perpetually. Our discipline demands constant experimentation and research.

Elliot Kendall and Charlotte Pommet experimented with veneers. Normally veneers are used as a cheap finish, but they turn it into a structural element.  Their project does not lead to finished products, but shapes that can keep changing as their research evolves.

Another material experimentation is Seung Bin Yang’s 21 Grammes. He revives the traditional Korean lacquering technique. Rather than lacquering high quality wood, he lacquers paper to create light and fragile, but water resistant vessels that possess a soul, and a soul weighs 21 grammes, as you know.

Another graduate with an experimental vision is Frederick Deschuytter and his driverless cars.  He looks into how this disruptive technology has the potential to change almost everything about the current automotive industry.  If we do not have to sit and look out at the road and traffic whilst driving, a car can become an adaptable landscape in which people can lounge, work or create a cocoon for themselves.

So we learn to change and we change to learn, but we also change the world outside. The best example of this is Tamara Orjola who looked into how the 420 million kilograms of pine needles discarded every year might be put to better use.  Her intriguing material experimentation ends in products that communicate about the potential of materials currently discarded by our industrial production. A project like this has the power to agitate communities at such a level that action might really lead to fundamental change.  It shows that a very different world can be created in a school as small and experimental as ours.

Tamara’s project taps into an important theme that surfaces today and recently at the academy – the theme of tactility.

I sense in a lot of your work a craving to re-discover or reconnect with tactility, or the sensation of touch – a hugely important sense that in this race to the future has been somewhat neglected.

The technological reality can be very empowering, but it can also leave many of us emotionally isolated. I see in a lot of your work an oblique comment on this.

But I wonder is it solutions that you have been looking for, or are you more interested in experimenting with ways to cope and survive in a world dominated by devices?

Floor Hopman uses semi-transparent textile layers to create a humane and calming effect in her constructed spaces where individual’s can rest and relax in seclusion.   Charlotte Pommet uses line and colour in a series of room dividers that offer a sense of privacy and security.

Projects like these are so important because no matter how advanced and brilliant our surrounding technology becomes, it is a responsibility of designers to be designing what at this school we refer to as our well-being into our physical existence.  

Touch is a matter of life and death.  Deprived of touch orphans in a gruesome experiment simply died. Tactility is a political, human and social statement.  

Last year we went to Milan with a show that had a provocative title: Eat Shit. Provocation can be a tool for change. Today we see Eelke Eugelink using this approach in his suicide vest – which is sure to ignite a lot of debate about the ethics and responsibilities of designers.

This year we will go to Milan with tactility as our theme, which I embrace as a sort of counter-movement to the omnipresence of technology and the virtual.  It will be an intimate show curated by Ilse Crawford and myself and after looking at your projects today it only strengthens our belief that right now this is an essential theme in the discipline of design.

Thomas Widdershoven

Published: 20-Jan-2016 12:12


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