Desiging the Surface is the result of a dialogue between product designer and Het Nieuwe Instituut Fellow Chris Kabel and designers/exhibition makers Jannetje in ’t Veld en Toon Koehorst. Together they developed the themes and structure of the exhibition, which is part of the long-term programme strand The Things and The Materials.
Previous exhibitions about wood, plastics and glass focused on key developments in applications of these materials. Designing the Surface takes the concept of materials one step further, focusing on the final layer between the material itself and its surroundings. Often this layer is applied by a craftsman or a machine, but it can also be the result of the influence of time or the elements.
They main theme of Designing the Surface is the often overlooked yet essential role that varnishes, coatings and other forms of surface treatment play in our appreciation of materials and objects. This is only exacerbated by the presence of nanotechnology in the 'skin' of all kinds of products. After the steel age and the silicon age, the surface could well be the place to look for an understanding of how materials impact the world around us.
The exhibition approaches the phenomenon of 'finish' from five points of view. Each point of view or theme explores a type of finish and examines the way in which it responds to our aesthetic and sensory needs. Or to a functional requirement.
With the theme Patina we take a look at a finish that under normal circumstances would not require any human intervention. Patina evolves under the influence of climate, sunlight or chemicals, and is heavily dependent on the passing of time. The concept is linked to the antiquity and authenticity of objects, that then become more valuable, while patina is in fact the result of wear and tear.
In another installation – Lustre - Designing the Surface exposes the glistening coatings that afford products their irresistible glare and sparkle. Nowhere is our love for the treated surface as easy to trace as in the centuries-old obsession with the polished object. Not only on the part of those who buy these products but just as much for their makers and designers. Whilst some treatments are closely tied up with recent developments in the high-tech industry, the history of the theme lustre goes back much further than this.
We associate imitation materials primarily with the field of decorative painting techniques. Highly skilled craftsmen would mimic marble or rare tropical woods on top of panels made of simple pine or poplar. The theme Faux looks first and foremost at the qualities of this cosmetic layer, that in the traditions of decorative painting was not associated with cheap imitation but rather with mastership.
With the next theme, Agency our point of view shifts to the most commonplace and therefore also democratic application of the finish: the use of paint on walls and objects. Very little skill or knowledge is required to pick up some brushes and a pot of paint and leave your personal mark on a space. This is true of both domestic interiors and public space.
If paint is the most personalised form of finish, Teflon is one that repels all forms of contact. Over the past century a whole range of coatings have been developed to make objects more hygienic and antiseptic. The porcelain enamel coating of the early 20th-century bathtub in is a prime example.
Each of the above themes features its own specially designed installation in the exhibition, spread over the large exhibition space on the ground floor of Het Nieuwe Instituut. Traces of Designing the Surface can also be found in the lobby and the areas around the building. After all, the surface is all around us. On the objects in the exhibition, but also on the cars in the adjoining car park, the park bench, the façade of Sonneveld House, the book cover, the cup in the café, the floor in the exhibition space, the raincoat in the cloakroom, the mobile phone screen, the lips of a visitor.