Interview by Kristjan Mändmaa, Eesti Ekspress 28 october 2004 (English translation from Estonian)
Kristjan Mändmaa: What is important in design?
Annelys de Vet: Personal involvement and related ideas.
Why are you a designer; what do you find appealing in design?
Being able to investigate and develop ideas on society and culture, and transform the observations into useful ideas or even leave them as questions.
You are constantly experimenting with different means and medias. Do you feel that everything is design or would you rather argue that these additional activities are merely attempts to seek variety and avoid boredom?
The output of the work appears in different forms or media, but the input is always the same: ideas. The computer enables me to make videos, printed matter, sounds, images, drawings, websites, newspapers, posters, stamps and coins, all from the same position: sitting at a desk, countless mouse clicks, staring at a screen without a horizon. It’s not the medium that counts, it’s not the skill that matters, but it’s the attitude that makes the difference.
One of the more controversial themes you have been exploring is the ‘Right to Copy’. The lecture and other activities: how did these come about?
It’s ridiculous to think that you are original, that one speaks uniquely his or her very own language. There are so many influences, but you’re not always aware of them. Children learn by imitating the people around them. Somewhere at the end of adolescence we seem to be inclined to think that we have to do it all by ourselves. But I don’t see a reason why we should stop imitating the people we admire. Imitating is learning and by appropriating the copy we develop new thoughts and designs collectively. Originality doesn’t exist in the pure sense of the word. Everything is processed by something else; every idea is created by all the other ideas you’ve been confronted with. A design is a result of a series of stimuli and influences, all set within their specific contexts. Rather than seeing a work as a unique statement of the designer, the work should be seen as a comparative moment in time. The notion of originality should be abandoned in favour of a broader reading of the work.
Still, to be practical about the question, what triggered the ‘Right to Copy’ issue? What kind of a feedback did you receive from other designers?
What triggered the idea was the urge some people were showing to be ‘original’. It felt like an act of frustration to me. Copying was a dirty word at the art academy. I never fully understood this. I copied a lot, not to ‘cheat’ but as a moment in the design process. Appropriating already existing designs helps to develop them further. Just as in classical music, which has a centuries old tradition of composers quoting other composers. Strangely enough, in design there seems to be a tendency of needing to be unique and having your own style. I wanted to be as open and honest as possible about my ‘influences’.
You’ve become known as an expert presenter. At the Design Academy Eindhoven you also teach presentation to graphic designers. The common knowledge in Estonia is that presentations are meant to sell something. Your presentations seem to have become an art form in their own right. What is the purpose of the presentations?
As I said before, it’s not the medium or the skill that needs to be communicated, but it’s the attitude, the thoughts and idea’s. Design is not just an object, rather a combination of many motifs, influences and moments in time. Design is a transmission and what it tells is equally dependent on the spectator as on the narrator. It’s somewhere in the middle of the moment, the context, the news, the history, the future and the emotions. As a designer it’s relevant being sensitive to these influences and play with them. The presentation of things and of yourself plays an important role in the whole. It’s not just telling a story, but it’s you, the author of the design, who is introducing a story, moving around, choosing words, building sentences, posing questions, listing, performing, seducing, convincing, doubting and ending the story. This ‘presentation’ can be seen as a design as well, one can approach it in the same way as one would approach a design of a book or object. Quite some people forget that, whether you like it or not, the presentation is part of the design.
How do you like teaching? What’s your method?
An artist I admire once told about the most inspiring teacher he had met during a visit at the Cooper Union art school in New York. All students had put their works on the walls and floors to discuss it. The students gathered around the drawings and started