Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Interview - Trent Jansen

Trent Jansen's highly acclaimed Pregnant Chair for Moooi

extremely cute concept sketches for the famed Kissing Pendants!

...those beautiful Kissing Pendants (again!), which recently won the Bombay Sapphire Design Discovery Award 2008.

I was so excited to meet Australia's designer-of-the-moment Trent Jansen recently at the Bombay Sapphire Design Discovery Awards in Melbourne. As one of the recipients of the Design Discovery Award, I was expecting Trent to be inundated with media and networking professionals all evening... but the event was thankfully very low-key, and I was pleasantly surprised to see him lurking in the shadows, and generally keeping a very low profile!

There is so much to like about Trent. He's thoughtful and so modest in conversation about his work.
Despite the accolades following his success with the Pregnant Chair in Milan earlier this year (which is being produced by Moooi), and the recent Design Discovery award for his stunning Kissing Pendants, he seems utterly unaffected by all the media attention and new-found notoriety. At just 26 (I think?), he's polite and quiet, and during our conversation, asked as much about me as I did about him!

Trent's clever, playful designs are such a breath of fresh air for the Australian design industry. His pieces perfectly reflect the designer himself - relaxed, slightly quirky, instantly warm and friendly, and entirely unpretentious! I know I've said it before, but I really am convinced we're looking at the next superstar of Australian design here - watch this space!

Just found this great little
promotional video about COFA graduate Trent on Utube... it gives a fantastic insight into Trent's work and design ethos. My interview below!

Tell me a little about your background - what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?

I studied the Design Degree at the College of Fine Arts at the University of NSW in Paddington, Sydney. I am not sure how I ended up doing what I am doing. I have wanted to be an architect since I was very young, but went to university to study graphic design. Luckily I enrolled in a multidisciplinary design degree and at some point I become interested in object design.

You’ve become very well known in the design world in the last year or so, and are getting a lot of media attention currently in the wake of your success with the Pregnant Chair in Milan. However, you’ve been plugging away for a lot longer than most people probably realise! How do you feel about this sudden peak in media interest, and is there a sense of pressure to keep the ball rolling?

I guess that the attention is nice I guess, but I do not feel any pressure. So long as I am happy with the work that I am doing, that is the most important thing.

The world of the solo industrial designer is a bit of a mystery to me and many people… What motivates you at the start of a new project? At this stage in your career, how much of your work is self-initiated, as opposed to being specifically commissioned or funded externally? How do you know what to be spending your time on!?

I am not sure what motivates me, I think it is my short attention span. I get bored really easily and I am always looking for the next project or the next place to move on to. I like to always feel like I am moving forward. The motivation for my projects comes from a desire to design worthwhile, sustainable objects to provide thoughtful and long-lasting alternatives to the junk that exists in the world.

A selection of Trent's Sign Stools, created from recycled street signs. Top left - the Sign Stool Limited Edition, designed in 2004. The other styles shown here are Sign Stool 450, a more recent take on the original version, designed for manufacture on a larger scale.

My time is pretty evenly divided up between self motivated projects, commissions and teaching design at the College of Fine Arts, University of NSW. It is often hard to decide which of these takes priority, as they are all important to me. I can not take time away from my self motivated projects, as these are the projects that most strongly represent my values and philosophies as a designer. I can not take time away from my commissions as people are counting on me to deliver a project on time, meeting their expectations. And I can not take time away from my teaching preparation because my students expect a lot of me and they are ruthless if I am not prepared. So I guess I just work longer...

Do you feel at a disadvantage as a designer by being based in Australia? What challenges have you faced by being based so far from the established design hubs in the UK, Italy, The Netherlands etc? Do you feel drawn to base yourself ‘closer to the action’?

I think that Australia's distance has its advantages and disadvantages as a designer. In the past four years this distance has been a huge advantage for me. There are not so many people practicing design in Australia, but there are still some great organisations advocating for Australian design, making it easier to be noticed, published and recognised. The problem with the Australian design industry is what comes after this. Australia lacks the history of quality makers and manufacturers and the general culture of design that exists in many European countries. This makes it hard to have work made and even harder to have work sold.

