Hella Jongerius
A Conversation with Hella Jongerius…
Louise Schouwenberg + Vitra M, August 26, 2013
LS: Art dealers and galleries were interested in design. Because prices for artworks had become so exorbitant, design suddenly became an ideal object for speculation. It was unusual, because it had special value and was still affordable. Even the million dollars that Marc Newson scored is peanuts compared to the several million paid at one point for works by Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons and paintings by Lucian Freud. For designers who wanted to attract the attention of the art market, it became very profitable to produce special designs in limited editions.

H.J.: That meant that a handful of designers earned a lot of money. It also brought a small number of exceptional experiments, but as a whole, all the hype from the art dealers has been very destructive. In both fine art and design, market effects have led to absurd excesses and kitsch, because the concept of value was only being interpreted in economic terms. The current crisis might well bring about a reassessment, a new relevance. We have to again ask ourselves what we want our quality criteria to be. Market value is not the only criterion. We have to look into our own hearts and come up with a new formula for what functionality is and what added value is in a bound, functional discipline. Who knows, perhaps it really is time for a new ideology.

LS: To come back to your own challenge as a designer, how can you design products that are worth being treasured for a whole lifetime?

By focusing attention on the physical, tactile qualities of products. Together with all the evil excesses of the limited editions, they have brought the insight that beautiful materials and attentive production methods do add quality to products. They have also brought the insight that we should not just let local traditions disappear. In a globalized world, it is important to know where and how things are made. That does not have to be hidden in craftsmanship or traditional techniques, but can also be coupled with careful industrial production. That is something for which I have developed an increasing love over the last few years. With the limited editions, the fact that products were not produced in large numbers and that they were so outrageously expensive was rationalized because of the production. But as a designer, you can of course accept the challenge to industrially manufacture larger numbers with greater care, by coupling industrial production with hand finishing, for example, by bringing individuality and character into the industrial process. What the world wants are clear signs of care and scrupulousness. 

LS: You could summarize that with the word attention. Apparently, there is a new desire for visible signs of attentiveness. Is that a feminine quality? Could we say that your work is characteristic of a female designer?

H.J.: That is of no interest to me at all! I have no interest in labeling my work with terms like that. It just pushes it away with a false explanation for any meaning that it really possesses. People want to feel that they can cherish the things that they have around them. You have to give them a good reason for doing that. The attention that you devote to making something is one of those good reasons. Is that feminine? Well, yes, I happen to have breasts, but that is the only thing that I can say about it for certain.

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