Digging up the future

Trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort, curator at Design Museum in Holon, sees a new generation of designers out to "refine their earth."

Edelkoort 58 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Edelkoort 58
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you visit the Design Museum in Holon anytime between now and the end of April, you are likely to think you have wandered into an episode of The Flintstones.
As you cast your eye around the galleries, you will find yourself confronted by a variety of objects that seem to have been inspired by that iconic cartoon series about life in the Stone Age.
There’s a surfboard made from scraps of wood; coffee cups made from clay, and little decorative figurines made from mud. There’s a sofa fashioned out of rocks, and a set of rather crude, irregularly-shaped wall shelves thrown together out of discarded pieces of wood.
A sofa that appears to be made out of the body of a cow lies next to a punching-bag that looks like the carcass of a pig. There are even what appear to be dinosaur bones, tossed casually around the display area like so many throw pillows in a modern living room or den. You might even see a picture of the pretty Japanese designer of these ersatz dinosaur bones posing in a cavewoman costume, looking a little like the Flintstones’ neighbor Betty Rubble.
The exhibition is called “Post Fossil: Excavating 21st Century Creation,” and its purpose is to inform us that “in the aftermath of the worst financial crisis in decades, a period of glamorous and streamlined design for design’s sake comes to an end. A new generation of designers retrace their roots, refine their earth and research their history, sometimes going back to the beginning of time.”
These 60 young designers from all over Europe, Japan and Israel formulate design, according to the exhibition catalog, “around natural and sustainable materials, favoring timber, hide, pulp, fiber, earth and fire. Like contemporary cavemen, they reinvent shelter, redesign tools and man-made machines, and conceptualize archaic rituals for a more modest, content and contained lifestyle. Like a Fred Flintstone of the future.”
“Post Fossil” is the brainchild of internationally acclaimed fashion and lifestyle forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort, curator and guiding light of the exhibition.
Born in the Netherlands in 1950, Edelkoort studied fashion and design at the School of Fine Arts in Arnhem, where, after graduation, she went to work at De Bijenkorf, the leading local department store.
Edelkoort soon discovered that she had a talent for sensing upcoming trends and an almost uncanny ability to predict what consumers would want to buy several seasons ahead of time. From that point on, she has never looked back. Putting her predictive talents to work, Edelkoort has consulted with both governments and corporations like Coca-Cola, Estée Lauder, L’Oréal, and Douwe Egberts.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of her forecasting talent is her work with Nissan, which involved predicting, back in the mid-1980s, the current environmental crisis and concerns about global warming. Edelkoort crystallized and introduced the concept of the lifestyle-focused, environmentally more-friendly cars that are now virtually ubiquitous on streets and highways around the world.
In 2003, Time magazine named her one of the world’s 25 most influential people in fashion, and the Netherlands awarded her the Grand Seigneur prize one year later. A Lifetime Achievement Award from Aid to Artisans followed in 2005, and in March 2007, Edelkoort was named Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by France’s Culture Ministry.
Among the changes Edelkoort sees coming in the near future are a desire to live life more slowly, a heightened insistence on comfort and individual well-being, and an end to globalism as people turn to local tastes, styles and resources. These were largely what Edelkoort had in mind as she was planning “Post Fossil.”
On hand to open the exhibition at the Design Museum, Edelkoort explains: “I believe that design is one of the most important vehicles of culture in the 21st century – designing, really, our new century.
“When the airplanes hit the Twin Towers in New York, this was a turning point in our culture. Because ever since, the young generation of designers has taken another direction.”
So who are the members of this young generation, and what do they want? Edelkoort replies, “The young generation are all people not born with the screen, but educated with the screen from a very young age. So they are perfectly at ease in their virtual worlds. They use technology in a very simple direct way. However, they also feel that next to their work in the virtual world and with the technology of today, they need to start working with their hands.”
But aren’t sitting in front of the “screen” and working with one’s hands just a little contradictory? Not to Edelkoort, who says, “We can see today that the more screens that we have in our lives – and every year there is one more screen, from our computers to our games to our iPads to our cell phones and so on – the more our fingers are needed to touch. So it’s almost like we are compensating for the virtual world with the material world. And we see in this exhibit that material is very important, because this generation is using handmade crafted materials, recycled materials of very humble origins – felt, paper, pulp, metal, skin, wool.
“Earth is very important. We see an interest in how our earth has different colors and how our earth is defining us, rooting us. And this generation is using local and regional resources and production methods to really create a new world.”
According to Edelkoort, this “new world” that she says these young designers are trying to create has a much broader relevance than just design.
“What is also interesting in this generation of designers is that they are very different specimens. They do not necessarily live in big cities. They might live in smaller cities, or in the country. They live where it’s easy to produce, and where they can get lots of help from their natural environment.
