Christien Meindertsma: Act Local
Since graduating from Design Academy Eindhoven in 2003, Rotterdam-based Christine Meinderstma has carved a niche for herself exploring the stories of ordinary objects. Take her book PIG (2007), which minutely documents the huge range of items manufactured using some part of a single pig, known as 05949. Her One Sheep series of sweaters are each made using the wool of a single, identifiable member of the only merino flock in the Netherlands. Her simple and elegant Flax Lamp for Thomas Eyck uses five meters of flax rope made in the traditional way in the Netherlands by craftsmen who are the last representatives of a once-flourishing industry in maritime products. In all these examples, Meindertsma explores the hidden history of products, revealing the raw materials, processes and producers normally so invisible in our globalized world. Her work has been exhibited at MoMA, the V&A, and the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a project called "Field of Flax" for Thomas Eyck, which we will launch at Inside Design in Amsterdam in September. Basically, I bought a year’s production of flax from a single field owned by a Dutch producer. That’s 10,000 kilograms of flax, enough to enable industrial level production. Now, I’m weaving it into tablecloths, tea towels, and other items at the Textile Museum in Tilburg. I’m producing hundreds of grown-up products!
So while your work is very research based, it’s clearly important for you to create finished objects.
It is—as much as the research is important to me, I think it’s really vital to make an end product.
Can you explain why?
My work is all about how we consume. To me it’s important to know where things come from. Generally our products today are so cheap, you know there’s something wrong. Things are not made in a good way. I want to make things that are. I want to make the story behind products visible.
In Milan this year, you showed Wild—a series of bone china made from roadkill. What’s the story behind that project?
I’d been on a trip to Canada as part of a project for Droog design. I noticed there that the Inuit use bone a lot and I thought I’d like to do that, too. Then I remembered that in my PIG book there was a china cup, so I started researching that area. I discovered that bone china was a British invention, which had been developed by a pottery sited next to a slaughterhouse—‘bone’ china of course contains bones, though we are inclined to forget that. So then I decided I wanted to create my own bone china, but outside that industrial factory farm system. I thought, what if you used the bones of animals that were free, that had enjoyed a natural life?
So you used the bones of wild animals?
Yes—in the Netherlands as you know we have this little wilderness, kind of like a mini version of the wilderness in Canada, called the Hoge Veluwe. A few roads go through it and animals get killed—deer, wild boar. The rangers put the bodies in a particular area for scavengers, and when you go there you see all these bleached bones, which are all that’s left. So I collected these bones and made them into bone ash and we mixed it with clay and made china.
What I liked about this project is that we humans usually put ourselves on top of the eco pyramid, but here I had the chance to put us at the bottom—on the same level as scavengers.
The china has a sort of bone-like appearance—the final form makes a strong reference to the original material.
I wanted it to evoke bones, but not in a literal way; I wanted to be more subtle. So I looked at bone structure, and the way that it is thin where it can be thin, and where it needs to be thick, it’s thick. And I put this into the form of the Wild series.
The Wild pieces are prototypes—when will they become actual products?
Soon, hopefully. We’re looking at how to do that now.
Your work seems to me to evoke the Dutch landscape—its colors, forms, and moods. The look of your products, too, seems a statement against globalization, as much as an embodiment of the making process.
I think it’s inevitable that when you have a specific source for materials, the landscape there inspires the form of the design. In the Flax project, the cloths have a kind of checkerboard design, which derives from the Dutch polder landscape where the flax was grown. That comes from the materials rather than my being Dutch. When I’ve been working in America, for example on the 49 Prairie Plants project [in which Meindertsma made a different paper from each plant and combined them in a book], then the work naturally reflects the American landscape.
Like Hella Jongerius—one of the few women to enter the boys’ club of top designers—your work is very much research-based. She taught you at the Design Academy, right? She must have been an excellent role model
Yes, she had this very inspiring Atelier program there. She taught us just as she was becoming a huge success—and that was great, because it made you think, "Yes, I can do that too!"