Raised in New Zealand, but now calling Rotterdam in the Netherlands home, designer Sabine Marcelis experiments with materiality when creating other-worldly art, furniture, lighting and installations with some of the world’s most prominent global brands. We spoke exclusively with the design innovator:
Tell us about your life and career as a designer?
I studied industrial design in New Zealand for two years, but after wanting a bit more autonomy in the design approach, I transferred to The Netherlands to complete the final 2 years of my degree at Design Academy Eindhoven. I always knew I didn't want to get a 9-5 job somewhere, but to have the freedom to set my own hours (and rules). So as soon as I graduated, I got a studio space in Rotterdam and started doing self-initiated projects. In the beginning, I actually worked a lot for fashion designers and artists. My strength really lies in my knowledge and interest in production processes, so where they had these fantastic crazy ideas, I knew how to realise them into feasible things. Figuring out a way of producing them and coordinating the production process etc. Then I slowly started doing less freelance work and my own. And I started working with galleries and collaborating with fashion brands on larger projects. In recent years I am moving more towards installations and architectural settings. I find it very interesting to be able to influence the experience of a special setting. I did a number of collaborations with architecture firm OMA (Rem Koolhaas) in recent years and these collaborations have allowed me to explore a whole other level of design. My aim is to keep growing and pushing boundaries and to not be stuck doing only product design which I what I originally studied.
In your design, what is the meaning of colour, light and transparency? What do you think about its possibilities and interests?
For me, and in my work, the play of light, colour, transparency and reflection are tools to create a static object which you don't experience as static. There is no rocket science hidden inside the projects, but the clever use of playing with light makes the objects and spaces come alive. When you move around them, they are forever changing. Light is everything. light creates shadows and reflection. light manipulates colour. It is the ultimate catalyst. And there are so many ways in which light can be a part of a project. Introducing artificial light or working strictly with the natural light in a space all play very different and unique roles to produce interesting effects. For now, these tools are my main point of interest, until I find something else to capture my fascination!
What is your vision?
I think the design is such a fluid profession. As a designer, you can work in so many different ways. In mass production, in social humanitarian situations, in luxury, in food, and in a way, I want to do all of that within my lifetime. I don't want to be restricted to a certain scale or market. I like to be able to move between object and architecture, commercial, commissioned work and museum shows.
My vision or goal is to always strive for something very new. To create work which you have not seen before. To push the boundaries of production and materiality. Constantly working in close relation with industry specialists to try out new ways of using machinery and combining materials to create special objects and spaces. I am very easily bored and don't like to look back so much So I am constantly working on many different projects at the same time. Limited edition pieces and site-specific work are my main focus for the coming time as they are a way of working where you can then be done with it again. When a unique piece is sold, the next one has to be different again. When an edition is sold out, I don't have to keep working on the same thing. This is very important to me. It gives me a sense of freedom. to keep being able to move onto other things. Collaborations with interesting people from different fields give me a lot of energy and this
What inspires you?
I am equally influenced by natural phenomena as I am with new developments in technology. New inventions related to production processes are what get me excited and are what allow me to push my work further. And nature is a constant source of inspiration. I have my eyes wide open and take in the world around me. I know it sounds cliche, but inspiration is everywhere. I think it's just the most important to be aware of your surrounding and find opportunities in unlikely places, I don't look at Pinterest or design blogs, because then you have the same input as other designers and will inevitably design similar work.
How would you define your creative identity?
I am a designer who works between different fields and scales within the design but always with the same starting point; To highlight material properties in a new and interesting way through experimentation, often in close collaboration with an industry specialist.
I always hope to create a moment of wonder and work which makes you want to take a second glance. Mostly static pieces which however are not experienced in a static way, because of the way the light (both natural and artificial) interacts with the work, it is experienced differently from all angels.
You seem obsessed with reflective surface, tell us more?
My work always stems from a fascination with something -In my recent projects the fascination has been manipulating light. Materials which allow for manipulation of their transparency and reflective qualities are the most interesting to work with when playing with light -which is why resin and glass have been my materials of choice. Now I am exploring new fascinations also, I want to constantly keep evolv-ing through my work. When creating surfaces you also don't limit yourself to a par-ticular scale. With the same material explorations I am able to create small artistic objects, to giant architectural applications. This freedom is very important and exciting for me.
Tell me about how your practice has evolved since founding the studio, and what kind of work you’re interested in doing next.
I used to believe that when a designer or artist does a collaboration with a brand or something more commercial, that the outcome would always be a compromise. Or a watered down version of a pure idea. But I now believe that it can ac-tually be more than a project done autonomously. I am very careful and picky with the commercial projects I do. And make sure from day one that the client’s creative vision is flexible enough for my freedom in designing. I do believe that when researching a brand’s story and history that opportunities and ideas present themselves which I would normally not have come across when doing a purely autonomous project. With Fendi for example the idea of working and designing with water presented itself when I realised that the brand had this strong recurring theme of water in their history. I really enjoy working with this new element of movement. I am now in my current projects exploring that further! I love to combine working with clients as well as doing completely autonomous work. The two different worlds provide me with a lot of energy and inspiration. When something doesn’t work or is not appropriate in the one project, it could be great in the next. I will always stay working across many fields and in differ-ent scales I think.
How do you typically begin a project? Does it start with a sketch, an idea, a material ... and where is it made? How involved in the making and manu-facturing of your work are you? Do you have a big team to help you?
I'm not a sketcher. I get my ideas on the road, from living a life with my eyes wide open and absorbing everything I experience as a potential source of inspi-ration. I experiment a lot and spend a lot of time in factories. Only when I find something of interest does the design process begin of giving shape.I do the colour tests and produce the colour files myself. I am there for the casting of the final colours, but I don’t physically finish my pieces. They take SO much time to produce and polish. I am fortunate to work with fantastic craftsmen who real-ise my ideas for me. Everything is done in my studio or in and around Rotter-dam. It's important for me to be close to the production.
What is your goal as a designer? What are you trying to accomplish with your work, or communicate to people through your work?
I just hope to always achieve a moment of wonder. To invite whoever is experi-encing the work to look a little closer. To move around the object to see all sides, to navigate through an installation and discover more. My worst night-mare is if someone would look at my work and go ‘ah yeah’ and move on with-out feeling the need to find out more. To be enticed and curious about it. I de-sign because I wouldn’t know what else would make me as happy as it does. It consumes my life. My main goal as a designer is to feel fulfilled with what I do. To challenge myself and my team and to have moments of achieving the im-possible. To make that deadline etc. It's an addiction.