Since being founded in 2012 as a “temporary place for contemporary design”, Depot Basel has questioned and tested all of the assumptions of design curating and exhibitions. The first exhibition, Prelude 01, saw them commission nine designers to make site-specific installations in a massive silo in six days – ambitious is an understatement. In Forum for An Attitude, they did away with the design objects, instead using the limited budget to fly all of the designers over and printed images of the works on foamboard. When the organisation started experiencing teething problems, they reflexively curated an exhibition about collectives, The Collective Intention.

Now, just weeks after winning a Swiss Design Award for their new website, Depot Basel has closed its doors. DAMN talks to co-founder and co-director Matylda Krzykowski, why the contemporary design organisation is going on a three-month break.

Group picture in the first location of Depot Basel, the former silo at Erlenmattareal in Basel, 2012. Commissioned DIY chairs by Christian Horisberger.
DAMN°: Should we be worried, why has Depot Basel closed its doors?

Matylda Krzykowski: What we wanted with Depot Basel was never intended to focus on a physical space. Since our foundation we had three permanent but temporary locations in Basel, while we were also interested in a dialogue beyond our space and also beyond Switzerland. We worked in many other places and countries with various other organisations, institutions and practitioners. In the past couple of years we considered it a strength to apply our experiences and skills in these other places. That is why we closed our permanent location, a former Bureau de Change, which we had occupied since November 2013. We say ‘No space is a good place’. It produces necessary dynamics for the demands of the disciplines we contribute to.

The former Bureau de Change at Voltaplatz, the third space of Depot Basel in Basel, October 2013 – August 2017. Photo: Matylda Krzykowski
Since 2011, Depot Basel has mutated and evolved several times. Can you give us a brief history of the dynamic organism? 

From the beginning Depot Basel was an organisation that had to reinvent itself regularly based on resources: from project opportunities and financial assets to (wo)manpower. We started with a flat hierarchy of six people – myself, Laura Pregger, Moritz Walther, Elias Schäfer, Julia Landsiedl and Katharina Altemeier – with various backgrounds. Within a short time, we were only four people, and than five again when Rebekka Kiesewetter joined in 2012. In 2013 we split the organisation in two paid director’s positions, an accountant and an honorary board, which we meet every two or three months. The classic formula was problematic within our group, because we stopped having frequent dialogues. At some point, almost all founding members left. We continued with many temporary and regular contributors. For additional advice and expertise, we built an external board in 2015. Looking at historical and contemporary collectives, all have an expiry date. I think when you start doubting the collective intention, people have to leave or push the restart button together. We decided to do the latter. After a break, we will come back together in November 2017. We will develop Depot Basel further, exactly as we do with design.

What was the thinking behind your award-winning website and will it play more of a role in Depot Basel's future?

Originating from the holdings of Depot Basel, the Online Depot is in itself a form of permanent exhibition and a virtual space in which design is discussed, explored and developed. We had the interest to build something that is accessible to everyone, everywhere. It is not only a website, but a tool for contemporary discourse. The three areas in the menu are called ‘foundation’ (including all formats, all projects), ‘motivation’ (including the contributors, vocabulary, service etc.) and ‘information’ (including basic information about Depot Basel). All content is interlinked with each other. You are basically lead from a project to a contributor to another project, for example. Luke Archer from Omnigroup and I imagined the visitor walking through an endless online exhibition that appears timeless, zooms in and zooms out of the content, and is continuously evolving.

What does this mean for your own work? Will you be working more independently?

I became a designer because I want my mind to never age. I don’t aim to stop producing, questioning and moving work forward. As an individual, you are some sort of maverick. Working in a group makes it easier to elucidate the context of your work. Ideally I will find an adherence to a commercial or cultural group, project or job in order to continue to address topics. I am particularly interested in topics rather than disciplines. Being trained as designer offers you the foundation to act in various roles – curator, mentor, director and educator. Admittedly, I am drawn to leadership positions.

What are the upcoming projects for you?

My dad always says you don’t have a profession if you only work in projects. He is a mechanical engineer and developed the engines for an automotive company for many, many years. He has an understanding of the definition of work that our generation perceives differently. I wonder where the ‘project’ will lead us and how the future will define work.

