Aldo Bakker for Georg Jensen


17 April 2014

Vessels, it would seem, are a topic of enduring fascination for the Dutch designer Aldo Bakker: “They are a metaphor, in a way, for many things in our lives.”

Since his emergence in the 1990s, Bakker’s work has been dominated by containers. His salt cellars, oil pans, carafes and flasks have been cast in porcelain, silver and copper, exploring highly sculptural forms that break with traditional typologies and functionality. His latest collection of vessels, a collaboration with Danish brand Georg Jensen, continues this area of research.

Shown at Spazio Rossana Orlandi in Milan during the Salone del Mobile, the collection is a continuation of Georg Jensen’s recent series of collaborations. The brand, founded in 1904, is known for its Art Nouveau silversmithery, but has recently worked with contemporary designers Ilse Crawford and Scholten & Baijings.

To mark the collection’s launch, Disegno spoke with Bakker. In the below interview, he discusses the challenges of production, working in new materials, and his respect for Henning Koppel (1918-1981), a designer whose fluid, highly sculptural pitchers were a central strand of Georg Jensen’s mid-century output.

What impact did the Georg Jensen brand have on your designs?

That’s difficult for me to answer because I’m still close to the project. I need time to step back and see how the brand has influenced me, because it definitely has. I felt honoured when they approached me because I know the history and legacy of Georg Jensen. I’m mainly referring to the pieces of Henning Koppel created for them. I like to think there was a dialogue between his work and my work in this collection.

In both your work and Henning’s a lot of inspiration seems to come from natural forms. What informed this collection?

In my case there is never a literal form that inspires me. Nature is always there but you have to be careful - you don’t want to compete with nature. We can learn everything from nature, in a way we are dominated by it. It is more perfect than anything we can achieve. To a certain point you can use something from nature but you cannot compete.

The stainless steel i salt cellar

Do you consciously try and provoke with the forms you use? Tableware is usually far more functional in its appearance

This is something that just naturally happened. When I was training I learned from books and images, and had to find my own answers to geometric and organic forms. I had to find my own reasons for why I create. It comes from a personal need to answer questions to myself. Through this you automatically end up with objects that have a certain dose of introspection, quietness and a natural appearance.

This is your first time working in stainless steel. How did that inform your designs?

Water relates perfectly to the high gloss of stainless steel. The water has no grip on the metal so the it’s always in motion. The pitcher has a type of dialogue with water because it dances on the surface. That’s why the overall shape itself is a frozen image of the fluid processes of water. There is a repetition of the fluid shape.

The salt pourer does something else. With it you can clearly speak of its character. The object is a shy introverted creature, but it cannot escape its exposure because of the back, which is shining steel. It’s like it’s making itself small as it’s being burdened by the exposure it gets because of the high gloss.

Pitcher, the largest piece in Bakker's collection for Georg Jensen

These objects posses a certain mystery. Their forms don’t reveal the function.

There is chemistry between the content and the vessel itself. It has to seduce and it has to make you curious and to hint at what will come. A pitcher is a rich subject. It is an active element in your home; when you put it on a table it is the piece that gives direction. If you invest time in a subject you find unexpected layers that otherwise you will never find and I think this is how the effect came about.

You’re work is often about making people re-evaluate how they interact with an object. Why make that so central?

I think that’s all design, in a way. You have to question people every time. A piece should not give itself away immediately; you should have to make some effort as a user. I try to find the right balance with a piece so that it is quiet as an unused object but in use it is clear and functions in the way you expect.

Do you think the surprise and joy of an object comes from the relationship between function and form or is it more to do with playing with expectations?

They are closely related. I believe as people we always reflect ourselves in objects we find and create ourselves. It is our way of understanding these things and giving meaning to them. It is a matter of finding exactly the right relationship between an object’s gesture, its use, function and presence. The relationship between all the elements that you collect to create your object is everything.

Bakker's cast steel Iron Pourer oil pipe

The Oil Pipe is the most immediately arresting item in the collection because it is very different from the other pieces. Why is it so far removed from the others?

I had the image for the Oil Pipe ready for a couple of years. I was struck by the image of the closed triangular shape. It intrigues me because it could be any size, it could be architecture. But when it’s on the table the table becomes the landscape. It has a kind of ancient, primal shape, so for me it was logical to use the casting technique to get this old, earthy texture and tone, rather than the stainless steel.

But how does that relate to the other three pieces?

They are not necessary a family of items and that’s also never the case with Georg Jensen. I was very happy because when they approached me they were well informed about my work and way of working. They know that I would like to make items for the interior that are like accents, that are outspoken, can manifest themselves and can age.

How much freedom did Georg Jensen give you for the project?

There was not a brief there was just an understanding. I was encouraged to express myself as much as possible in combination with the values of Georg Jensen. It was a healthy and a constructive collaboration. What I could see in Milan was that the public interacted well with the pieces. When they came close to the items there was a kind of a surprise. I think there was a respect towards Georg Jensen for launching these kinds of products, which are different from their previous ones.

The collection's sugar caster

How did the production process work with Georg Jensen?

It was very different from what I’m used to, because in my own projects I always directly work with the craftsmen but here there was more distance. The production was done abroad. I mainly worked with Bent Hedegaard Nobert, who is the wonderful product development manager at Georg Jensen. It was a pleasure to work with him since he understands his profession so well. He knows what the difficulties and possibilities are with stainless steel.

Was it uncomfortable for you not having control over the process or did you trust the people you were working with?

I wanted to have complete faith but I was nervous as hell because I am so used to controlling everything to almost the last moment. However, I was extremely happy when I saw the results because it was so close to what I had in mind.