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BEYOND ART & DESIGN

陈雯西 Wen-Xi Chen 2015-09-23 15:18

Studio Job is one of those rare and unique anomalies in the design world that straddles the fine line between functional and frivolous. Founded in 1998 by Job Smeets and joined in 2000 by his self-described "soul-mate" and Design Academy Eindhoven classmate Nynke Tynagel, Studio Job is an uncompromising tour de force of imagery and imagination.

While Northern European design has come to be associatted with functional modernist style, the Netherlands/Antwerp-based Studio Job harkens to a more elaborate period of their countries’ stylistic past. It only takes one glance to appreciate that they are not coming from Modernism. The studio’s often opulent and intricate creations stick out glaringly in a design world largely concerned with functionalism, but Job Smeets choses not to be ustered by that fact. “To be a designer and nding yourself as a tiny needle in a bale of functionalism,” the designer muses, “isn’t that much better than being an artist in a bale of abstraction.”


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Having perhaps decided that they would never completely fit it in either the design world or that of ne arts, the duo have simply single-mindedly forged ahead with whatever they wanted to do. Indeed, Smeets and Tynagel have developed a rather devil may care attitude after 17 years in the field. “Bad design and bad art they called it,” Smeets describes the attitudes of critics towards their craft during the early days of Studio Job, “Bad kitsch and bad symbolism they called it. We somehow managed to be stubborn and hold on... believing in the work, studded by the history of art and design.”


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Their belief in their own ability and rebellious nature has paid off; items designed by Studio Job have been exhibited in museums and galleries the world over, including the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. They have also managed to win over their fair share of collectors who routinely shell over hundreds of thousands of dollars for the duo’s one-off pieces. The media have even given them their own label for lack of a better categorisation: “neo-gothic”, a style placed within an enigmatic, intellectual framework by the number and complexity of symbols and signi ers it conveys.


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Studio Job divides the work they produce, like fashion designers, into the mass-market and the “couture”. Smeets and Tynagel’s designs can be seen on everything from fabrics to stained glass windows to the postage stamp they designed to mark King Willem-Alexander’s ascension to the Dutch throne. The designers have collaborated with brands as diverse as Moooi to create their iconic Paper Chandelier XL light, and Land Rover on a special 65th anniversary installation. The studio’s “couture” pieces hold a special place in the designers’ hearts however, serving as expressions of their artistic explorations and personal milestones. “We produced these pieces in our own atelier,” says Smeets, “investing impossible amounts of working hours, precious materials, high end craftsmanship, love, and care.” Touching upon the subject of criticism, which inevitably follows every famous designer but particularly those as polarising as Studio Job, Smeets and Tynagel merely shrugs them off with a smile: “These pieces are not for everyone... but should they be? They are free to be seen and touched in many publications, books, and in public collections. We humans do not have to own everything to enjoy its existence. And our couture pieces will stand the test of time and will be conserved and exhibited long after we are all gone.”


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At this year’s Design Miami/Basel 2015, Studio Job brought their A-game in the form of the “autobiographical”Train Crash Table: two carriages colliding head on in a burst of steam. The sculptural piece was more than whimsical art. Rather it symbolised the ending of Smeets and Tynagel’s almost 20 year long romance. No matter how final their love-life may be, the duo maintains their symbiotic working relationship. “A big personal event like this has a very big impact on the work,” Smeets says, “although it didn’t have any impact on how Nynke and I are together. We are still soul mates, a super team! We turned the breakup into inspiration to create new pieces so that’s a good thing I reckon.”


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Their Train Crash Table exhibited a distinct black and gold style and is a clear extension of the format created last year for Carpenters Workshop Gallery, exhibited at Design Miami 2014. The larger than life sculptural works were made of materials including bronze, cast aluminium, marble, gold leaf, and Swarovski crystal. Famous global architectural landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and the Burj Khalifa were turned into gilded icons... extravagant protrusions to such functional household objects as lamps, clocks, and cupboards. “It’s like a contemporary version of applied arts of the Renaissance,” Smeets toldDezeen magazine last year, referencing the intricate vision and craftsmanship that has gone into every piece. The Burj Khalifa sculpture alone, climbed by a King-Kong- esque gorilla, is covered in 120,000 hand applied crystals and took four people six weeks to finish. Despite the futuristic Burj Khalifa, Studio Job’s sculptural furniture shows a reverence for the un-ironic craftsmanship of old. Smeets told the press last year: “If you go back to the 16th century and I mention Green Vaults; the Grünes Gewölbe Museum. It’s the most important, the most beautiful collection of applied art commissioned by Augustus II the Strong. These pieces are still in existence today and are still in top condition because they are so precious.”


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The media like to compare Studio Job to the American artist mogul Jeff Koons for their cartoonish, “kitsch” creations. In fact, there are other parallels to draw beyond aesthetic resonance: both Koons and Studio Job prefer not to dwell on any deep messages. Koons has specifically told critics and media alike that there’s nothing more to his works than that you can see. Similarly, Smeets and Tynagel regularly dismisses enquiries into a deeper

meaning. When asked about their landmark works, they simple answered: “There can be a message, yes. But in the end it’s just a lamp and a clock.” Smeets also professes to admiring the work of British artist Damian Hirst for his “clear vision”. On the other end of the studio’s historical scale of influence is Johann Melchior Dinglinger, one of Europe’s greatest goldsmiths who lived during the 17th and 18th centuries and has created some of the most intricate designs in gold and precious gems in European history. It is no wonder that Smeets and Tynagel admire this master craftsman. After all, this was a man who can take even the most simple bowl and turn it into an exquisite sculpture.


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Often cast in bronze, the physical potential and malleability of the materials that Studio Job uses is pushed to the limit. With techniques often more in keeping with that of traditional guilds than modern furniture makers, they combine a rarely-seen level of craftsmanship with extreme ornamentation. Their iconography is at once heraldic and cartoony and their daring to use controversial iconography has landed them in trouble with viewers, the press, and a client in the past. “Icons have the connotations they have and we cannot change their meaning. But that doesn’t mean we are bad people when we use controversial icons,” Smeets explains, “However, it also doesn’t mean that we can’t use a controversial icon by censoring ourselves. Design can be so expressive that it doesn’t need to be called art to be accepted.”


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