His tables burn without crumbling, his wardrobes move – even though they are made of wood – and clocks hands are moved by real people. He is a pragmatist, a craftsman of ideas, an “out of scale”, an “out of form”, a champion. He confidently shifts from art to cinema and theatre while escaping to the ruthless succession of trends – but his real self belongs to design, it belongs to a school that carries his name: Maarten Baas.
Maarten Baas is an unconventional designer, without too many frills or conventional aspects. With cleverness and nimbleness, he manages to overcome time and the legacy of his own years, without being trapped by any kind of definition. Thirty-two years old and a Miami Design Award (2009) he won thanks to his marked sense of imagination, Maarten Baas does not love definitions and formalities, and when he creates an object he does not limit himself to intuitively express his personality and talent.
In the Netherlands – his adoptive country -, Baas took his first steps at the Design Academy of Eindhoven (1996-2002) where, while still a student, he designed the first of his lucky and numerous creations, such as the candleholder Knuckle; after that, for his degree projects, he burned classical pieces of furniture in order to reinvent new ones. A ground-breaking approach which led to the Smoke series (2004): 25 icons of the international design literally burned, charred and finished with an epoxy resin – a work of art that conquered a special place at New York’s Moss Gallery.
In the meantime, he created several works of art and explorative performances in the tactile-matteric scene, as well as in the interpretative or cultural one. “Anything can be a source of new inspiration”. Baas looks around himself and gets inspiration from TV, cinema, nature and people. After that, he created porcelain tableware Haphazard Harmony for Skitsch, clay furniture Clay, and sculptures with strange and asymmetric shapes in Sculpt. A series of unique pieces, ideas that are often ironic and surreal, with the aim of reinterpreting what has already been seen and done or, simply, to recover waste products. In 2005 Baas started his collaboration with Bas den Herder and with him an endless craftsmanship work began. Nothing is taken for granted, by either customers or by the market. Still, the designer’s works are appreciated: Baas surprises everyone.
In Milan, during the Fuorisalone (2009), in the C’N’C Costume National area, he introduces Real Time, an exposition event – supervised by Diana Marrone – whose aim is to offer new perspectives on time flow: the designer adopts the cinema language to re-shape a clock collection composed by three models, from the old style analog-alarm to the digital time counter, from the interface to the external case. Baas animates the clocks with a theatre mechanism with true and living hands, by involving hundreds of actors and walks-on to sign the time. The passing of the time within these clocks is given by multitudes of people who – shot and screened in an interval of 12 or 24 hours – create signs that show the time passing by… But time can also stop, as in Melting Collection Ice Bucket, created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the prestigious vintage cuvee Dom Ruinart and introduced last November at the Spazio Rossana Orlandi of Milan: a limited edition of 50 pieces of an ice bucket that seems to melt at the centre of the table, accompanied by unusual glasses, caught in the moment while they are melting too.
DROME: What is Real Time?
MAARTEN BAAS: Technically, it is a project in which new technologies have made possible a combination of theatre, art and video production so as to give an idea of time flowing in a period of 12 or 24 hours – the concept of a constant and slow movement. Actors, human figures support this project: their bodies and arms interpret – in different scenographies – the sense and the way in which minutes, hours, and clock hands move. As a result of this “setting”, 3 films suggest an unusual and extravagant “behind the scenes” of minutes.
D: A complex project that explores an aspect that might be defined “conventional”; what is your relationship with time?
MB: I have never planned anything in my life. I tend to intensely live the present time, being aware that I can make my ideas become real. When I was 15, I used to do a psychology experiment. I used to concentrate on 2 goals: one of them was made of adolescent’s ambition and projects, while the other represented my dreams. In doing so, the energy I gained from my immediate achievements was conveyed to the dreams of my future outlook. In spite of my young age, I could feel the potential I had inside of me, but I could not express it freely because of the boundaries imposed by school. Through the years I have learnt to get rid of all restrictions and to use my skills and abilities in full, in a perfect synchrony with my time and my space.
I do not ask myself, today, the reason why I created Real Time or any other project: this would be a suicidal operation, and I never do it. I feel, see, think, and eventually I create exactly what I feel like doing.
D: You are often described as “young designer”: do you like this expression?
MB: This is one of the several definitions that surround my name and that tend to restrict what I really am. This is a judgment that does not belong to me. My works, after all, are the consequence of a series of skills and abilities that shift from one field to another, as it happens in communicating vessels. So, sometimes I find myself being at the same time, a craftsman, a designer and, why not, a director!
D: What is there in those periods of time between a project and its realization, the product?
MB: There is the result of a continuous series of decisions. The concreteness of the object is part of the idea, while the final result is the combination between the idea and a peculiar way of making it become real.
D: What do you think is the reason for your success?
MB: Eating every day a delicious peanut butter sandwich.
D: Do you think that your being so informal, without rules and mental schemes reflects the trend of a new generation of designers?
MB: I do not like to think of a movement or a membership. I simply do what I believe is meaningful.
Published on DROME 17 – the TIME issue