Having originally studied experimental film-making, the Dutch designer SIMON HEIJDENS (1978-) turned to product design when studying at the Eindhoven Academy and now applies the spirit and techniques of film to the development of objects – all of which explore his “fascination with evolution” by changing over time to tell a story.
When new, the cups, bowls and plates in Simon Heijden’s Broken White ceramics series are perfectly white and smooth. As each piece is used, delicate cracks appear in the glazing and spread to form a delicate pattern of flowers that seems to grow across the surface. As the extent of crackling is determined by the frequency of use, each piece rapidly assumes a distinctive character with favourite – or most used – objects becoming the most decorative.
Heijdens achieved this effect by manipulating the traditional technique of craquelure glazing to ensure that the appearance of each piece in Broken White changes from the moment of use. By doing so he has devised an accelerated and romanticised version of the process whereby our favourite antique plates acquire distinctive marks and flaws over the years. Like most of Heijdens’ design projects, Broken White tells a story, one which evolves with use, thereby imbuing industrially manufactured ceramics with the individuality that people love in antique and hand-crafted objects.
Born at Breda in the Netherlands in 1978, Simon Heijdens studied experimental film in Berlin before enrolling at the Eindhoven Academy, where he began to work in design and from which he graduated in 2002. The influential Dutch design group droog? selected Moving Wallpaper, one of Heijden’s graduation projects, for its collection and then invited him to contribute to a series of international exhibitions.
The influence of film is apparent in Heijden’s work as a designer both in its narrative content and its exploration of his obsession with time and place. In the interactive projection Tree, Heijdens portrays what he describes as “the character of a place” by charting both the passage of time and the evolution of its surroundings. Tree responds to changes both in the natural environment outside its immediate surroundings and to the physical changes around it. The branches blow in tandem with the wind outside, just as if Heijdens’ digital tree was growing there naturally, and a leaf falls to the floor whenever anyone approaches it, or activates a nearby sensor. Once all the leaves have been shed, a new Tree will appear with its leaves intact and the process begins again. “I am not interested in capturing my definition of beauty in a static shape,” said Heijdens, “but try to foster what is already there.”
Learn more about Simon Heijdens’ work on simonheijdens.com
Q. How did you first become aware of – and interested in – design?
A. I became aware of design in high school, when I realised that I was spending more time drawing the D of Deutsch than on the rest.
Q. How has your training in film school informed your work as a designer?
A. Having focussed on film and product design, most of my projects are on the border of those media and explore the exchange between them. A common theme of my work in both media is my fascination with evolution, and how one can relate to things such as to the growth of a child or flower, as opposed to a static object. Like the process of documentary film, I am not interested in capturing my definition of beauty in a static shape, but try to foster what is already there.
Q. Who – or what – inspires your work?
A. The eye of Fernando Pessoa; the enthusiasm of Michel Gondry; the patience of Guiseppe Penone; the sense of detail of Georges Perec; the endurance of Richard Long; and the imagination of Jan Svankmeyer.
Q. Which of your design projects have you found most satisfying? And why?
A. The Tree (interactive digital projection) project. The process was very fluid and I really enjoyed working in public spaces.
Q. How did the Broken White series of ceramics come about?
A. I made Broken White for a Lille2004 – European Capital of Culture project for which droog? invited several designers to work with local industries to Lille. I worked with the ceramic industries around Desvres. The concept came from a fascination with the way you relate to things that evolve, as opposed to static things. Ceramics are always designed and used as static objects, but in Broken White, a ceramic timeline is introduced to illustrate the situation in which the object exists and the way it is used. I developed a way to manipulate the material so that at first the plates are virgin-like, flat-white and undecorated. As the object is used, a floral shape slowly grows into the ceramic. The more you use the object, the more the flower grows, just like a real flower. The decoration is the material – nothing other than the material itself is used.
Q. And how did Your Choice 2: sugar cubes no 1-200 come about?
A. droog? commisioned the project for its exhibition in Milan in 2003 in which designers were invited to question the massive freedom of choice in products and how far it should extend. I decided to give a sugar cube, one of the simplest and most anonymous of everyday objects, its own character by giving it a number. This leaves you no choice but to make a choice, albeit one that soon proves its own redundancy by slowly dissolving in your tea.
Q. Imbuing objects with meaning and memories is a leitmotif of your work. Why is this issue so important in contemporary design? And how can designers address it?
A. Speaking for myself, I think it is a fascination that came from growing up in a dense and closely planned country like the Netherlands, that tries to keep its balance through uniformity and by pushing away the coincidental and the unplanned. I think that those qualities are valuable in the artificial world as well. It’s the narrative quality of a sand path, over the silence of a paved road.
Q. How did your involvement with droog? come about?
A. It started in 2002, when droog? added my graduation project Moving Wallpaper to its collection. After that, they invited me to participate in several projects, such as Your Choice in Milan 2003 and the Lille2004 programme.
Q. Do you consider your work to be part of a tradition? If so, which one?
A. The tradition of the detective.
Q. Dutch design has been very visible internationally in the past decade, is this an advantage or a disadvantage for a Dutch designer like you?
A. Although there are many differences between the way that my generation thinks, works and values and that of the Dutch designers of the 1990s, we should be grateful to them for creating new opportunities that didn’t exist before. Advantage or disadvantage, our’s is an evolving design culture.