Bursting out of the frame and off the pedestal, installation art has proven to be one of the most vital artistic innovations of the past century. Its practitioners—Design Collective Rotganzen, a Rotterdam and New York-based design collective of Robin Stam, Joeri Horstink and Erik Schilp—appreciate its anything-goes sensibility, and relative absence of historical baggage. Individual installations may take the form of architectural interventions, taxonomic collections, or large-scale landscaping projects, but they share the search for a new kind of aesthetic experience.
Herein, Design Collective Rotganzen bridges the gap between art and design, and finds inspiration in daily life and popular culture. Robin, Joeri and Erik have a talent to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. By changing the appearance and context of everyday objects and products, they create work that is full of contrast and surprise, visually as well as conceptually. Edited excerpts…
How did the journey of art and design begin for you? What initially captured your imagination about installation art?
Rotganzen started 10 years ago. The first project that we ever did was to re-create the imaginary bridges portrayed on the Euro notes as full-size bridges in a suburb of our hometown of Rotterdam, Netherlands.
What was your route to becoming an artist? Was it through formal training or sheer passion and instinct?
As a trio, we all came from very different directions, such as graphic design and branding, interior design, and museums and collections. In addition to our formal training and day jobs, we wanted to create beautiful and positive art and design. It started as a passion and a hobby, but now it’s our main focus.
You work as a trio. Does it, in any way, hinder each other’s creativity? Or have you individually divided the responsibilities and duties?
We consider this as our advantage, as we focus on our work better as a trio. We discuss most aspects, and make all our important decisions together. Of course, each of us have our own set of strengths to focus on, and weaknesses which we try to compensate for, but we are not at all territorial.
How do the contexts of the objects and materials you use affect the art pieces that you create? Do you intentionally work with varied mediums, or do you try to transform your works with new, personal ones?
We tend to find our inspiration in the real world. Ordinary objects, that remind us of our youth, or that makes us think or laugh. If we have a connection with such an object, we will play around with it, sometimes using different mediums, until we find an inspiring outcome. We have also worked on collections where we decided on the medium before anything else, simply because we wanted to work with that particular medium.
What was the creative process for your first art pieces and what did you learn from their fabrication?
Every process is different, and the learning curve is always there. It wouldn’t be art if it was an automated process. We have become a little more relaxed about the process. At first, we were very determined to produce a result. Now, if we are not satisfied, we put things aside, and wait for more inspiration or better ideas. We have many projects on the go at the same time, but many of them are in the waiting area until the time we are ready.
Your installation piece Quelle Fête has been abstractly inspired by the glamour of the 80s Disco Ball. How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
We are definitely inspired by Italy and America of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Pop-art is probably the label people use most when they view our work, but we are a bit more than that. We have not only crossed the boundaries between art and design, but also between various spheres of contemporary art.
Do you think that artists have a duty to think about wider societal inspirations and issues, and respond to them?
No. The only responsibility an artist has, is to create art.
There are so many different types of creative work styles. What does your average creative workday look like? Do you try to design and conceptualise a bit every day, or do you work in concentrated bursts?
With us, it is an organised chaos. We all do our own thing and at some point, it all comes together. It depends on deadlines of course, but most days we do a bit of everything.
The art industry is one of the world’s most competitive and demanding businesses. How do you manage the creative and commercial side of
First of all, we only do projects we believe in, with clients who inspire us. If we don’t feel it, we don’t do it. In our autonomous work, we tend not think about commerce until we are finished. Luckily for us, people like our work enough, so we make a decent living.
The traditional forms of art have gone experimental in leaps and bounds. Is experimentation a required tool for being consistent in the realm of artistry today?
Not at all. There is enough room for all of us. I think making good art can mean different things to different people. We have worked in India and Thailand, and now in Indonesia; all countries where craft—perhaps almost the opposite of experimentation—has a much higher importance than in Europe. That means something to a society, and therefore it is important. Experimentation for the sake of experimentation is an empty gesture, and certainly not art.
Your artwork can be described as ‘big on gesture and big in proportion’ as you often incorporate large scale items. Can you tell us about your motivation to create artworks on such an epic scale?
We make both, big and small pieces. It is all dependent on what’s right for the story we are trying to narrate, at that particular moment in time. Big is not necessarily a good thing. Size doesn’t matter. It all depends on what you do with it.
Installation, spatial design, conceptual art etc. are not easy to read for the audience at a first sight. Do you feel the need to explain the messages that your art represent, or would you rather let your audience interpret it?
'Never explain’ is our motto, but luckily for us, most of our work is pretty easy to understand, since we use the language of everyday life in our work. Most people recognise something, and that makes them smile. Making people happy like that is very rewarding.
Have you ever experienced “artist’s block?” If so, what are some strategies you’ve used to overcome it?
Of course, but then you go and do something else. Or have some fun and forget about it. Nothing is more useless than trying to do something when you are not in the right frame of mind for it.
Tell us something about your upcoming projects or exhibitions.
So far, this year we plan to do pieces for a floor show at Showfields in New York. We are also working on pieces for a restaurant in Antwerp, Belgium, as well as a large piece for a hotel in Bali. We are also preparing to launch a collection of glassware later this year. All in all, pretty busy.