Iwan Pol–At the helm of a new approach to design
By Purva Chawla
Design is most often experienced from afar. Behind a deceptively transparent veil.
No matter how engaging or interactive a piece of design or art claims to be, the reality is that we are exposed to products and installations that are finished, and finessed–two virtues that essentially seal them off from us.
At the time that we see most designed creations, the deed has been done–both design and making are complete–and neither you or I can reach across that veil, to draw from them more actively, or participate in their evolution.
Such experiences–beautiful, but static–are the norm for us. Or should we say ‘were’ the norm?
Enter, a young and dynamic collective of Dutch designers, makers, and artists, whose entire focus is on presenting anything but such static, and terminal outcomes. Exposing process, and research, this group–Envisions–champions an open source approach to design, that allows potential collaborators and manufacturers to dive deep into their vibrant and fascinating collection of works. This method substantially magnifies the possibilities for each product and process that the collective exhibits.
At the helm of this pioneering and game-changing approach, is Envisions co-founder Iwan Pol. Having co-created this unique model for design and making, it is easy to see how Iwan’s own methods have seeped into the collective and its exhibitions. Conversely, one sees the qualities of the ‘Envisions’ approach or model rise to the surface in Iwan’s own poignant and rich work.
Whether it is his investigation into concrete as a ‘soft material,' and its transformation into contradictory formats such as ‘Carpet’ or ‘Building Fur’; or the liquidy, ever-changing quality of his ‘Fluid Walls,' Iwan’s creations are thought-provoking, and inviting. Above all, they never limit your interpretation or involvement as a viewer, user, or collaborator.
Beyond this magnetic, open-ended quality, lies a textural and material richness in Iwan’s work. Playing with both materials and casting/forming techniques, his work–especially his project ‘Happy Concrete’–has generated a palette of surfaces that one could never expect from such material.
Soft pouch-like lumps, that could be bags of sand, but are actually gently-colored forms in concrete; Or a spongy-looking carpet, and wall covering, that bring foam to mind, but are comprised of grouped and layered blocks made of concrete. These are the visual and tactile surprises that Iwan’s work brings your way. Not to mention the unexpected hues, fine-grained textures, and splattered patterns that you would have never seen on any concrete surface.
Clearly, surprise and contrast dominate in Iwan’s work, and the result is a victory for the surface.
To learn more about Iwan’s current and upcoming work, his motivations and research, as well as all things Envisions-related, follow our conversation with Iwan below.
MD: Iwan, your most recent work has unveiled a softer, happier side of concrete. It has also brought such disparate concepts as ‘carpet’ and ‘concrete’ together. Where does the idea for this research originate? And where would you like to see it be applied?
Iwan: Art and architecture are my biggest source of inspiration. Ever since I read about architect Tadao Ando many years ago, I wanted to work with concrete. So when we–Simone Post, Sanne Schuurman and I–started Envisions, I finally had the opportunity to work with this amazing material.
I started experimenting with different kinds of concrete and looked for qualities that would surprise me. I had, and continue to have a hands-on approach, and always aim to make strange or contrasting combinations to break open the conservative perception of what is possible. In this case, I tried to transform a gray, rough and heavy building material (concrete) into a fur for buildings, akin to an outer carpet.
Even in the way that these samples are cast, I try to combine opposing ideas. For example, the geometric shapes of the concrete, referring to ‘building blocks,' are merged with splatters added by hand–like a ‘Pollock painting.' These aberrant combinations often trigger interesting new perspectives.
As for the application of my work, I am always very interested in collaborating with companies, to explore the commercial possibilities of my material research.
In parallel, on a much smaller scale, I would like to produce limited edition furniture based on my material experiments.
MD: In addition to concrete, what are the materials and methods that are fueling your work right now?
Iwan: At this moment, as a group (Envisions), we are busy working towards Salone Del Mobile (Milan Design Week) 2017. Various designers and artists in the group have been asked to experiment with the materials made by Spanish wood manufacturer Finsa, to unlock and explore unconventional possibilities. Envisions will present their first such collaboration at Pallazzo Clerici. My research for this exhibition centers around MDF and flexibility.
In addition to this, I am currently researching a correlation between the second and third dimensions, by hand-drawing on multiple layers of transparent sheet material.
The interaction between these flat layers creates the suggestion of a three-dimensional, almost ‘woven’ material. I recently created a few ‘postcards’ using this effect, for Post Modern–an Amsterdam-based company which sells postcard-sized artworks.
MD: The entire approach at Envisions is to expose process and research, and to make design output more open-ended and more collaborative. No object/product is static. As co-founder, where does the seed for this approach lie?
Iwan: I think a big part of what Envisions entails now originates from our education at the Design Academy Eindhoven. We are all trained to become designers with a strong personal and social message. This results in a very interesting variety of projects at the Graduation shows but also has the side effect of us lacking knowledge on how to translate these ideas into financially-viable business. Envisions started as an experiment to see if we could reach the industry in another way. Fortunately, the responses so far have been very positive, and I believe that our next show in Milan will prove the fertility of this new form of collaborating.
IWAN Pol is an artist/designer who focuses on the human perception of matter. Creating a sensory experience of space through the experimental use of material and color is the starting point for his investigative design methodology.