Sarah van Gameren explores issues of mass production, consumption and accidental aesthetics within design. Slowing down the production process, her Big Dipper reveals the product’s lifecycle. Van Gameren uncovers the true value of design through this grand gesture.
Inspired by the traditional technique of candle making, Van Gameren’s Big Dipper mechanically creates candle chandeliers by repeatedly dipping wicks into molten wax. The machine itself resembles a chandelier with two ring-shaped tiers that are counter-balanced to move up and down using a pulley system. On each large ring, twelve smaller rings are suspended creating a framework for the loops of wick. Watch the wicks being slowly dipped into the drums of melted wax, forming layers that grow into a chandelier of eight candles.
Sarah van Gameren’s poetic approach results in an end product that possesses an intimate connection with the machine, designer and audience. By introducing performance to design, Van Gameren aims to connect more directly with the public. Big Dipper offers visitors the opportunity to witness the moment the chandeliers are conceived, their production process as well as the end product displayed in the shop. The drips are unpredictable so every chandelier is unique. The wax chandeliers are also perishable, so after serving their function, they leave no waste or remain.
Dutch-born Sarah van Gameren graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands in 2004. She then moved to London to study Design at the Royal College of Art, where she became Master of Art in 2007. At the RCA she focused her research on design as a tool or machine, and was introduced to performance in collaboration with Rowan Mersh with whom she presented Chain Reaction I in 2006. She has since exhibited at the Milan Furniture Fair and her Fish-light was short-listed for the Artemide Tasklight competition in 2007.
Supported by The Tallow Chandlers’ Company with thanks to Colony Gift Corporation
Q. When did you first become aware of – and interested in – design?
A. Strangely enough, I haven’t been so consciously aware of the existence of design until halfway through my studies. I considered design-education as the right type of creative education to learn to present the world with the things existing in my head, but the design products it resulted in never really satisfied or interested me. Nevertheless I still believe that for me design is the best medium to express myself creatively.
Q. Where did you study? And why did you decide to study design?
A. Firstly I studied at the Design Academy Eindhoven in The Netherlands and following that at the Royal College of Art in London. I remember before that time science seemed too limiting to me – I had never heard of quantum mechanics – philosophy seemed too direct and art too much of an empty canvas.
Q. What were your design objectives as a student?
A. I believe the designer should be humble. Their design is there to improve the conditions of others; the manufacturers, the customers and the spectators. At the Design Academy, I was taught by the founders of Droog Design. From them I found out that conceptual design sometimes becomes a shallow marketing tool. It can pass a point where all the intentions and commitment of the designer becomes false. To me design should always be necessary, novel and considered. The way we produce current goods is often too short and uncared for, and the gap between the time we enjoy a product and the time a product remains in our environment is much too big. I think the designer’s long-term commitment to the product can be a great design skill for the future.
Q. How has your design education influenced your subsequent work as a designer?
A. Eindhoven, as a city, is like a vacuum. Since living there I continue my ritual of retreating to first think before experiments start in the workshop. Also, by living abroad I have come to realise that my sense of aesthetics is ‘Dutch’. The secret of the Dutch style is due to the size of the country and the high concentration of design students. They recognise each others’ style, copy the tricks and use it in stronger, purified form in their own work. Design in Holland has been evolving at a high pace for many years in that way. Studying in London felt like being lifted up with a crane and looking down.
Q. What other factors have influenced your approach to your work?
A. Collaborating with Rowan Mersh for Chain Reaction has been important. It was my introduction to performance and made me aware that my design could meet the public in more direct ways.
Seeing the work of many contemporary artists in London has been an influence. I appreciate their refined conceptual approach as opposed to the sometimes to little sophisticated ways of the design world.
Growing up in Holland where everything is controlled and planned has also made me aware that everything can be shaped.
Q. Which of your earlier projects was most important in defining your work?
A. Big Dipper was the most important. During six years of design education I’ve found that designing machines or tools that design is relatively satisfying. I tried several times before, to make a design for a machine that visually explains why. To me, the machines create a distance between me as a designer and the product it produces, making me feel less responsible for it. After exhibiting the Big Dipper for the first time, so many people had ideas, suggestions and comments to make. Children appeared to be especially good at understanding process.
Q. How have your objectives evolved since graduating?
A. They are still the same. Maybe the products make it into the reality of society more often now than they did before, when they were still captivated within an institution.
Q. Who or what inspires your work?
A. Richard Wilson. He does as an artist what I try to do as a designer. Michael Jackson and Fred Astaire inspire me to work in the studio. Both of them know how to give a lot of people an ecstatic feeling (for example Fred Astaire’s ceiling dance). Another important factor in my work is collaborations with scientists, artists, mechanics and manufacturers. They are hugely influential in the way my design looks when it is finished.
Q. How important is the story behind the work?
A. The story is sometimes woven through the design or entangled in it. It can also be a hidden layer behind it, or the reason for the design in the first place. I never design without a story. I hope one day to create a design that is only a story and nothing else.
My Fish-light has a very light-hearted story. It is simply a flexible and adjustable fishing-rod with a light-source attached to the top. The manufacturers of Fish-light add to the story in the way that it changes their everyday portfolio.
Q. Where do you see your work going in the future?
A. My main aim is to reach a moment when my work starts to speak together as a body of work. Big Dipper is an installation or performance for a public environment. If the public witnesses the moment the chandeliers are conceived, and can buy the outcome – a single product for their own personal environment – the goal for Big Dipper is achieved. Ultimately I would like to design a moment of perfection.
Q. How did your design for Designers in Residence develop?
A. Big Dipper started with an experiment; an existing chandelier, intuitively dipped in wax, with wick strung suspended from its arms. It looked good but was not functional at all. The next step was realising a chandelier of only wax and wick. I was drawing production belts for a long time already and was writing about a previous work, Big Knitter, at the same time. A couple of weeks later, I made a sketch Big Dipper pretty much as it is now. I found a great mechanic, Tony Dunsterville, who understood my ideas about timing and motion and helped me realise the piece. The last months felt like a state of trance and in the end it all worked out.