Meanwhile I will continue doing projects for now: from the publication for Collection #3 for Chamber Gallery, an edition of Design Date with Current Obsession Magazine, mentoring Koos Breen in his project Morf From Form From Morf, participating in conversations about display methodologies for A-Z Nights in Hasselt, and defining a course for presentation skills for the Master in Design at the HGK Bern, for example. I will continue to speculate on what kind of profession I actually work in. In fact, the desire to develop something for many, many years in one structure, exactly likes my father, continues to grow in me.

If you would found an organisation dealing with design today what would you do differently?

I would propose a union of disciplines, herald the end of ‘design’, stress the importance of the irrational and call for an approach and attitude, which would synthesise topics like ‘home, family, money, health, work, youth etc.’.

What's next for Depot Basel?

There is a scheduled assembly in mid-November 2017, where our board and external board will meet, discuss and define a new formula for Depot Basel – it is certainly a rewarding upcoming project.

Swiss Design Award Ceremony 2017, Matylda Krzykowski and Rebekka Kiesewetter, co-directors of Depot Basel with Patrizia Crivelli and Lionel Bovier. Photo: Nici Jost
Window display during 'Forum for an Attitude’ with a poster designed by Christoph Clarijs, 2015. Photo: Tomas Soucek
Exhibition view of ‘Forum for an Attitude’, at Vitra Design Museum Gallery, 2015 – 2016. Bucket washing machine by Nektar Solomon. Photo: Tomas Soucek
Exhibition view of ‘Forum for an Attitude’, representing the attitude of 24 contemporary designers and their work, at Vitra Design Museum Gallery, 2015 – 2016. With the ‘Automat’, a questionnaire machine, Depot Basel developed with Räuber & Stehler, and results from a survey conducted with Zeno Franchini and Jeannette Petrik.
One of the survey results for ‘Forum for an Attitude’ conducted with Zeno Franchini and Jeannette Petrik for Vitra Design Museum Gallery, 2015 – 2016.
Children’s workshop and exhibition research and production of 'Forum 3 - Intuition' conducted by Eva Feldkamp and Veronika Gombert in the context of ‘Forum for an Attitude’.
Children’s workshop of 'Forum 3 - Intuition' conducted by Postfossil in the context of ‘Forum for an Attitude’.
'Forum 5 -Tools’ with Johanna Dehio, one of the participants of the ‘Forum’. Photo: Jan Lutyk
A game from 'Games for Actors and non-actors by Augusto Boal’ initiated by Pablo Calderón Salazar, of the participants of 'Forum 4 – Knowledge'. Photo: Orlando Lovell
The first space of Depot Basel, a disused 850 m2 silo in Basel, August 2011 – April 2013. Photo: Christian Metzler
Poster Manifesto by Design Displacement Group for ‘The Collective Intention’, 2015. Photo: Moritz Lehner
First edition of Design Date at V&A during London Design Festival 2015 with Jacopo Sarzi, Loris & Livia, Azusa (Studio Swine) and Jana Scholze. Hosted by Matylda Krzykowski. Photo: Robert Andriessen
Display of ‘Collecting Packaging’ at the 'Okolo Offline - Collecting’ exhibition curated by Adam Stech (Okolo) and Matylda Krzykowski (Depot Basel) in the Arts and Crafts Museum Dresden, Germany, 2014. Photo: Okolo.
Depotgraphy, the scenographic system consisting of various frames developed with EMYL and Moritz Lehner, 2013.
Club Night, a temporary club for dancing and talking, with Omnigroup, Damian Fopp, Sebastian Marbacher, Bertille Laguet and Tobias Gutmann, February 2017. Photo: Diana Pfammatter
Simon Mager from Omnigroup at Club Night, a temporary club for dancing and talking, with Omnigroup, Damian Fopp, Sebastian Marbacher, Bertille Laguet and Tobias Gutmann, February 2017. The Club furniture (DJ booth, tables, benches) was build in collaboration with Damian Fopp, Sebastian Marbacher. Photo: Diana Pfammatter
Users Are People, How emodigital are you?, 2016, with a session of iYoga by Hendrike Nagel. Photo: René Herzogenrath
Exhibition view of ‘Superprojekt’, the 20-minute exhibition, a performative curatorial strategy, presented during Art Basel 2016. Poster by Dan Solbach, lamp by Leonid Kadid.