Joseph Grima

A design school should be a platform open to the city

The new creative director of the Design Academy Eindhoven talked about his thoughts and projects linked to education.

What does being the creative director of the DAE involve, what are the aims and the difficulties?

I have always felt a kind of debt of gratitude towards this institution. The Design Academy (along with other Dutch institutions and designers) was responsible for a clear and sudden change in what was considered to be design. I still remember the surprise and excitement I felt when I saw the projects from the Academy for the first time, during one of my visits to the Milan Furniture Fair when I had not long graduated, around 2004 or 2005. Later on I could see – and this is still the thing that strikes me most – how a school can succeed in having a series of effects at different levels, on an entire cultural sector. To find myself leading this school fifteen years on is therefore a huge responsibility and a dilemma, in the sense that on the one hand I can’t simply think of extending what has been the tradition of provocation and innovation of the school and on the other I can’t just change things just for the sake of changing them.

What is your role within the Design Academy?

In the school there is great freedom of navigation, there are no preset directions and it will be my task to indicate a route. The role of creative director is to infuse within this machine, that has many autonomous parts, a shared direction, provide cues and provocations that can be responded to collectively.

I can’t simply think of extending what has been the tradition of provocation and innovation of the school and on the other I can’t just change things just for the sake of changing them.

What was their reason for inviting you?

The school has a very particular set up. On the one hand it is extremely international, on the other it is strongly rooted in a Flemish tradition of teaching and design. There is a desire for internationalisation, I should point out that I am the first foreign director of the school. What is more I believe that I correspond to a notion of designer that there is in this school. My work is rooted very little in a single territory and it moves in a triangle between art, architecture and design.

Let’s talk about the Open Design School in Matera, where you have the possibility of experimenting with unusual approaches in an academic context.

The Open Design School is a school that is not a school, it is a place of exchange where we bring together diverse knowledge and experiences. It is a workshop in which we try to eliminate the distinction between the teacher and the student, where you learn by doing. A key aspect for me is that the workshops put together very different age groups, something that overcomes what in my opinion is one of the biggest limitations of traditional education. We see school and university as periods in our life that end. In reality learning is an experience that never ends and that perpetually returns. The school tries to be a tool for research and real innovation, a platform open to the city.

I believe that I correspond to a notion of designer that there is in this school. My work is rooted very little in a single territory and it moves in a triangle between art, architecture and design.

The project Ideas City seems to have similar intentions, a series of residencies promoted by the New Museum in New York, that has recently ended.

Ideas City is a factory of human networks that is based on an interest in reciprocal and horizontal learning processes. It has the goal of creating social and convivial moments, situations that are not separate from learning but instead central to this experience. The formula proposes bringing together under the same roof, for a concentrated period of time, 40 people from different backgrounds, from both a geographical and disciplinary point of view. Ideas City attempts to reproduce the vital intensity that students experience at university. In the seven days of residency you eat, live, work and sleep together. It is only through strong empathy and sharing that relationships can be cemented between people. During the seven days of residency concrete projects can be developed, that the creators often continue to implement also afterwards. An important consequence has been that of managing to involve various local entities in the discussion. The New Museum presented itself to everyone as an open and neutral platform, a temporary embassy, which worked very well. Between Ideas City and Open Design School more or less the same themes are addressed but within completely different time-frames. The first is a short and very intense project, the second is longer and more extended over time. With the Academy one can instead work within an even longer time-frame.

One of the biggest limitations of traditional education is the division of the students by age

Overall one can see how in your various roles: designer, researcher, curator or creative director, some common themes come through. Which one do you like most?

They are slightly different spheres that I manage to do only because I also follow others. I am very skeptical about specialisation, that is a product of modernity. Modernity can be defined as a process of sectorialisation of human knowledge. The division of cognitive territory makes it more easy to certify but often ends up being a prison. I have always tried to escape from these confines of knowledge. The design and physical construction of a project therefore becomes fundamental for me. To only be a thinker or processor one risks distancing oneself from the creative act and losing sensitivity towards the difficulties and challenges of the creative condition. I try to be difficult to pigeonhole into a set field. This makes you ambiguous with respect to the market but I also find ambiguity to be a fertile quality and I try to cultivate it.

Sodales purus vel vero possimus temporibus venenatis

Sodales purus vel vero possimus temporibus venenatis

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