Truman Brewery
17-20 September 2020

Meet the Designer: Q&A Martijn Rigters

Written by Zetteler

Where you and I might see a waste product – something to be tidied into the bin ASAP – Dutch designer Martijn Rigters sees an opportunity. Experimental far beyond the normal bounds of the word, his practice involves taking commonplace processes and materials and turning them on their head to create radically different outcomes.

His The Colour of Hair project, in collaboration with Fabio Hendry, used hair acquired from London barbers to make painterly surface patterns through an ingenuous carbonisation technique. His most recent line of experimentation, Cutting Edge, saw Martijn carve expanses of foam padding (the sort you’d normally find inside a sofa) with a giant hot wire.

The next phase of this project will be on display at Dutch Stuff, a group exhibition showcasing the huge wealth of eclectic and multi-disciplinary approaches currently rife in the Netherlands, descending on London Design Fair at the Old Truman Brewery in east London between 20 and 23 September. Presenting lighting, textiles, ceramics and category-defying sculptural objects and installations, the designers will provide a snapshot of the forward-thinking, imaginative voices that Dutch design is famed for.

Ahead of the show, we were keen to find out more about where Martijn gets his ideas from, quiz him on his process and get his take on the importance of sustainability in contemporary design. Here he is in his own words…

What are you going to be exhibiting at Dutch Stuff and how does it continue (or not) the ideas you normally explore in your practice?

As part of the Dutch Stuff show at London Design Fair, I will be exhibiting a new series of objects based on the Cutting Edge technique, a process that makes use of a series of large-scale, organically shaped, hot wires to sculpt big blocks of foam. I started experimenting with this process whilst making the Cutting Edge sofas and have now continued exploring the limits of this framework. A substantial part of my practice is based on the developing and, hopefully, mastering of new techniques and processes. This usually provides the freedom for the projects, and their outcomes, to evolve over time into exciting new directions.

From using hair to make surface patterns to the sofa you mentioned, there are some really experimental processes in your portfolio. How do you discover new techniques?

The Colour of Hair is an extensive research I started together with Fabio Hendry of Studio Ilio in 2016. The project explores alternative, sustainable, materials for new applications within both interiors and exteriors. During our time at the Royal College of Art in London, we realised that we were surrounded by a great number of hairdressers – there’s more than 500 in London. This presented an unlimited source of material for us – literally locally grown and collected. Being very aware of the notions people have with human hair, the aim was to take the project in a direction where the hair could be used in a process that would transform the fibres into a different material. Taking the old pottery technique of Raku as a starting point, we found that we could use the human hair, thanks to its high concentration of keratin, to print onto a variety of metals. By carefully heating the metal’s surface, the applied hair particles would carbonise and leave a durable imprint on the surface of the metal. Setting up a collaboration with local hairdressers who collected and sorted the off-cuts for us, we developed a range of ‘printing’ techniques to create a range of patterns for pieces of furniture, as well as for surfaces.

The project Cutting Edge, where I use large-scale, organically shaped hot wires to sculpt sofas from large blocks of foam, was actually part of a series of three projects, including Foam Party and Lathe Take Away. The aim was to forge the efficiency of industrial processes with the unique qualities and characteristics of hand-crafted artefacts.

I believe that if you want to create future applications, you should look at present ways of production (like the Raku technique), build upon existing knowledge, and place this in a new, alternative context. Being aware of how and why things are made the way they are allows you to look at it through a different lens. A new point of view, formed around and informed by contemporary issues.

Once you’ve discovered a new process or material, how do you figure out how it could be applied? 

Often the experimenting with and developing of a new process or material already goes hand in hand with a rough idea of possible applications for it as a starting point. Since for most projects a self-developed process is used, that often requires customised machines or installations, you automatically create a framework of parameters that sort of define the outcome. Playing with these parameters and adapting the framework can then provide new possible applications. Every material comes with its own unique qualities. 

Do you think that designers have a responsibility to innovate with materials to find more sustainable ways of consumption?

Sustainability itself is a term that’s always open for re-interpretation. For the project Foam Party, which is an installation that invites people to become part of the production process of a chair by acting as a (counter)mould, the focus was really on creating a strong emotional bond between the object and its future owner, in order to stay, hopefully, part of their life. It’s literally a chair that only perfectly fits the person who was part of its creation. Whereas The Colour of Hair’s main research point is about looking at waste streams that surround us and finding an unconventional afterlife for the material. 

Of course, experimenting with new materials and processes that are sustainable is a great part of the deal. Designers are different from material scientists in that they have the means to change the notion of materials, and with that also the ways of consumption. You could see it as a sort of PR company for materials, that includes not only the sustainability of a material but also how it is perceived, in order to integrate into our daily lives.

What are you looking forward to at LDF? 
Together with fifteen other creative designers that met at the RCA, I have organised an exhibition around the theme of horror, called Horror Show, to coincide with the 200th birthday of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. The novel’s themes form the connective tissue between a diverse range of practices, resulting in surprising and unintended new monsters.






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