“They work internationally, flying all over the world to meet each other, but they live locally. And they are very community-driven. Many of these designers work with children, work in the Third world, and dedicate time to education. Some of them live a more slow life, as in ‘slow food,’ and a more local life – at the same time being completely connected. I think this new mentality of life is at the beginning of a new period of how we all could live.” As far as Edelkoort is concerned, the pieces in this exhibition should be seen, in the short term, as sketches of how to introduce irregular, natural, organic and primitive form to industrially produced objects, and the exhibition itself as a sort of demonstration laboratory of the new world that might be waiting for all of us, just around the corner.
Peter Marigold, 36 years old and from the UK, chats affably as he introduces irregular, natural, organic and primitive form to the task of making wall shelves.
Banging away at a small worktable in front of his display of what must be some of the most irregular and primitive wall shelves made since the Upper Paleolithic, Marigold nods toward his work and says, “This is eucalyptus wood, which is local to the museum area.
Everywhere where I’ve made this installation – Miami, Norway, Japan – I’ve always used the wood supplied near the galleries. So I’ve had wood from mango trees, from Christmas trees, and hinoki Japanese wood.”
Asked why the shelves appear to be so dysfunctionally irregular, Marigold replies, “It’s very unnatural for humans to make straight lines. We’ve managed to refine our existence by doing something very, very strange, which is to standardize the natural world. By making a small intervention in that process, by cutting the wood in irregular lines, you create these irregular pieces that are actually perfect at the same time as being irregular.” When told that the shelves almost seem to be insisting on being themselves, Marigold concurs by saying, “Yeah... I think the most interesting design objects for me have a certain autonomy. You see some amazing, classic designs that are out there, and there’s a certain effortlessness to them, because they seem so kind of perfect. And I think that’s an autonomy in which the designer really indulges the object in what it wants to be.”
Among the stars of the exhibition are Sayaka Yamamoto , 27, and Boas Cohen, 33, whose works are spread across two galleries, and whose photograph together in caveman costumes graces the exhibition catalog. They are a couple.
“I’m the boyfriend,” Boas says helpfully.
Seated in front of her installation, “Living with Dinosaurs,” Yamamoto explains, “I wanted to make a modern interior piece inspired by dinosaur bones. Because obviously, we don’t have dinosaurs anymore, so I wanted to create the feeling of having dinosaurs in your living room by using modern materials.”
The materials, she says, are polyurethane foam, coated with rubber. “I wanted to bring that time to us,” she concludes, “because we don’t know the feeling of having dinosaurs next to us.”
On that note, we ask exhibition curator and lifestyle forecaster Edelkoort a few final questions about trends and how to predict them.
How many observed coincidences does it take to become a trend?
“Well, I don’t know the exact number. For me, it’s intuitive. But it becomes a trend in the public eye when the media is starting to talk about it, starting to give it some key words and key names and a projected destination.”
When does your gut tell you that something is a trend?
“Much earlier.”
Your work for Nissan is now quite well-known. What did you do for Coca-Cola?
“We tried to make a bottled water for them, but then they didn’t want to do it. What they sell is syrup, which is liquefied in each country. So for them, water is not a resource. I think they made a mistake there. We also worked with them on junior drinks, and that was more to help them with knowing how to speak to the youngest generation. So, I did some work on that.
“And I was also working at one point on making a ladies’ drink, without alcohol. I wanted to create a beverage like a fragrance, so there would be more than just one taste. We did some very interesting tests, but that is of course yet to earn.
“Our work is sometimes unsettling for big industries, because you want to put them in a new frame of mind, and that’s not always easy.”
Have you ever been wrong?
I’ve been wrong in the sense that I’m sometimes too early or too late – mostly too early, very rarely too late. And I also don’t know exactly the volume of a trend.
“So one day I said that leggings were going to be important. I took that hint from New York bicycle messengers. I saw them wearing leggings as they cycled around the city, and said this will be really cool for fashion. Little did I know that it would turn out to be billions and billions of leggings.”
So you have erred on volume and time frame, but not on the actual content of the trend?
“I cannot really feel it if it’s not already somewhere in the air. They’re not my own ideas at all, not my own taste, and have nothing in fact to do with me. I’m able to find little fragments of information – and when there are enough of those fragments they become an idea, and then we can launch the idea. And I can do that only because the fragments are there. So that’s why I often call myself an archeologist of the future.”
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
“I’ve been asking myself this question so often. I guess I would do something creative, perhaps with flowers, or food. Or I might produce one or two magazines. Definitely some form of creative work. I don’t know how to sing, but I would have loved to be a singer.”
“Blues. I would love to do that. I have a voice to speak, but not to sing.”
Post Fossil: Excavating 21st Century Creation” is on at the Design Museum in Holon until April 30. For further details, visit the museum’s website, http://www.dmh.org.il