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The constant question of art versus design

Text: Emily van Leemput Media: Bart Bolluijt

Located in Natlab at Strijp-S: Baltan Laboratories – a lab that works on the crossroads of art, design, science, and technology. As stated on their website, “the lab functions as a collaborative mindset and network, connecting curious individuals and organisations.” Their main output is a a space for reflection, research, and experimentation. This sentiment also shows through the interview we had, as anyone interested in the topics is welcomed to visit their
activities.

We sat down and talked with Abraham Meeuwsen and Leif Czakai. Before diving into a discussion about art, design, and expectations,
let’s start with some introductions. Leif started in Germany, but the focus of
education was not what he was looking for. The definition of design seemed more narrow and restricted in comparison to in the Netherlands. At the Design Academy here in Eindhoven he focused on food related topics, though it mostly fell in a wider scope: addressing social topics through design. It is about bringing people together; participatory design; involving people in the design. Abraham’s background lies in film making and art. This mostly brought him to a practical, hands on approach. His work revolves around the narration and outlines of a project – how do you get people on board.

With both focuses on art as well as design, we get to our first topic of conversation: the discussion of art versus design. The general concept of the two, together with the concept of working in the field lead to quite a few insights:

A: “I would say design is the practical implementation of art. It revolves around a user experience, rather than an experience. But, no matter the differences between the two, design isn’t not art either.”

L: “To me, design can be defined as when you give definition to a phenomenon. Art tends to stay away from that, though the two can definitely go hand in hand. Design is also becoming more open, people are getting involved more in the process.”

A: “Within the world of design, there is a lot of overlap in the two. In practices, however, they are two different fields. They work with a slightly different perspective and approach. Both in art and design it can be a struggle to get your work financed. Grants can lead to limited thinking, restricting you in a way. However, design can be more direct, and requires less consensus. “There’s a difference in the tradition it comes from, and in the result you aim to get through it. It’s about design versus art, but also about knowledge versus product. You can also find a general trend emerging. People are less and less content with close-end products. We as a society are more into the phase where we are open to multiple purposes and hackability in a product.

L: “I also think this is a natural evolution in the way products are seen. As a designer you are to have an understanding of the different factors at play, and the different disciplines involved.” Next to art and design, Baltan Laboratories mention technology and science. How do those fit in to the work that is done here, and how do they link to art and design?

A: “Technology and science can be used as a tool in art and design. There is space for research, but the results are much more organic. For example, we are currently doing a project with a mathematician who combined music and astrophysical data. It isn’t necessarily about the mathematical concepts behind it, but those do carry it to a different level. It helps to open up conversation to topics. Design and art are a global language that is accessible to people. It doesn’t require prior knowledge or context, yet it can still educate people in a way, sparking an interest in topics generally linked to technology and science.”

L: “The separate disciplines become very direct when mixed up together. It makes them more approachable in a way. You don’t need to be aware of the field behind it to make sense of art or design.” Working in the field of design, what advice would you give to (Industrial) design students? A: “Stick to what you believe in and see quality in it. Dare to stick to your own story. In the end, it is not one project defining who you are – use projects to learn through and shape who you are in the totality of projects.”

L: “Explore both commercial and artistic sides, and mostly try to grasp an understanding of both of them. Being a student in an academic environment, you have the opportunity of exploration – use it.”

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