Thriving in temporality–The work of We Make Carpets
by Purva Chawla
Pencils, sponges, push-pins, rubber-bands, seashells, chocolates, plastic bottles, hooks, and chains–the number of objects we encounter and employ in our everyday lives, and which we consider ordinary or mundane, is endless.
These familiar objects–with their carefully thought-of forms, functions, and hues–are embedded in our daily routines, yet they are considered the most disposable or forgettable of elements.
One studio is changing this narrative now. Designers Marcia Nolte, Stijn van der Vleuten, and artist Bob Waardenburg come together to form Dutch collective We Make Carpets, and through their eclectic work, the trio brings new meaning to a gathering of such material, revealing the beauty of form and aesthetic potential within familiar, everyday objects.
We Make Carpet's projects encompass what seems like an infinite array of materials and objects–all of which are undervalued and considered throwaway after short lifespans in use by us. Razorclam carpet, Pencil Carpet, LED Carpet, MDF Carpet, Candybar Carpet, Peg Carpet, Gravel Carpet, Spice Carpet, Hardware Carpet...these are just a handful of their works.
Using the notion of a ‘carpet’ as a springboard, We Make Carpets creates installations that are anything but traditional carpets. Unlike the velvety textile-based floor covering that we associate with the term ‘carpet,' their works do not invite or encourage touch, though they do heavily trigger interaction and engagement of a different kind.
We Make Carpets designs temporary and semi-permanent installations and assemblies of everyday objects. The results range from small table-top or windows-fitted works like 'Muisjes' Carpet and Thumbtack carpet to massive outdoor works like Brick Carpet and Bottle Carpet. From floor-covering to wall-hugging and ceiling-suspended works, to those placed on plinths and embedded within shelves–the collective creates works that are site-specific to their locations and contexts–exhibitions, prestigious design festivals around the globe, private commissions and public art institutions.
The real question that We Make Carpets raises through their practice, however, to our mind, is what value lies in designing and creating that which is temporary?
The studio embraces the temporary and vulnerable aspects of their works, using it as a means to employ materials that are disposed of by us easily. Without generating waste, or the use of tertiary connecting material, they construct captivating experiences from ordinary materials and objects. They also pave the way for the effortless dismantling of their works when the lifespan of the designed artwork or installation ends.
Is there not an inherent sustainability in this way of constructing design, and employing and then easily recirculating materials? Granted that the sourcing process–arriving at large quantities of identical or harmonious objects–may require acquiring virgin materials or fresh products at times, but in the broader scheme of their practice where installations are created repeatedly from a pool of materials, the lifespan of these elements is extended further than any conventional use. Moreover, no real ‘waste’ emerges from the making of these works,
These questions were on our mind recently. when, as part of our ongoing series ‘Material as Object,' we spoke with the trio behind We Make Carpets. We learned that when Bob, Marcia, and Stijn first met nine years ago, they quickly noticed a common ground–the desire to call attention to the beauty within ‘normal’ objects. In this interview, we dig deeper into their motivations, their intuitive design process, and upcoming projects as a collective.
MD: The sheer range of materials you have worked with, is enormous. What motivates your selection of materials, and is there a wishlist of materials or projects you would like to work with/on?
WMC: We choose our objects according to the space in which we make the work. There is no such thing as ethical or practical–when it’s right, its right. For materials, we have an ever growing wish list. Just look at the enormous quantity of objects that surround us.
We are currently focussing on interesting exhibition spaces worldwide, that offer great locations to make new work. The projects we envision are greatly inspired by the locations we are offered.
MD: A majority of your works are temporary: Created for exhibitions, or commissioned for significant events. How important is this temporary aspect to your work? What happens to the objects and materials you use, after the carpets are dismantled?
WMC: We use the temporary aspect of our work to relate to the temporary character and value of the products we work with. This quality means a great deal to us because to create something huge and aesthetically pleasing, which is lying loose creates a certain tension. Once touched, it is destroyed, and the value of the object changes.
However more recently, we have constructed some works that have a more (semi)permanent character. This was done because the space in which they were exhibited demanded this. We try to always approach new work as site-specific work. We first look at the space and surroundings in which the work will be made. Then, we make choices on materials and size. Sometimes we let the exhibition venue decide what happens with the material afterward. Sometimes it is donated or thrown away, but most of the time the objects we use continue onward, to have a longer lifespan in one of our works than they would in normal life.
MD: The three of you work together towards the design of your carpets in what seems like an intuitive and organic way, Tell us more about this.
WMC: It is true, we have no design before we start. We do have a global size and positioning in space in mind for the work. We start in the middle and proceed outward from there. For us, this is the most natural way of working.
MD: You have created works that comment on culture, society, consumption patterns and more. Most recently your work Pencil Carpet was seen at Jerusalem Design Week–How do these broader messages get embedded in your work, or inspire your design?
WMC: We are inspired broadly by society and the products it brings forth. These products aren’t worthless: There is a demand for them; they are needed, and thus they are made. Our works comment on society and culture in general I think. But it is very nice to see a work gain symbolic value when used in certain contexts and spaces.
MD: What are you working on at the moment and what should our readers look out for?
WMC: We are currently working on a large exhibition for the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, which will open at the beginning of December. Also, this month, a new work–C-Chain Carpet–has also been unveiled at the NDSM Warf in Amsterdam.