Dutch Tord Boontje is one of Europe’s most celebrated industrial designers. In collaboration with British fashion designer legend Alexander McQueen he created one of his first projects for Swarovski in 2003, the spectacularly sparkling crystal tree “Silent Light”. Now he’s back in Wattens with the installation “Winter Wonderland”, a luminous fairytale landscape with sparkling sculptures. An interview about the design world and how Tord Boontje wants to put visitors in a “Winter Wonderland” state of mind.
Do you consider yourself an artist or designer?
An artistic designer. I come from design but the boundary between design and art is not as rigid as it used to be. Artists nowadays make design and designers make art. Everything is much more fluid which is better for everybody.
Light installations, furniture, textiles… You are creating a big range of products. What’s the key of your success?
I don’t know if it’s a success to do such a big range. Sometimes it’s much better to focus. I enjoy having new experiences though and to not repeat myself. As a creative person you always want to do new things, you look for new things. You want to develop and to learn. Also I love to work with new people – artists, technicians, graphic designers – and discover new materials or technologies. That I really find exciting.
You once said that you love how fashion industry works with textiles and that you used this for furniture design?
Totally. When I was working as a product designer for Alexander McQueen I went to all the fashion shows. The preparation, the clothes, the models, the music, the movement – it was so fascinating to watch how everything came together in one moment like this “Gesamtkunstwerk”. In contrast, design presentations were really boring at that time. Putting some objects on plinks was considered an exhibition. I know very well that I don’t want to be a fashion designer but I learnt a lot from that industry. That’s why I try to bring the more experimental approach of fashion into my work and create experiences for visitors.
So not only boundaries between design and art are more and more fluid but also between different design disciplines?
Yes. Whether you design stamps or a chair, the design process itself is not so different from each objects. The technique is different. That’s why designers always work with other people who are specialists in something. As a designer you’re not a specialist in anything really.
How do you develop ideas?
I always work with other people. There’s four people in my studio and then there’s always a client, a manufacturer, technicians and engineers involved. For the new installation here in Wattens I’ve worked with the team of MK Illumination in Innsbruck. What they did really fantastically was to take my drawings which are two-dimensional and translate them into three-dimensional really big sculptures. The character is exactly the same, it’s so similar to my drawings. This shows that collaborating with others is the key to success.
You work with Swarovski for more than 10 years already, the “Winter Wonderland” is your newest project. What’s the idea behind the monumantal animals and objects all over the Kristallwelten garden?
I like to make things that are slightly too big because that makes you feel like a child again. Imagine if you sit next to the giant ibex or mouse, even underneath it – you will feel like a child again. And you instantly connect to a time where you had less problems, you were freer. It puts you in a certain state of mind. That’s the “Winter Wonderland” effect. Also making small Christmas installations wouldn’t have the impact because the size of the Swarovski Kristallwelten is quite large. So you need to do something with a certain gesture.
You work all over the world – Japan, Abu Dhabi, Milan. Do you look back at past projects?
Normally always the project you’re working on, is the most exciting one. But I like to look back on my projects in Japan and wherever, they have become really important for me. For example once I did a very big installation called “Happy Ever After” in Milan. That was the beginning of my collaboration with the furniture manufacturer “Maroso”. The whole installation was one enormous large experiment of how to work with textiles – how to combine textiles and furniture but also how to bring a different emotion into the world of furniture. Furniture design at that time was very minimalist, even to a point that was so extremely that it was boring. I wanted to bring something else, another sensuality into that design world. The exhibition worked. People walked in and instantly felt the energy we put into the installation and the special atmosphere – the music, the colours, the light. Everything worked together. Like that idea for a fashion show.
Tord Boontje was born in the Dutch city of Enschede in 1968. He comes from a family where art and design took on an important role in everyday live. His mother, a textile designer and teacher in textile and history of art, was encouraging him young to make things. He studied at the Design Academy in Eindhoven and the London Royal College of Art. In 1996, he founded the Tord Boontje Studio based in Shoreditch, London. Boontje’s works have been shown in international exhibitions and have received numerous awards, including the prestigious Red Dot Award, which he received in 2013 for the second time.
His installation “Winter Wonderland” in Wattens is available until January 21, 2017.