2°C – Maria Blaisse


1 October 2015

Could design play a constructive role in the climate change debate?

This was the question that Disegno posed for 2°C, a new project that spreads across our latest magazine Disegno No.9 and into a corresponding exhibition at The Aram Gallery in London.

For 2°C, Disegno set 10 leading designers and architects a challenge: could they redesign the public communication of climate change? The intention was not to provide finished public campaigns or definite answers, but rather to provocate and probe. How might a change in the way we conceive of and talk about climate change affect the climate change movement itself?

In a series of printed proposals in the magazine and objects displayed in the exhibition, the contributing designers – Marjan van Aubel, Sam Baron, Maria Blaisse, Ilona Gaynor, Ross Lovegrove, Neri & Hu, Parsons & Charlesworth, PearsonLloyd, Universal Design Studio and Dominic Wilcox – responded in hugely diverse ways.

Below, we are delighted to highlight Maria Blaisse's contribution. Blaisse is a Dutch creative whose work has spanned across product design, fashion, architecture and performance. She has worked with dancers Marcela Giesche and Kenzo Kusuda, and footwear brand Camper; created foam costumes for the 1996 Kuma Guna dance performance at Bickersgracht Studio in Amsterdam; and in the 1980s, Blaisse was as a collaborator of fashion designer Issey Miyake, for whom she created rubber headpieces and veil hats.

Now, much of Blaisse's creative energy has focused on her work with flexible bamboo structures, pieces that fluctuate between sculpture, wearable and architecture. For 2°C, inspired by naturalist Viktor Schauberger’s book Living Energies, Blaisse worked with these structures to think about how humans might interact more carefully with nature. Blaisse believes that climate change is caused by a fundamental disconnect with the world around us and chose to present a model of an oloid structure, a highly flexible form drawn from nature. When worn, its manipulations around the body and capacity for transformation stress the need for an integrated view of humanity and the natural world.

Tell me about how you responded to the brief.

It’s very important to look at words that are misused commercially, such as “sustainability”. Thinking about these terms can make us aware of how to take care of the world. My profession is about taking care of materials and researching materials; how to be as careful as possible to use all of their capacities.

How do you carry out that work?

I work from an upside-down pyramid model, which lets me develop things slowly. The main point is at the bottom and therefore you stay connected to all the things you’re developing around that. It maximises your potential as a designer and a person. We’re all connected to each other, to materials and other disciplines. That encourages coherence, because it’s clear that from one way of working you can cover all different disciplines: from small-scale clothing and product design, up to architecture. I call this way of working “counter-engineering”, because it’s the opposite way to that in which an engineer works: an engineer will have a project and will use a bit of everything to make a complete form. But you waste so much energy and time in having all these little details come together in something.

Your philosophy is that everything is connected?

Yes. Think of a triangle with a point at the top: that’s how money and power works. The people in power direct the flow of money and they misuse the earth, people and materials below them. It’s disconnected because there are only a few people who are in power and who have brought us to the state we’re in now. We have to disarm them, such that they don’t have power over us. Money is the medium through which they work and it's been directed in a wrong way. They have caused disasters, wars, the gap between rich and poor. That’s on a very big scale. But on a small scale, as designers, we can work with much more care with materials and express much more than just one purpose and be much more meaningful. That’s the reverse way of working and it makes you creative. It excites you and encourages you to do much more.

How did you as a designer approach this problem that the communication around climate change isn’t very effective?

Through workshops working with natural materials. You realise very quickly that there is enormous potential within material, but also your own potential as to what can be achieved through collaboration. Each person is different, but you need each other and you need each other’s differences. You have to take so much care with the small things and then you become more sensitive. Work with and align yourself with nature and your body.

Do you think the way you work could be applied in a wider context to solve some of these problems?

Absolutely. I think my way of working is something that I’ve tried to move away from money. It’s not money that creates value, so I try to make materials be so expressive that they can do anything and be free like in nature. It’s counter-engineering: coming from bottom up and becoming clearer and stronger. If we start with our own uniqueness and qualities to work together, it will make a big change. It’s all connected and you work together. You're open to everything and have the same frequency with which you’re working and understanding one another.