Text: Viveka van de Vliet
Photography: Boudewijn Bollmann
Pieke Bergmans graduated from the Royal College of Art in London and, shortly afterward, set up a studio in Milan on Via Tortona. In 2006, she was one of the first fledgling designers to show work during the Salone del Mobile, and with a solo exhibition at that. ‘It was major furniture brands that exhibited at the renowned trade fair, and not of experimental types like me’, says the fish out of water. More than ten years later, Bergmans thinks the fair is too commercial and not sufficiently curated.
While the Netherlands already exhibited at the Salone del Mobile, and Droog Design was still prominent, Pieke was a pioneer who started a new solo adventure with Gallery Design Virus. She had already exhibited in the design city once before; after she received her master’s degree from the Royal College of Art (RCA) in Londen, she presented work together with her fellow students and teachers Ron Arad and Ingo Maurer. And now she rented a studio for one year on Via Tortona. Here at this hotspot she exhibited both Reunion and Taped for Rosenthal, and Crystal Virus and Sticky Virus during the fair in 2008. (Sticky Virus are stickers with imaginary viruses that they put on people’s shoulders, bags or jackets when they walked in, with ‘You are infected’ on them). The designer needed little effort to grab attention and publicity, and to attract the audience.
She calls it a luxury that, in addition to a targeted audience, like the embassy, everyone just passed by. ‘It was fantastic. We had a thousand business cards, but we quickly ran out. We had to go to the machine at the nearby station ten times a day to print new cards’.
The intended one year became six years. It was the place where Pieke broke through internationally with her Crystal Virus and Light Blubs about ten years ago. Where the recognisable lightbulb becomes liquid, bulged out of its socket and dripped into a new unexpected amorphous form. At the same time, she presented Unlimited Edition – extruded ceramic vases – and Melted Collection – furniture made of insulation foam that came out of the oven baked like blue, extremely strong, lightweight loaves. At gallery Dilmos, she showed the project Wonderlamps in collaboration with Studio Job. This was a collection of light objects based on the Light Blubs, in which bulbs inflated like balloons bulged out of polished bronze objects.
These were golden times for young designers like Pieke without much experience, just before the crisis hit. Nevertheless, she has made a name for herself. She always searches for her own paths, invests, undertakes and exhibits herself and sets things in motion. As a designer who manoeuvres between design and art, her investigative, experimental work was noticed in Milan; her designs were a breath of fresh air between the all the furniture. Once again in search of something new, she exhibited in other places in recent years, such as Ventura Lambrate in 2016 with FREEZE, a huge melting ice block that is etched in our memory.
Because Pieke is a pioneer and curious by nature, she becomes bored when she knows the paths she is taking through and through. She is still going to Milan, but this Italian city is no longer her sole focus. At any rate, she is less interested in manufacturers or design labels that want to include her work in their collections. She prefers to focus on international platforms and she exhibits worldwide at fairs such as Art Basel and Design Miami; after all, collectors and museums in particular purchase her work.
In her eyes Milan is still a fantastic design fair because it is unique that the fair is spread out over the city and the whole world comes to visit, become inspired and meet interesting people. ‘Milan continues to have a magnetic effect, young designers all want to be part of it. But as a fledgling designer you have to know what you want. It’s a hard world’, she knows.
After all those years having a studio in Milan, Bergmans noticed that she no longer found it quite as inspiring. ‘The day after the Salone, Bar Basso is just a rather dull bar, which I also find funny. The rest of the year there is nothing to do in Milan; Amsterdam is a thousand times more interesting to work from. Via Tortona became too massive, also for visitors who are wandering around’, she says. ‘For me, it’s no longer interesting and new, design has become multilimbed and, therefore, also more diffuse and the quality is decreasing. The fair appears to have become a commercial design market with trinkets and more counterfeits. For example, I see my Crystal Virus imitations popping up here every year’.
What she also misses during the Milan Design Week is an exhibition with a selection of well-curated, interesting new things. ‘I have a need for design on a higher level. This age requires a different approach’.