Summer Talk #4: Maria Blaisse

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Summer Talk #4: Maria Blaisse

an interview by MATHIAS SCHWARTZ-CLAUSS


Maria Blaisse is an independent designer and international visiting professor, sharing her way of working in projects on "material, form and movement”. She’s given workshops in Boisbuchet in 2012 and 2013, along with an exhibition called “Moving meshes”. This year she’s giving a workshop called "Abundance beyond waste", together with Li An Phoa.

Picture from 2012 workshop by Dimitrios Stamatakis
Pictures from previous workshops
What in your personal life brought you to design?

Maria: I'm born as a designer I'm afraid.
I've always worked with my hands, always. And I love making presents for people. In Holland we have Sinterklaas, where we make surprises for each other. So I would take three months for this and put them under my bed and then surprise everybody. Most people do it in one day or two days but...

After university did you immediately open your own office or studio?
Or how did that happen, how did you become professional?

Maria: I went to New York to learn from Jack Larsen. I saw an exhibition on his work in Amsterdam in the Stedelijk Museum and I knew I had to learn this, what he was doing. I did that one year and learnt about colour and structure and weaving. And he knew many designers all over the world so it was quite international.
The year after I went to travel for a year in South America where I learnt about all kinds of plating (diagonal braiding) and the pre-Columbian techniques and it was fascinating. I also learnt dying with natural colours from the indians. Most of the techniques of this old cultures were so complicated that I had to study afterwards. I did that for seven years, studying all these techniques.

Research in Bamboo, Moving Meshes
And you were teaching at the Rietveld Academy as you were practicing as a designer. How did you, then and now, find your clients? Do they come to you or do you approach them?

Maria: I like very much to do research. So when I start a project it's mostly out of my own interest and takes one to three years. When I'm ready people come in to work with me very naturally.

Can you describe this natural happening?

Maria:Regarding the Flexcaps for Issey Miyake I did all the research, went to the factories for the productions, made molds... So I knew very well the rubber industrial process. I also had already started with EVA foam, and knew the machines. At that time, I went to New York, because with the hat I had made in Holland there was no reaction. So I went there with a friend to meet people and have fun with my hat. And then in one gallery I met a representative of Issey Miyake. Six weeks later I was in Tokyo.

Flexicap project
Gauze hat, Issey Miyake show 1988
Is there a certain identity of your design approach?

Maria: I took away the money value of design, because it has a commercial value. I'm looking for other things: properties, how to work with one form. I research for a long time until one form can perform many forms and you become more creative with only one object, one piece of clothing, ... And I think that finally when you think of producing you're very economic, you're very creative. Now I've been researching for forty years, and with this way of thinking I can design for clothing, for furniture and so on.

In the development of your artistic career, form and structure are what you are concentrating on, but on the other hand you are opening up the possibilities within…

Maria: Yes, but I found out that structure and construction are one thing now. So you don't have to make anything for a specific structure any more: you can have things together, things that move, transform. It's a system, and that concept is now available for a lot of things.

Your work very much develops itself. Are you also getting inspiration from other disciplines?

Maria: Music and dance. Movement is also inherent in all the materials anyway. And I'm very much interested in how movement happens, how birds fly, how everything moves. To make something solid flexible, and something flexible solid. You don't have to change from one material to the other, you can express that in one material. That's what I like to find out, because it's opening up the possibilities all the time.


"You don't have to change from one material to the other, you can express that in one material. "


Research in Bamboo
Kuma guna, costumes for dance
Do you follow the contemporary discussion in design?

Maria: I'm only one person, so I have to do many things. And when I follow too many things I get distracted from what I have to do. I only meet people that are independent from the main things happening in design because they make so commercial things. I like to very precisely develop this, to show much more than all these trends.
I'm attending quite a lot of things but very much connected to my way of thinking. But in music and dance I follow many young people as well.

Spheres, costumes for dance
Do we need design? 

Maria: I'm working now with cork, but for me it's just a medium to communicate all the qualities of the material, but it could be anything else. In the end it's communication. For me the most important thing is that we can communicate and my work is communicating to invite creativity, using our talents, and having fun.
Design is very powerful in statements, also in political statements. So I use that language, but if I had another language, like singing, I would use that. Now I've developed a full consciousness and try to learn from nature and work with that, that's my language now. The most important thing is to be conscious and careful with the world, with each other, and ourselves. The medium is not so important.
Design comes second. Becoming conscious of how we live on the earth and taking responsibility for that comes first. 


"The most important thing is to be conscious and careful with the world, with each other, and ourselves. The medium is not so important."


What did you do here in Boisbuchet ?

Maria: I've been teaching a lot giving workshops in buildings: academies and universities. And the potential of the students is not coming out clearly: telephones. So mostly I take people in nature. You're together for a week or so, you share, you meet your most natural qualities, and there is your power. So you get a lot of confidence. Inspiration is always there and you have access to it. And you share knowledge with each other. So you realize that we need the differences of each other.

I had to make a lot of effort to find places to do this, to have electricity and a place to sleep, to eat. And when I found Boisbuchet I was like “wow!” This is the place where you can share your night and day together, food, rooms. Now there's a place to meet. And you meet on so many levels. 

I also learn so much from the workshops I give. The most important thing I found out now is how to work without wasting: Design in such a way so that there's no waste made.

For the next time, I'd like to really respect the material and be more careful. And then you have also more results and more connection. Every time you waste, there's something disconnecting. The next workshop will be about this, just like nature. Nature has no waste.

Up for Maria Blaisse and Li An Phoa's workshop this summer? Have a look!

Workshop "Awareness of Form" by Maria Blaisse 2012 © Domaine de Boisbuchet