Text: Viveka van de Vliet
Photography: Boudewijn Bollmann
Ten years ago, Gijs Bakker, the Godfather of Dutch Design, put an end to his work with once-legendary collective Droog Design. But he did not disappear from the design stage. On the contrary: a year later he exhibited Yii in Milan, a remarkable presentation with works of twelve young Taiwanese designers.
The establishment of Droog Design, together with Renny Ramakers, caused a shockwave at the Salone in Milan in 1993, similar to that caused by Memphis more than ten years earlier at the Forum Design exhibition in Linz. The Memphis group was passed its peak, Dutch design came onto the design scene and never left. The now 77-year-old jewellery designer, cultural entrepreneur, curator and former teacher, in tip-top condition and still active, has presented in the design city for many years. He no longer has to visit Milan every year, he says, but it remains an important fair for him, to see what is going on in the commercial world, what the big boys are doing, to set up an exhibition or to visit the presentation of his son Aldo Bakker.
The trends and changes in her market can first be seen in Milan. Over ten years ago, in 2008, the entire office furniture industry and the world of architecture had collapsed because of the crisis. Everything came to a standstill. Vitra reacted immediately: it translated the office world to the housing market, because all those new freelancers were working from home. This turnaround was seen immediately in Milan. ‘It remains a fair for everyone, the museum world, curators and international companies looking for talent. Milan is always the benchmark’, says Gijs.
Ten years ago, he himself stood out in the Triennale in Milan, because of the beautiful exhibition designed by Bas van Tol, entitled Yii. The Taiwanese Craft Research and Development Institute requested his services at the right time, according to Bakker, just as he had quit Droog. They asked him to investigate whether designers and the Taiwanese craft industry could come up with new products together. ‘The technique of bamboo braiding and weaving is at a very high level, but they make products that almost none of us want to have laying around’, Bakker discovered while in Taiwan. He selected twelve young Taiwanese designers and together they developed new products that appeal to a wider public, made from bamboo, porcelain, wood and even brick – the material that the Dutch brought to Taiwan in the seventeenth century. One of those talented designers turned out to be one of Gijs Bakker’s former students who had studied for a master’s degree at the Design Academy Eindhoven.
The collaboration has produced something new, Bakker believes. ‘The Japanese and Koreans had been coming to Milan Design Week for some time but, since this exhibition, more Taiwanese and Chinese designers have been attending. I also have the impression that Chinese design is emerging strongly, which is encouraging for others. Last year, I also thought the Korean presentations were excellent’.
As far as the Dutch design world is concerned, Bakker has the impression that, in recent years, the motivation of Dutch designers has arisen from social needs and that they react less to the enormous technological developments. ‘They are not filling that gap’.
In his eyes there is too much of the same in Milan: nice small-scale solutions for small social problems, subjects that are easy to handle, like reuse, plastics and pollution. ‘It seems like everyone is concentrating on these subjects, encouraged by the design academies’.
At the Royal College, it was Dunne & Raby who used the latest technology as a starting point in the design process. They were extremely successful with it, remembers the former head of the master’s programmes at the Design Academy Eindhoven. ‘You can set different requirements for a master’s program, teach (intellectual) curiosity and conceptual design skills. You can challenge students to take up an autonomous position in the field of design, prepare them to engage in collaborations with science and society, and they should know what is going on in the world’.
That is why Gijs finds it interesting to see designers in Milan (and elsewhere at exhibitions) who immerse themselves in a completely different world. ‘A few years ago, at the DAE master’s, the interest in bacteria on our skin was approached from a negative point of view, but now designers see it as a second skin or as clothing. There are collaborations with professors and scientists from, for example, Wageningen. Designers who have ended up in that world thanks to their interest and curiosity have now become specialists’.
Out of his own interest and curiosity, Gijs Bakker initiated the Device People exhibition last year with his jewellery label Chi ha paura…?. The project is based on changes in human behaviour due to the impact of electronic devices on our daily lives. He selected an international and diverse group of designers, including Bart Hess, Jing He and mischer’traxler studio, and asked them to design a piece of jewellery. This resulted in a fascinating exhibition that included jewellery made from the residual materials of electronic devices, at a beautiful location in a former Pantone factory, which opened for the first time under the name Alcova and is already seen as the new hotspot during Milan Design Week.
This year Gijs Bakker is not going to the Milan Design Week. He is in New York. ‘I’m not going to the fair nearly as less frequently as before, and if I go I have to have something to do there’. Next year, he definitely will be there, because his 1972 Levi’s chair will be taken into reproduction and shown in Milan.