I have spent the last three months in Holland, France and Switzerland and intend to spend the best part of the next eight months in the same area. It is my aim to see how the industry works over here and find out whether there is any advantage to be gained by living and designing in Europe. At this stage I am still unsure of what the future holds, but being a Dutch citizen and working for Moooi, I have a bit of freedom to check it all out before I make a decision.

The desk is one of the workspaces Trent has occupied since travelling around Europe. He spent a week and a half in a wine region called Minervois in the South of France. This was the little room that he had to work in while I was there.

Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?

Marcel Wanders has always been a great inspiration for me. Recently I have been very interested in the work of Theo Jansen (no relation), a Dutch sculptor and genius...

Where else do you turn for specific inspiration when working on a new project – do you scour books, magazines or the web? Do you pay attention to trends in the broader design world such as film, fashion or architecture?

Most of my inspiration at the moment comes from relationships that I observe and experience everyday. The work that I have been working on lately attempts to form long-term relationships between my work and the people that own it. It is an important factor in designing sustainable work to consider the longevity of these objects, trying to create as much time between purchase and disposal as possible. I have a theory that if I can design 'objects that remind us of ourselves', these objects will become important to their owner and become a lasting part of their life instead of a disposable thing.

At this point in time I am using personal relationships as the conceptual grounding behind these objects, developing pieces that borrow familiar characteristics from the relationships that are so important to all of us. The Pregnant Chair and Kissing Pendants are perfect examples of this theory in practice. If motherhood is important to you then the relationship that exists between the baby and mother chair will speak to you and remind you of your mother or child. This nostalgic response will hopefully create a special place for this object within your home.

Japanese-inspired textile design (2007 and 2008). Top image - Jansen's Ichimatsu textile was selected for the Japanese Environment Minister's traditional Furoshiki (gift-wrapping cloth), designed for use during the 2008 Environment Minister's Summit in Kobe, Japan. This piece was produced in a limited edition by Japanese company Felissimo. Bottom left - closer view of the Ichimatsu design, bottom right - Shrine. Textiles available through Sekimoto.

What does a typical day at work involve for you? How do you divide your time between designing, building prototypes, marketing yourself and seeking collaboration / manufacturers etc…?

There is no such thing as a typical day at the moment. I have spent the last four or five months living out of a suitcase, so stability is a distant memory for me. When I am in the studio I spread my time between working on my own projects, working on commissions and teaching. This can involve anything from sketching, developing presentations, making models, technical drawing and lots and lots of emailing...

Topple Light (2006) available through ISM objects

What are you most proud of professionally?

Working with Moooi. They are a great company and I feel very lucky to be part of their family.

What's the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is being able to do what I love every day.

And the worst?

I can't think of a worst thing...

What would be your dream project?

My dream project was any project for Moooi. Now I am trying to get involved in humanitarian design projects. I am not sure what or where, but I am beginning to make some in-roads now.

What are you looking forward to?

I am looking forward to spending a couple of months in Kiama with my girlfriend and our families over summer.

Where do you shop in Sydney for the tool of your trade? (ie building materials and tools, sketching materials, hardware?)

Most of my supplies come from Reverse Garbage or the Bower on Addison Road in Marrickville. They are always my first port of call because I don't really like to buy new things where I can help it. Old materials and tools are so beautiful.

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

Cafe Giulia most Saturday mornings and Friday lunch-times, on Abercrombie Street in Chippendale, across the road from my studio. By far the best Cafe in Sydney.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?


Sydney’s best kept secret?

Giulia or the Mitchell Road Auction House, which is also Sydney's best kept secret. On Mitchell Road in Alexandria, this place is a treasure hunter's dream I love it and the owner Jeffry is an amazing character...

Trent's studio in Chippendale, Sydney

A big thankyou to Trent for his time with this interview and all the fantastic images! :) Can't wait to see what comes next from him!


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