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Essays: Ed van Hinte, Ida van Zijl, Gert Staal
Interviews: Ineke Schwartz
Introduction: Lucy Bullivant
Design: Ronald Borremans
144 pp, 240x285mm, hardcover
Publisher: 010 Publishers, Rotterdam, NL
Price: € 37,50
Introduction by Lucy Bullivant in 'Ed Annink - designer'
The product I associate most closely with the leading Dutch designer Ed Annink is his door mat designed for DMD in the shape of a jumping hare. A symbol of nature, it seems to say, come in quickly, or, take action. It's no surprise to learn that it's inspired by a project Dutch graphic artist Gerd Arntz undertook in the 1940s, developing over 4000 different silhouettes, all intended to be used free in the public realm, to denote functions and transcend national languages.
Annink is a fast-moving multi-tasker, and a highly talented facilitator, if that isn't too abstract a word, of design as both a rational and a transforming influence within everyday life. That's quite a gift, but his work really does assert this dual identity - instinctively, with the greatest of ease. This requires discipline, something that seems to come easily to the designer, whose lighthearted manner belies his strong-minded opposition to closed minds, wrong priorities, dumbness, and overdryness of all kinds. He asks himself the right kinds of questions to create productive ideas. He is appealingly observant, as well as frank in that inimitable Dutch way of the 'hair on teeth'. Naturally he'll comment on what can be improved, for instance, the clearly uncomfortable lack of fit between your coveted fashion shoes and your feet. It's in your interests, after all. As a contributor to the exploratory design phenomenon Droog Design since its beginning, and an old friend of its co-founder the shrewd design expert Renny Ramakers, he typifies the qualities Droog stands for: rational, experimental, socially observant, pragmatic, interested in the potential of art within everyday life, geared to advanced industrial production, witty, and succinct. It's too bad they don't design shoes, yet.
There's a purity in Annink's designs, particularly the accessories, that represents a resolution of function and language. This is typical of contemporary Dutch design, which focusses on the product and its function, overhauling a typology to let new meanings in. The cylindrical white melamine containers for Designum have a cross on the lid: "It gives it an image - but also the shape creates a stackable device. I'm a rational designer and I like to make things that are makeable. I like to do it in fewer words. That's difficult, to hold back, more than to shout out", he acknowledges. "It can almost break your head before you make something". Like Droog's products, his pieces are straightforward but also highly idiosyncratic, for instance Spike, the plastic dish drainer for Authentics, its diagonal supports made from an advanced mould and reminiscent of Amsterdammertjes, the Dutch street poles designed to prevent cars parking that are also used for bicycles.
Annink believes products should be durable and credible. If they aspire to make an emotional impact on the person using them, they need to do so through the most practical of means, he argues. The size of his black polyurethane coat hook for DMD matches average neck dimensions, avoiding the habitual distortion of the garment's fabric resulting from the ubiquitous spindly hooks found in public places. He threw a cascade of his coloured ashtrays for Authentics, a product made in soft pliable silicone into an audience while lecturing in Lisbon at the Experimenta design biennale in 1999. It wasn't just for effect: in a childhood squabble, his brother rebelliously hurled a glass ashtray at him, a life long lesson in the need to push design's limits.
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I see in Annink's work a sure understanding that innovation need not stem from an exclusively contemporary well of aesthetics. His basic tin pewter and ceramic tableware and green glasses for Driade are reminiscent of the Shakers' credo: 'a place for everything, and everything in its place'. This collection of dining tableware was modelled on the Dutch painter Jan Steen's 16th century still life scenes of people eating together at table, and it evokes the history of function, drawing its memories into today without sentimentality. Effortlessly, Annink has rationalised historic utensils to contemporary, everyday production methods and materials. Space now, as then, is at a premium, and The Brothers, a set of polyethelene cutting boards for baguettes, Dutch bread loaves, wide Turkish bread, but also various shaped legumes, hang on a wall from a single pin in a symmetrical medley. This kind of precision and resolved beauty in function characterises the 'Cut in half' set, also for Authentics, a group of trays in bevelled teak, the largest as big as a serving tray, the smallest for sushi or as a drinks mat, possessing the ingenious simplicity and tactility of a children's puzzle.
One day Annink spent a solid hour over drinks at Groucho's Club in Soho in London telling me parables to detonate existential fears which were as visually lucid as the best dream. This beat any of the lame jokes of the alternative comedians found talking loudly there. Just as the best architecture is about story telling, Ed's unravelling of all the potential interpretations of the oneiric story line, whether in a desert or on a speeding train - hedonic, agonic, take your pick - crystallised a fresh connection between motives, qualities, environment and existence, clarifying the conundra that, each time he told another story, he set up in my mind. The exercise matches the associative power of Annink's Vitra Design Museum workshop, which for two years' running used randomly selected images taken from pre-prepared boxes to trigger a personal project. Marcel Duchamp in a headdress, cross-dressed as a brooding Cleopatra, is one such photograph he offers for individual interpretation as a catalyst to a personal project.
This 'chemistry of experience', to use Annink's phrase, describes the testing effect of the interaction between multidisciplinary creativity of all kinds and the real world. He once told me he admired the 'helicopter vision' of a director of a leading Dutch cultural institution, even though he found his initiatives limited in value, which conjured up for me the idea of a radar-like mentality, or a patrolling curiosity concerning the impact of the different disciplines that applies well to Annink. He has precisely a helicopter vision: he is equally a designer, an organiser and a teacher, and each facet of his activities contributes to making a significant and international cultural fabric.
He's fast, like that jumping hare. That is very good, if you find yourself stuck. One Sunday afternoon he sent me sketches of an exhibition design as ammunition for a client determined to use another designer I didn't think understood our concept well enough for a project of mine. After very little dialogue, and undoubtedly completed between mid-morning coffee and lunch, the sketches vividly coalesced my curatorial wishes, the exhibits and the spatial parameters of many potential venues into a confident scheme. This kind of deftness comes from being a natural choreographer of all the elements in the process, without being rigid. Putting basic psychological needs at the front of his concerns, he guards himself against his designs falling into a territorial place in the market, into a consumer theatre. As a teacher he's similarly empathetic and strict at the same time, encouraging students to associate ideas, and find their personal project. As a result, a preoccupation with stylish forms in design is clearly a mere masking activity, an avoidance of the destabilising but transforming chemistry of ideas. What kind of black magic in 'fewer words' is that? The inspiration of Annink is that it's got to be your own essential chemistry that is put to the use of society, so find it, guard it - and share it.
© 2018 Lucy Bullivant
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