Text by Annemiek van Grondel
Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
His ‘impossible’ experiments gave many a craftsman a headache. Award-winning self-producing designer and inventor Arnout Visser (1962) calls himself a ‘form finder’: a functional artist who explores the boundaries of autonomous art, industrial design and experimental science.
His star shone early: at the age of 19 he won a design competition with an ingenious lamp, which was promptly taken into mass production. After studying at ArtEZ in Arnhem and Domus Academy in Milan Arnout Visser was welcomed into Droog Design, with successful little wonders such as Table Tap, Fruit on Wheels and Salad Sunrise. Nowadays he prefers to go back to the source: working directly with artisans and glass companies, being involved from A to Z.
Although he also uses ceramics, wood and other materials, glass is the ultimate for him. ‘I foresee a “Glass Age”: the tensile strength is unprecedented. I am euphoric to see something big come about after many failures. In fifteen minutes a glassmaker has to get the job done, and that’s hard, hard work. No robot is able to defeat his lungs, yet. A glassblower is a combination of a heart surgeon and helicopter pilot.’
Visser’s Big Mushrooms, who vary in colour, from cool to warm, and providing a mind-blowing experience, can be admired at two exhibitions in Milan. The shape arose using antique optical moulds, which caused interesting irregularities. The glass designs came about through intensive research and experimenting in the Czech Republic. More specifically: Bohemia. Where else than in an area with such a name could magic mushrooms originate? The spirited Visser has traits of a bohemian himself, but thanks to his knowledge of the laws of physics, he keeps both feet firmly on the ground. Nevertheless, he likes defying design laws. The Mushroom Lamp is twice as large as what is regarded as normal. Visser: ‘It’s not possible, I often hear from artisans. If you do something every day, you develop a blind spot for it. My challenge is to immerse myself in research and experiment in order to prove them wrong.’
Inventing can also mean creating something new out of something old. Visser is a master of upcycling: he made a floor lamp from old dishes and plates, and lamps from eyeglasses and container glass. In inferior glass packaging he sees quality. He regularly helps out in a Kenyan glass factory, set up by German hippies, which provides locals with work. ‘With waste oil as fuel they use melted window glass to make products that are full of bubbles and pits. A Venetian glassblower would be knocked over backwards in horror, but we appreciate this so-called “bush glass”.’ He also provided African women with a mould to make buttons out of glass. ‘Big companies enrich themselves by having their products made in low-wage countries,’ he says. ‘I prefer to help locals making something they can sell themselves. Although I realize it is just a drop in the ocean.’
More information about the presentation of Arnout Visser at The Alternative during the Milan Design Week 2016: www.dutchdesignpressdesk.nl/the-alternative-mdw16