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Bertjan Pot some of the finest elements are the simplest ones

From Random Light to his ongoing series Masks, Dutch designer Bertjan Pot has been designing products based on materials and techniques, leaving the narratives to the viewer

Studio Bertjan Pot design

«Designers usually think of an object they would like to create, make little sketches and then go to the workshop with an idea in mind. I don’t work that way; I like adapting and making changes to my works along the making process» says designer Bertjan Pot. No matter the product or the material, Pot’s approach towards design and production is the same: he starts by creating small samples and once he feels he is in control of the technique, he scales it up to create varied design pieces, from indoor and outdoor furniture to textile products, from hi-tech lamps to small sculptures, all showing his fascination for structures, patterns, mediums and techniques. One of his pieces is Random Light (1999), a resin glass-fiber yarn randomly coiled around a big balloon, now sold through Moooi. As most of the products created by Studio Bertjan Pot, the light started as a material experiment. The glass fiber used for its production was a leftover material from his graduation project which he had previously tried to knit without success. Pot’s way of work has little to do with concepts and narratives, and more with practicality and concreteness; «A writer’s language is words, a composer’s language is music, mine is things and materials». Since stories have a predetermined ending, Pot’s products never start with a narrative because that would force people and users to see his works and interact with them only from one perspective. On the contrary, he wants each product to mean different things depending on who’s looking at it. Pot’s fascination with leftovers and scrap materials from previous works and ability to reuse them in unexpected ways, illustrates his aim: to find quality in every material he comes in touch with by playing with it, looking for ways to make the most of it and its peculiar properties. 

Lampoon reporting: Bertjan Pot

Among the design pieces produced by Studio Bertjan Pot in over twenty years of design, can be found several objects made in one technique and out of one material, just as in nature; «If you build something in one material, it is easier to make it look good». This working method is also motivated by practical and environmental reasons, since a product composed by one material without resorting to several different procedures, can be made in one workshop and can be more easily recycled. «One of my prominent subjects are baskets, to be understood in a wider sense: chairs, tables, even houses can be baskets» Pot claims. What fascinates him about the idea of baskets is the coexistence of different types of knots and weaves, all in the same material, which come together to create varied shapes and objects. Pot’s approach to design and manufacturing shows how one single material can turn into many different things thanks to textile art and weaving techniques. In occasion of Milan Design Week 2016, Pot was invited by Nike, along with other nine designers, to create furniture pieces to feature in the exhibition The Nature of Motion. Studio Bertjan Pot manufactured a series of resting pods inspired by Nike’s Flyknit technology – used by the brand to knit uppers for sports shoes – by weaving ropes and laces from Nike around inner tubes using basket weaving principles. The presentation of Nike’s resting pods was the first time he had the chance to show the audience his interest in basket-like structures and techniques. Pot is now working on a series of baskets along with his friend Chris Kabel. Once again, he tries to push design boundaries through material exploration and technique experiments. Every month, Pot and Kabel exchange semi-finished baskets to which the other designer has to add a new layer made in different materials and techniques. The material employed range from bamboo and rubber to plastic beads.

Detail of a mask

Bertjan Pot Masks

One of the reasons why Pot often makes use of fabrics, ropes and textiles is linked to their flexibility and moldability, two properties which allow him to alter and assemble them by hand. Fabrics, textiles and sewing techniques are the protagonists of his ongoing project Masks, which started in 2010, once again, as a material experiment. Pot’s initial idea was to make carpets by stitching together some leftover strings from a previous commissioned work for Tilburg Textile Museum. Instead of flat, the first samples got curvy and bumpy. When he was about to give up on the carpet and move to his next project, his assistant, Vladi, came up with the idea of the masks. The ropes, usually made of poplin, which give shape to the masks are coiled on themselves and sewed together with colorful yarns using a zig-zag technique. The making process of one mask can last up to two days. The outcome is a series of eye-catching masks, different from each other, just like human faces, but all united by a primitive aesthetic which recalls the traditional masks of indigenous tribes of Africa and Oceania. This similarity was mainly dictated by the elementary technique used by Pot: «The reason why my masks look ethnographical is because they are made in a primitive way. As soon as you make something by hand, or leave table saw and 3D printers out of the making process, the outcome will inevitably look ethnographical or from distant cultures». Though Pot spends a lot of his time reading history books about indigenous populations and their cultural traditions in order to draw inspiration from the production of tribal masks mainly used for religious practices, his curiosity is aroused by the techniques, procedures and tools employed by them. In over ten years of masks, in which between 250 and 300 items were made, Pot’s technique has evolved and improved, the masks’ size got bigger, and the range of materials employed expanded. Pot, who is now working on a series of masks made of dry grass assembled through a sort of beehive technique, was asked several times to lend them to photographers, stylists and musicians who wanted to include them in their photo shoots or music videos: the answer has been ‘no’. «I want final buyers to invent their own stories around their masks». Pot believes that as soon as he lends one of his masks to someone who creates a narrative around it for business purposes, its integrity will be compromised. The position of the Masks series within Studio Bertjan Pot’s design practices is total freedom and leaves little room for external influences and commissions. 

Bertjan Pot techniques 

His restless curiosity and desire to take on new challenges, pushed Pot to employ the same sewing technique used for his Masks series to create more complex shapes: gloves. «As a designer you need to challenge yourself and have that dual feeling of creating something beautiful but, at the same time, of being constantly on the border of failure». The first pair of gloves was made as part of his first series of masks back in 2010 and is composed of a glove and a mitten, which Pot found much easier to produce, due to the lack of fingers. Pot resumed the production of gloves only six years later, in 2016, this time fully aware of what he could and could not do with ropes and sewing machines. What he appreciates about the gloves is the lack of cultural references, usually accompanying his masks, which often shift the focus from the practical and technical aspects of his methodical work. Also, as opposed to masks, usually left hanging from a nail on the wall, people do not need a mirror to find out what it looks like to wear the glove, on the contrary they can interact with the glove and be more easily captivated by the aura of power surrounding it. Despite Pot’s sawing technique and rope-stitching skills having evolved and improved over the years, the first mask he produced is still his favorite: «You can see the struggle in the material». The little mistakes and lack of precision are testaments of the efforts and challenges he faced while making his first model and, at the same time, they remind him how far he has come and the progress he made at each new mask he produced since that unsuccessful bumpy carpet back in 2010. Studio Bertjan Pot’s eclectic products, which often start out of Pot’s curiosity regarding things and how they are made, prove that even the simplest materials and techniques offer possibilities to develop ideas which can push the boundaries of traditional design one experiment at a time. 

Bertjan Pot designer

Bertjan Pot is a Dutch Rotterdam-based designer. He dedicates most of his work to material experimentations and techniques exploration, which are the starting points of most of his projects. Mainly known for his “Random Light” (1999), now sold through Moooi, and his ongoing series “Masks” (2010), he collaborated with several established brands, such as Cassina, Nike and Arco.

Agnese Torres

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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