Art and design exhibitions typically show finished works, but Christien Meindertsma: Everything Connects focuses much more on process than product. Indeed, it might best be described as an explanatory or documentary offering, highlighting two of the internationally recognised Dutch designer’s on-going works – Flax Project and Fibre Market.
Meindertsma, a graduate of the Eindhoven Design Academy, has devoted her still-blossoming career to exploring what she calls the ‘life of products and raw materials’. In some cases, these investigations have led to commercial products such as her wholly biodegradable flax chair, which won the Dutch Design Award in 2016.
In Flax Project and Fibre Market, Meindertsma works with filmmaker Roel van Tour and photographer Mathijs Labadie, to bring together documentary film, photographs and sample materials to chronicle the surprisingly fascinating evolution of linen and wool fabrics from raw and recycled fibres. In addition to texts, photographs and films, identical long tables display carefully arrayed materials chronicling the metamorphosis of the two kinds of fibres.
For Flax Project that means several bales of flax in various stages of refinement, spooled linen thread, woven fabric, and a finished flax chair. Flax Project, began in 2012 and has continued with multiple permutations since. It began with the designer monitoring a 15-acre field of flax grown by Gert Jan von Dongen in the Flevopolder region of the Netherlands. Because of the warmth and wetness provided by the Gulf Stream, this area is ideal for raising flax, 90% of which is exported to China. ‘I began to investigate what happens to the 10% of flax that stays in Europe and to find out whether locally produced flax could again become a viable commodity’, the designer writes in a text panel. After becoming ‘quite attached’ to the flax she watched mature, she wound up buying up the whole crop – 10,000 kilos of fibre – for her research.
Fibre Market (2016) focuses on wool fibres recycled from discarded sweaters using industrial sorting machines. Meindertsma acquired 1,000 such garments and had them scanned for their fibre content. The analysis revealed sometimes eyeopening disparities between reality and the label’s claims. After sorting, the sweaters were shredded into fibre, ready to become something new.
A process-oriented exhibition like this runs the risk of becoming a glorified science-fair project. But the meticulous, understatedly elegant presentation gives it an all-important aesthetic dimension befitting an art museum. What results are opportunities for both looking and learning – not a bad combination.
Until 20 October 2019, Art Institute Chicago, 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60603 USA
Blog post by Kyle MacMillan.