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Follow the traces

Working towards its 75th anniversary Design Academy Eindhoven investigates the footprint it has left in a sequence of 5 annual exhibitions in the Van Abbemuseum. Beyond Generations, open to the public until 5 November, is the first in the series.

By Jurriënne Ossewold, Executive Board Design Academy Eindhoven

“A writer is someone who, not satisfied with the fact that he bores his surroundings, also wants to bore future generations.” The same can be said of a designer, and as Montesquieu does, it can be said with some irony.
Design Academy Eindhoven will celebrate its 75th anniversary in five years’ time. In the run-up to this jubilee year, the Academy seeks to examine the footprint left by its history in a series of five consecutive exhibitions at the Van Abbemuseum. Each year will sketch a different take on the traces of the Academy’s education left behind by generations of students; in the city of Eindhoven, the region of Eindhoven, and ultimately the world. Now, at her 70th anniversary DAE has become a true Dutch international school with students and alumni from all continents working in all fields of design.
The exhibitions are hosted by the Van Abbemuseum and will come about in close deliberation with the museum, which is a most appreciated cultural companion of the Academy. Together we share our curious search for the meaning and development of design curating as a profession.

Design Academy Eindhoven’s previous incarnation, the Academie voor Industriële Vormgeving Eindhoven (AIVE: Industrial Design Academy Eindhoven), was founded seventy years ago in 1947 when the reconstruction of the country after World War II had only just started. Dutch industry was gradually recovering from the decimation of war and increased consumption was an important tool to help the country back on its feet. A strong manufacturing sector was needed turning out useful, affordable and attractive mass-produced products. This was the perspective, which the founders of the AIVE had in mind when it set up courses for the first waves of post-war designers.

Seventy years on, the role of a designer is, if no less crucial, much less clear cut. Whilst design remains a significant factor in the economic matrix, it no longer fulfills this role unquestioningly. The maturing profession has nurtured a wide variety of professional practices; practices in which successive generations benefit from the pioneering work of their predecessors. Design education in Eindhoven has also reinvented itself various times during the past seven decades. Changes have occurred for example as a result of alternative thinking about design or the birth of new technology, from mirroring social movements or as a response to economic crises. More recently, reactions to the effects of globalisation can be observed, and on occasion the school has been obliged to change its courses to countenance government policy.
The Academy has proven time and again that it contributes to a redefining of the profession, whilst promoting and developing creative strategies, which can underpin society. In this context, the focus is no longer only on the Netherlands. The Academy has evolved as a recognised and highly prized player in the international arena; both within design education and in the cultural sector. Its population and engagement reinforce the international impact of what often germinates in the confined intimacy of the Academy.
For this reason, the traces within the Academy itself can be just as fascinating: the influence of leading tutors or heads of department, key projects, workday talks and the research performed by readers and their teams. In addition, the international student body also leaves their imprint on the school’s collective memory, whilst contributing the very building blocks for an approach to design, which adds global characteristics to a strong, locally rooted culture.

The series of five consecutive exhibitions is entitled Traces; it opens in 2017 with Beyond Generations. For Beyond Generations the Academy’s Board collaborated with Annemartine van Kesteren, design curator at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, who was asked to work up a plan. Van Kesteren knows the Academy and is familiar with the work of its alumni, but she is an ‘outsider’. For the board this was an important criterion; Traces, as its first chapter Beyond Generations, is not meant as introspection. On the contrary, it is not by turning inward but by looking outside and taking an outsider’s perspective that the impact of 70 years education can be found.
Annemartine van Kesteren was supported by design researcher and -writer Ellen Zoete and by spatial designer Bart Guldemond. The result of their work is an exhibition which most of all seeks to exemplify the dialogue inherent between the generations.

Centred partly on the formal dialogue, which invariably arises when students in their projects react to their teachers’ achievements, the exhibition’s spotlight however simultaneously picks out the smaller more intimate discussions, the joint research and the inspiration that flows between the generations in the Academy’s ‘cloisters’. To showcase both the pronounced success of such dialogues, often celebrated at full volume in the media, and the less visible culture of communication within the Academy, Beyond Generations selects an approach whereupon eight conceptual frameworks act as a binding structural backdrop.
These frameworks show that themes and motives are rather connected to the perspective and personality of an individual designer than being typical for a specific generation. It became obvious though that the articulation of certain themes and motives is ‘born’ in a certain period and incorporated by next generations. In this sense generations stand on each other’s shoulders, but the individual approach remains decisive.

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

Published: 20-Oct-2017 11:33
  • Traces #1 Beyond Generations

    Image by Peter Cox