Human Nature, designing the equilibrium
a collaboration between Creative Holland and Connecting the Dots
Text by Viveka van de Vliet
Portrait by Boudewijn Bollmann
Product designer Carolijn Slottje looks at how nature designs itself. She uses the same rules and design language by combining handicraft with nature. With the special edition of the Quilt Garden, Slottje brings the nature around the stone courtyard of the Palazzo Francesco Turati in Milan to life.
This year the covered arcades around the courtyard of the palace resemble a tropical jungle. The lush green Quilt Garden, which graces the Dutch pavilion Masterly, consists of a room divider on which hand-quilted fabrics of organic material are arranged in hexagonal shapes. Together these carriers of nature that exactly mimic the earth and the roots form a wall in a pattern that resembles a honeycomb. They are equipped with fresh green plants and embroidered insects such as beetles and aphids.
People from a sheltered workshop in east Groningen, a few students, and two employees of Slottje’s studio carefully manufacture this felted material. This way everyone makes a bit of money. No two fabrics are the same because everyone leaves their own mark on the piece of work. ‘After all, nature does not come from an assembly line or a 3D printer either’, says Slottje.
Born into a family of scientists, Carolijn Slottje became fascinated at an early age by the way nature innovates, adapts, cleans, recycles, and constructs. ‘Compared to nature, we are somewhat blunt and straightforward’, says Slottje. So she looked at and learned from super-intelligent nature, which shows an abundancy of facets, materials, shapes, and patterns. ‘As a creator of concepts, structures of ice flowers can inspire me to produce fine lace or root systems to experiment with new techniques.’
‘People sometimes forget that they themselves are part of nature, that they feel happy there, but they spend most of their time indoors’, says Slottje. ‘Their laziness is fed by worry-free maintenance contracts for plants that only need to be watered or dusted once a year. The Green Walls in plastic bins that you can place at home or in the office only represent something once the vegetation becomes very luxuriant.’
So what is her ambition? The designer wants to bring nature closer to people by demonstrating how nature can manifest itself in our lives in a special and poetic way. Take, for example, her still immensely popular Air plants that continue to spread across Germany, France, Denmark and further across the world. The plants, which resemble refined hanging jellyfish, do not need soil. Outside they extract water from the humidity in the air and rely on other plants to grow, indoors you occasionally spray them with water and hang them in oval openwork structures, which are knitted by hand by a fair trade workshop in Sarajevo.
‘A lot has already been said about health and clean air’, says the designer. ‘With my visual language and plants I want to create an environment in which people can relax and want to take care of their plants, in the same way that they love a pet or a piece of art they’ve purchased.’
She’s already managing this very well. Slottje, therefore, thinks that awareness is growing, and people are bored with the impersonal Ikea house. ‘It is convenient in use, but we have no connection with it. The need for an interior that says something about our character is increasing. Logically, we want to collect plants around us that restore contact with nature and with which we have a special and lasting bond. In this way, my work is much broader than just developing a new product’, says Slottje.
This interview belongs to the project Human Nature, designing the equilibrium. Part of this project are live interviews and an exhibition during the Milan Design Week 2018.