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Written by Colin Keays

Making the transition to becoming the first Design Academy alumni of a new decade, thirty-eight students graduated from eight Bachelor’s departments in a ceremony on the evening of 21st January, after presenting their work to a board of examiners earlier in the day. Mechtild van den Hombergh opened the ceremony by extending a “heartfelt congratulations” on behalf of the Executive Board to all those who graduated, acknowledging with all sincerity the various struggles that many students face leading up to the momentous occasion of their graduation.

Mechtild reflected upon the changing nature of design in response to the world around it, and the responsibility of the graduates in shaping their field. In addition to drawing upon the seventy-year history of the Academy, she added, “as a school, we are always eager to learn more”.

Perhaps we can then consider the work of these graduates as a first glimpse into where this new decade is heading – both within the academy, and within the wider world around it. One noticeable pattern that is apparent across the departments is the importance of in-depth research undertaken by many graduates. From Leisure, Noor Bootsma’s The Alliance of Common Waters for example, drew parallels between our oceans as the largest commons that exist for our global community, with the much smaller-scale example of the community garden. Noor proposed a new model of stewardship of the oceans based on this, and was awarded with a Cum Laude for her in-depth research.

With Landscape in Transition, Nele Hartmann used her time in Public Private to delve into a specific case study related to the climate crisis, having spent the last few months collecting stories from a region in Germany that is closely intertwined with the cultural, material and environmental aspects of brown coal extraction. Her research consisted of taking a cross section of voices from the Rhineland area – from environmental activists to local farmers – each with an individual experience shaped by the extraction of coal, and by the impending end of a contentious industry.

From Food non Food, Fiona Herrod focused her attention to museums. With stockholm-font.stl, Fiona took a digital 3D model of a plaster cast artefact from London's V&A as her starting point, scaling it down and using 3D printing to translate it into everyday domestic objects, questioning whether artefacts should be purely confined to the space of the museum, or if they can become translated for everyday use by the public.

It became equally apparent that many projects seem to have been designed with a somewhat dystopian vision of a near future in mind, acting as a mirror to present day trends and phenomena. This can be seen clearly in the work of several projects from the Communication department, particularly Job Claassen, whose Astro-Logic start-up combines the world of astrology with the commercialised traffic of the night sky. Shown in an irresistibly disturbing video, Astro-Logic speculates a world in which we could alter our personal fate through satellite technology. In a similar way, Lola Tual pushes the ubiquity of workplace peer-surveillance to a surprisingly believable extreme with WC Who Cares, an installation based on a private toilet cubicle, in which a series of webcams exist within the very place one might treat as an escape from their office environment – turning the most private space into a site for performance. For this exceptional project, Lola was awarded with a Cum Laude. In another near-future, Charlotte Simons from Identity considered a realm in which fashion could exist beyond its tactile and physical sense, as a series of digital plug-ins, with her project Polygons are the Wheft of the Weave.

A number of projects on display questioned the norms surrounding societal beauty standards, including Angéline Behr from Public Private, whose project Excess of Matter reframed perceptions of body fat, celebrating its positive sensory aspects through a series of tactile upholstered objects. In Food non Food, Sorrel Madley’s CLICK HERE FOR A QUICK FACE FILTER TUTORIAL looked towards the power of digital tools to reinvent beauty standards, through the creation of an instagram face filter which mimics a cleft lip – thus increasing visibility for under-represented groups of people. Investigating the fashion industry at-large, Michiel van Maaren from Communication witnessed a gradually increasing diversity amongst models – but was concerned that visual representation is not the same as giving a voice to marginalised groups. Avoiding tropes of tokenisation, his project FACE VALUE therefore aimed to give voice to the real people behind the model’s image. While working on his projects, Michiel was recognised by the workshop staff for his positive attitude, and thus awarded with the coveted Workshop Award during the graduation ceremony. Taking the form of a giant needle – in reference to his time spent in the textile workshops – the physical award was accompanied for the first time by a cheque for 200 euros.

Overall, the work produced by the first graduates of 2020 truly showcased the diversity of approaches taken by students at the Design Academy – combining work made with intuition, playfulness, a mastery of craft, and even a sprinkling of cuteness, with the design of systems, proposals for new ways of living, alongside a precise analysis of the world we live in. We look forward to the work being displayed again at the Graduation Show during Dutch Design Week, in October 2020.

Published: 29-Jan-2020 09:43

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