by Julian Ellerby
EVERYTHING YOU CHANGE.
Earth is about to complete her third pirouette around the Sun since Dutch Invertuals Academy began in 2020. Whilst we’ve been whirling about the universe together, everything has continually changed at every scale: the biology of our bodies quietly regenerating, global temperatures steadily rising, the habitats of the most vulnerable and least responsible destroyed and degraded at increasingly visceral speed, and monumental forests migrate to save themselves at timeframes imperceptible to our human senses.
The 10 designers of Dutch Invertuals Academy all created works that share their experience during this time as they responded to the theme True Matter: “an expression of the global shift from a careless to a caring attitude”.
Each piece demonstrates to me the extraordinary things that can emerge from the cracks between old stories of separation and extraction, that must end, and new ones of interconnection and regeneration, that are only just beginning or being rediscovered.
Here I am interested in what we can learn from the collection as a whole and what stories might be found in the relationships between the works. Can we find ‘True Matter’ here? What can we learn? What does it reveal about where we are going next?
Form follow attention
“The times are urgent; let us slow down.”
Dr Bayo Akomolafe
Throughout Dutch Invertuals Academy, tutors invited designers to develop a practice of awareness in and with their locality. Approaching the spaces, objects and materials around them with renewed intention.
For some their context was limited to a small apartment, for others it was a city street or a larger ecosystem. The designers slowed down to explore and map their surroundings, making connections and questioning relationships between things, human and non-human, as they went. This new awareness transformed the overlooked and undervalued into spaces of becoming and re-enchantment.
Designer Beatrice Maione’s enquiry, during the 2022 programme, began with a material fascination towards dust, the entropic and omnipresent substance which accompanies our everyday life.
Aiming to “give voice to materials” by observing and capturing the dust accumulating in her direct surroundings, Maione revealed the information that dust carries about our bodies and environments, influencing our behaviours, gestures and fears. Her final work presents this dust in capsules of soap, preserving and containing this data within a substance normally used to delete it.
“Slowing down is not a function of speed it is a function of awareness. It is a function of presence”, shares philosopher and activist Dr Bayo Akomolafe.
While the literal deceleration of our minds and bodies is both tempting and necessary, an invitation to slowness is more importantly an invitation to approach the world with balance, with intention, criticality and care.
What if we learn to listen and be with our surroundings, our communities, our bodies, embracing processes and practices of empathy and feeling that acknowledge complexity and what we do not, and cannot, know?
“Everything you touch you change, everything you change, changes you.”
Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower
When we look closely at our universe we see fractals, complex geometric patterns and structures, repeating themselves at different scales, from the exquisitely minute to the confoundingly infinite.
We can see many examples of these patterns in snowflakes, ferns, lightning and tree branches, as well as in mathematics and computing. In each of these, the complex whole is formed of repeating patterns and processes over and over, the smallest elements appearing similar to the largest but at a different scale—if one part of a fractal changes the whole must change.
“Fractal awareness” is an idea that sees us as capable of affecting systemic change by changing ourselves— a pattern that repeats inwards as well as outwards into the world. As Adrienne Maree Brown, author of Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, explains “I am a cell-sized unit of the human organism, and I have to use my life to leverage a shift in the system by how I am, as much as with the things I do. This means actually being in my life, and it means bringing my values into my daily decision making. Each day should be lived on purpose.”
With ‘Creating Sensations’ in 2021 designer Irina Diana Flore showed fractal awareness in her approach, demonstrating deep care for her materials, her own wellbeing and the wellbeing of the planet around her. Her project explored how materials gathered from her natural context could activate senses and generate emotional health through a collection of tools for stimulating the senses and connecting the body and nature through ritual.
As designers, acting with fractal awareness translates to the intentional use of how we are and how we do things as much as what we make. What we practice on a small scale sets the patterns for the whole system and we can transform ourselves to transform the world.
What if we design our relationships, behaviours and values to be as beautiful and crafted as the objects and ideas we create?
“Life creates conditions conducive to life.”
Through Dutch Invertuals Academy designers have experimented with ways of knowing, through design, that go beyond simply defining, fixing, reducing and solving problems for human stakeholders (approaches that too often lead to anthropocentric, short term and extractive outcomes).
Instead these designers have sought to de-centre and re-entangle humans in the world with non-human beings and forces, creating “conditions conducive to life”. All life. What is good for the planet is good for us.
Human cultures, technologies and stuff are all part of nature. “There is only nature, in all its eternal flowering, creating microprocessors and datacenters and satellites just as it produced Oceans, trees, magpies and us’ as James Bridle untangles for us in Ways of Being. Human culture is not separate, but part of the ‘more-than-human’ world, to use the term from David Abhram’s ecologist and philosopher.
Connecticut based designer Lise Frietas combined historical knowledge of local industry and communities, craft skills with natural materials, imagination for future objects, and the beauty and intelligence of oysters to create an architectural artefact that could return to the sea. The transformation of oyster shells and their incredible material properties highlight the possibilities of working symbiotically within a tangle of local contexts, human systems and nature’s wisdom to create cyclical narratives.
A way of seeing in which all things exist in their relation to other beings, processes and forms is what the Buddhist monk Thich What Hanh described as ‘interbeing’. When applied to how we design, this mindset forces closed the imagined gap between culture and nature.
What if we saw ourselves as planetary beings, our destiny interdependent and entwined with the more-than-human world, with a responsibility to create conditions conducive to create conditions conducive to all life?
True Matter is not fixed, defined by an individual, or known in a reductive way.
True Matter is felt, sensed through a practice of careful awareness and slow dialogue.
True Matter is entangled, found in the relationships between things, beings and forces at all scales.
True Matter is cyclical and always changing, we create it through how we make ourselves and our worlds—in turn it continues to change us.
True Matter presents selected works from the first three years of Dutch Invertuals Academy. A learning experience for designers helping them reconnect with their local context and (re)imagine possibilities for new ways of being.
What is DIA?
Dutch Invertuals Academy launched in 2020, during the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns, when Dutch Invertuals found their existing models and methods completely disrupted. Urgently the team sought out new ways to work with the global design community.
The result was a six week learning experience, facilitated digitally, that aimed to create space for designers to connect with each other and reconnect with their local context to (re)imagine possibilities for new ways of being. Throughout each designer is led by their individual questions and interests whilst in dialogue with other designers and guided by experienced tutors.
Designers selected for DIA are guided through a process of discovery and experimentation with materials, methods, ideas and their locality. Throughout the programme participants explore and share their own stories, perspectives, beliefs and prototypes with the group. At the close of each Academy all designers produce an object or experience that gives form to their inquiry through a conceptual and critical lens.
Who are Dutch Invertuals?
Dutch Invertuals is on mission to collectively imagine and design more beautiful futures through visionary research, products and experiences.
Based in Eindhoven, Netherlands, Dutch Invertuals is locally vigorous and internationally engaged through their myriad research probes, exhibitions and design projects for commercial clients and cultural organizations.
5613 AB Eindhoven
+31 (0)40 – 7502401
Dutch Invertuals B.V.
Bram Vanderbeke – scenography
Edhv – graphic design
Invertual network – tutors & lecturers
Julia Veldman – documentary
Julian Ellerby – moderator & article
Laura Houseley – copy designers
Mark Brand – web development
Raw Color – campaign visuals
Roos Pollman – sound design
Schimmel & Schweikle – 3d visuals