During this year’s Milan design week, a collection of bright, spritely young Belgian designers came together to put on an exhibition that showcased the importance of collaboration.
Dubbed Brut collective, the designers – Ben Storms, Bram Vanderbeke, Cédric Etienne, Charlotte Jonckheer, Linde Freya Tangelder and Nel Verbeke – presented a seamless collection of objects and a united front in terms of aesthetic. But while similar in look, each piece is rooted in a different craft, concept and approach.
The group describe themselves as being representative of a ‘young generation of Belgian designers’, who place importance on ‘collaboration and collective involvement within the contemporary design landscape’. From Storms’ metal pillow table to Verbeke’s patinated take on an hourglass, while each member has their distinctive qualities they obviously share an interest in the architectural and sculptural side of contemporary design.
DAMNº caught up with the collective to talk origins, inspirations, and plans for the future.
DAMNº: Who are you, and what do you do within your practice?
Brut: Bram Vanderbeke (b.1991), lives and works in Ghent, and graduated in 2016 from the Design Academy Eindhoven. His work is diverse, and has a sculptural and monumental form of language. Bram explores and reforms relationships between object, environment and user, and plays with materials, form and functionality. His objects are artistic manifestations in which their functionality is not delineated.
Ben Storms (b.1983) lives and works in Antwerp. Thinking in terms of matter, he tends to assemble form, material and technique in a way that is both innovative and compelling. Ben prefers to start with one material and then look at it without prejudice. His research is similarly uninhibited, ensuring he captures all the possibilities the material has to offer. By probing its boundaries to and beyond the limits, he creates a rather surprising language of form.
Charlotte Jonckheer (b.1988) works on various design projects with flexible partnerships. Her main focus is the emotional value sparked by the use of a design object. Inspired by nature and human behaviour, she plays with anticipation and familiarisation to create designs that intrigue their user and activate interaction.
Cédric Etienne is an interior architect and founder of Studio Corkinho. Together with Klas Dalquist, he makes up a Belgo-Swedish design duo based in Antwerp. Their goal is to change people's perceptions – to bring awareness about shapes and materials that they think deserve attention because of their raw and unique values.
Linde Freya Tangelder (b.1987) is originally from the Netherlands but is based in Brussels with her studio, destroyers/builders. With a focus on materiality, the studio strives for sensory relevance and cultural value in detail and on a larger scale. Her works have a sculptural and architectural character and are on the edge of contemporary material use and traditional crafts. Working with a wide range of materials – high and low-valued – new values arise. Linde Freya develops objects and projects, based on a method from where material and objects can grow into architectural interventions. She opens up traditional usage and transforms knowledge into new ways of bringing an object closer to our senses. The studio takes on projects that range from limited editions to commissioned projects.
Nel Verbeke (b.1989) lives and works in Brussels. With a background in visual art and a specialisation in design and design research, Nel is primarily a concept designer. Balancing between arts and design, her vocation will always be the emotional potential of shape and space. Fascinated by conceptual thinking, she shies away from the obvious focus.
DAMNº: What roles do each of you play within Brut collective?
Brut: We choose not to delineate roles; Brut collective is a rather non-static way of working. Each member has his or her distinctive qualities. We constantly search for the right balance between respecting and using these and deliberately creating overlap by collaboration. This method helps us to overcome comfort zones. We believe that a fusion of thoughts, coming from another individual context, gives enrichment and a layered meaning to our collective.
DAMNº: How did the collective come about, and how did everyone get involved?
Brut: The junction of our practices is a natural consequence of the apparent similarities in imagery, concepts and vision. We met each other at design fairs and exhibitions, focusing on collectible pieces, unique or limited editions. This led to conversations and a shared view on the potential of creating overlaps between our works, especially for collective exhibitions.
DAMNº: What is the aim of the collective?
Brut: We represent a young generation of Belgian designers, which values the significance of collaboration and collective involvement within the contemporary design landscape. We embody the commitment to realising a dialogue between designers and their design language: a visual and conceptual encounter, which both reflects the common qualities of the designers and emphasises the personal idiosyncrasies of their practices. This dialogue is always materialised with a co-decided scenography – a shared setting which visualises a collective narrative.
Brut has a dedicated attention for the architectural, sculptural and emotional potential of (contemporary Belgian) design. On the one hand, this focus is a result of the personal sensibilities of the participating designers – the corresponding characters of their practices. On the other hand, it creates a common ground and motive; it realises and defines an environment where the designers can show, strengthen and challenge each other.
DAMNº: What else do you guys have planned?
Brut: We find it important to stay selective in the exhibitions we want to participate in. The space and the context are essential to make Brut work well. We plan to participate in two yearly expos, and a few small happenings/events in between. Our aim is to work towards (a) shared new concept & installation once a year.
DAMNº: How do you differ from other collectives, what sets you apart?
Brut: Brut has a distinctive identity; it stands for bold movements and emotions beyond functionality. This applies to both the shared identity as well as the individual practices. Brut will always choose for a shared conceptual scenography; it blends communality and leaves room for individual identity. It proposes a sensory and spatial experience in which the scenography strengthens the architectural circumstances and context.
DAMNº: What place does design have in 2018?
Brut: It is challenging more the borders of what we see as classical design. It can become collectible, emotional, sculptural, architectural. All these elements are also involving in a full experience: experiences and conceptual stories to tell; bold movements and emotions beyond functionality.
DAMNº: What do you think is the most iconic design of all-time, and why?
Brut: Brut honours the architectural, sculptural and emotional capacities of design. Therefore the collective considers great theoretical architecture with a full holistic vision as a main inspiration within their shared vision. Dom Hans van der Laan [Dutch Benedictine monk and architect] has been a key inspiration in our shared scenography, a scenography that delineates a (thinking) space and defines an atmosphere of contemplation and stillness, of devotion to matter and time. The balance between strong simplicity yet emotional encounter inspires all our individual practices. A systematic ratio with natural qualities that enabled his multidisciplinary designs. An architecture of shadow and light. Inspiring is his capacity to spark a dialogue between the objects, space and user, and to create that stage where each of them is the protagonist.