Interview | Arne Hendriks
September 5, 2014
Arne Hendriks ambassador DDW 2014
‘This is the place where participation starts’
In 2013 Arne Hendriks won the Future Concepts Award with the ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ and less than a year later he is ambassador for Dutch Design Week. Hendriks, who is not a designer nor, according to himself, an ambassador, can explain the representative position: ‘A signal that we should stop thinking in boxes.’ An interview about limits to growth, brave steps, and how a design event can change your life.
You are mainly an artist and a curator. In that sense, possibly a surprising ambassador of an important design event such as DDW.
‘I think the invitation can be understood as another signal that we should stop thinking in boxes. It’s exactly in the space between the various disciplines that there are opportunities for innovation. Which is also the reason why I’ve shifted more towards design. Which doesn’t mean that I wasn’t surprised myself about the invitation to become an ambassador, because I’m not that good at all at representing something or somebody. So it’s still a bit of a riddle to me how I’m going to tackle this.’
Your fellow ambassadors Scholten & Baijings mainly want to shed light on the story behind product design. What are your objectives?
‘I want to propagate why I got so interested in design, and how and why I want to get involved in it, although I’m not a designer myself. At the end of the day, things are initially made for us, the users, and our needs are at the basis of the designed world. Which is why I started to lean towards it at some point, to become part of the design process. This has also been my personal path in the last few years: thoroughly thinking through what I need, and primarily also what I don’t need. I want to embrace scarcity. During DDW, I’ll be mainly looking for ideas that inspire brave steps. In preparation, and to sharpen my mind, I’ll revert to an age-old technique the week before: fasting. This is something I did earlier this year in Mediamatic in Amsterdam. Very liberating. And fitting: I have the impression that DDW is less and less about things, and more about ideas, experiences and the stimulation of the imagination.’
Talking about imagination: with ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ you explored what happens if people only grew to 50 cm in height. What is important to guard against for an event that just continues to grow?
‘As a concept, growth is a curious phenomenon. Somehow, we always seem to assume that growth is good and necessary, that it contributes to quality. And although growth might be a natural process, it’s always set off by transformation and shrinkage. DDW consequently has to realise very well why and in what areas it wants to grow, but also in what areas it should shrink and change. Growth alone is not a measure of success. What would be a good start was if you left as a visitor at the end with three projects in your head that actually contribute to the quality of your life. As an organisation, you must ensure that you support these relevant meetings as well as possible.’
As an ambassador, you are going to see a lot during DDW. What is on your wish list, and what are your tips for readers?
‘Eindhoven accommodates an incredible number of top designers and studios where you can just pop in during the week. My call on designers is: don’t clear up too much. Because sometimes it’s important to see in what context certain designs matured, what kind of materials and tools are kicking about, which books are on the shelf and what kind of pictures are hanging up in the toilet. As a visitor, you should certainly make use of this opportunity. I myself always look forward to the next generation, because I want to know what to expect in the coming years. What is happening at the Eindhoven University of Technology? What is happening at the Design Academy? The Eindhoven University of Technology is coming to Strijp and will put on a presentation outside its own campus for the first time, so I’ll certainly go and see that. MU is also a dead cert. Last year, I saw Lucas Maassen’s magnificent project there; he presented chairs as actors in their own soap. This year I’m organising a workshop together with Mike Thompson surrounding a new project, “Fatberg”: we want to attempt to grow an island of fat. I’m also always curious about Dutch Invertuals’ new presentation, and whether good speculative projects will be presented: things floating between the possible and the impossible. This is more about labelling problems and boosting debate than about solving them, and that sometimes provides exactly that volume of free space that is needed to truly enter a new direction.’
What are you working on yourself in the meantime? What direction are you going in?
‘I’ve recently become involved as an advisor in the cultural programme Age of Wonderland by Baltan Laboratories and Hivos, a development organisation working together with designers and artists to reinforce the cultural infrastructure in continents such as Africa, Asia and Latin America. In the run-up to the week, six of them will descend on Eindhoven and make a connection between the projects they’re developing in countries such as Uganda, Honduras and Indonesia, and the situation here. They’ll present their work during DDW and give workshops at Baltan Laboratories. There are currently challenges that require the involvement and expertise from designers and artists from around the world, not just in the Netherlands and the West. The programme is one of the DDW partner projects.’
And what are those challenges according to you?
‘Population growth leads to a threat of scarcity. Of water, food, space and other resources to be able to lead a high-quality life. For many people in Africa, South America and Asia this is a reality. It seems to be of vital importance to involve designers who grow up in these circumstances, hands-on experts therefore, in the acceptance of these challenges.’
We closed off the interview with Scholten & Baijings with a ‘first assignment for the ambassador’. The same question for you: why should everyone come to DDW this year?
‘Come to DDW to determine what you’re going to do in the coming years; how you can become part of changes that are, one way or another, necessary for being able to stimulate the quality of your life. This is the place where participation starts. And when you see something that really interests you: pay this disproportionate attention. It could just change your life.’
About Arne Hendriks
Arne Hendriks (1971) is active as independent curator and artist. He teaches both at the Eindhoven University of Technology (Industrial Design) and the DAE, and is a committee member of the Creative Industries Fund NL. In 2001, he graduated from the University of Amsterdam (MA). With ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’, he became the first winner of the Future Concepts Award (now Design Research Award) in 2013. Before that, Hendriks was closely involved with institutes like Waag Society and Platform21. More information: www.the-incredible-shrinking-man.net.
Interview and text: Hofman & Donker (www.hofmandonker.com).