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Strong shoulders to stand on

The academy’s past and present can be traced with the help of eight conceptual frameworks. They demonstrate how generations of tutors and students have transformed the design landscape through dialogues. Over time each framework will be filled with new interpretations, responding the needs of the time and the personal urgencies of the designers.

By Annemartine van Kesteren, curator Beyond Generations

Art peers into the soul. It provides insight into doubts, the spirit, or consoles our existence. In the exhibition Beyond Generations, the Van Abbemuseum art collection has been deployed to unpack Design Academy Eindhoven’s 70-year tradition. A logical step for the academy to take when invited into the exhibition spaces of this museum. Beyond Generations is an exploration of the various generations of designers who were a student or tutor at Design Academy Eindhoven. The exhibition presents their legacy to Dutch design.

An academy is an exceptional institute. It is a place where generations of tutors, students and heads have met and debated the profession. As a melting pot, a little removed from the outside world, the students are given the opportunity to develop their talent. In deliberation with co-students and their tutors. The focus of the discourse at the academy, however, has not always been the same: how design is considered and discussed varies dramatically depending on the period in time. When the school was established, the educational focus was to professionalise the field. Later, ideas developed regarding the emancipation of the position of the designer. In the economic climate of the seventies, the self-producing designer was established and the autonomy of the designer gained currency. The first political activist positions saw the light of day. Not long after, this reflective attitude provided the product ideas that were the seedbed for the success of Droog Design and were fundamental for the identity of contemporary Dutch Design.

At the same time, the school has its roots in the real world and students must relate to it. The research for Beyond Generations revealed time and again how instrumental the exhibitions at the Van Abbemuseum have been. Every Design Academy Eindhoven graduate has, while still a student, stood in a room and seen a work of art that had a great impact. A moment of insight and inspiration that still can be felt today.
This is why the art collection had to be an important factor in the compilation of Beyond Generations. Through looking at design from an art perspective, design can relate to a larger outside world. Ideas from the art world resonate in the design profession and unlock the social and artistic context of the time in which they were created.

The exhibition has been compiled around the conversation, and fleshed out in a dialogue between the different design objects. The objects are the language that designers speak. And although, when compiling the exhibition, we were well aware that we could never include everything, from the genesis of the academy eight different conceptual frameworks were selected. Each individual conceptual framework stands for a specific way of thinking about design and what design can do. The eight themes can be seen in the exhibition. Design as Professional Image, Democratic Space, Free Form, Social Transformation, Being Human, Conceptual Reflections, Story Spaces and System Thinking.

Each room displays a single conceptual framework in which two design objects present a dialogue, supported by works from the museum collection. Sociocultural or economic changes through time have contributed to the conversations and the changing role of the profession, that much is clear. But despite this, the conceptual frameworks should not be read chronologically. What makes Design Academy Eindhoven so special is that the themes and the conversation have never been eliminated, have never vanished from the scene. They have remained relevant and have helped to build the wider interpretation of the profession.

Three dialogue rooms show how the conceptual frameworks have been adopted by the younger generation, revealing the development of the designs. In the heart of the exhibition stands a graphic installation by Gijs Kast, which reflects the multitude of characters, voices and ideas. After all, people and not objects are paramount in this presentation. The piece de resistance for the dialogue is the bridal furniture piece by Marijke van der Wijst that served at King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima’s wedding ceremony in 2002. It is a splendid example of how different ideas about Dutch design came together in form, function and aesthetic.
This exhibition offers the opportunity to link the academy’s past and present. It provides young designers with a number of anchor points to understand on whose shoulders they stand.

(This text was written for the exhibition catalogue Beyond Generations, Van Abbemusem / Design Academy Eindhoven 2017)

Published: 20-Oct-2017 11:22
  • Beyond Generations - Conceptual Frameworks

    Image by Peter Cox