Storytelling is at the core of the work of Studio Job, the creative partnership of Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel who established their studio in 2000 on the wave of a rebellious narrative that is the foundation for a very personal signature. PS: You established Studio Job in 2000, so it’s relatively young for a design studio but you have collaborated with some big names in the design world such as Moooi, Venini, even Viktor & Rolf. How do these collaborations come about and what do you enjoy about them?
JS: Basically, when you create your own voice or identity at a very early stage then big brands or important, interesting brands want to identify themselves with that. Of course, when you’re young and starting out you also want to identify yourself with a strong, older brand, so it’s a win-win situation. It keeps the big brands young and it makes us, who are just starting out, professional. Nynke (Smeets’s partner) and I only say ‘yes’ when we are fascinated by the brand.
PS: How would you describe the voice of Studio Job?
JS: It kind of started out rebellious, saying ‘no’ to the obvious or standard design choices. We saw product not as a ‘product’ but as an object or sculpture. That was different from the more modernistic approach to design at the time. We introduced expressive sculpture that gives a personal signature to an object. Today, that part of design is becoming more important and many more designers are involved in this work.
PS: Reinterpreting historical narratives is a recurring theme in your work, for example, the Arnolfini chandelier you did with Venini. What is the story of that piece?
JS: Narrative is really interesting to us. With Arnolfini, there are interpretations of history on many levels. Firstly, Venini is a company with a 90-year history, and some of the world’s greatest designers have worked with them. They invited us to create the ‘new view’ of a chandelier, after the 1957 chandelier by Gio Ponti – their most famous chandelier. Venini is also associated with Flemish paintings, so we tried to do a chandelier for them that came out as a floating still life inspired by a Flemish painting on the marriage of Arnolfini (by Jan van Eyck). In the painting, one burning candle is hanging above the newlyweds and they say that this candle is the eye of God. What we tried to do is to ‘enlighten’ all the pieces of the chandelier in a floating still life. So there are lots of, you know, eyes of God in our version.
PS: A lot of your work has been limited editions or installations that you curate yourselves. You’ve just opened a gallery, does having your own space to curate change the way you design?
JS: First, let me say we don’t want to become ‘gallery owners’. Often our pieces are shown all over the world – Miami or Milan or Paris – but never around the corner, so our friends and family never get to see them. This way we get to enjoy the pieces for a while before they leave us. We see it as The House of Job. It’s a chameleonic space that can be for anything Nynke and I find interesting. It can be a gallery, or a conference space for designers or artists. In October a dinner will be done there by a three-star chef who is a good friend of ours, so the dinner itself will be the art piece.
PS: Tell me about your studio process.
JS: We have about 20 people working for Studio Job in our gallery office/headquarters (in Antwerp). Nynke and I have our own separate studio space and we have two atelier studios in the Netherlands where our team of artists work on some of the sculptures and projects. We work with a foundry on the metal pieces and we have furniture makers and marketing people.
PS: You and Nynke live and work together. Does it always feel like you’re at work?
JS: Yes, of course. Running a company is not something we are educated for, and Nynke and I find it difficult to deal with the business side. But we totally love the creative side, so that doesn’t feel like work. The reality is that a large part of our daily routine is not being a creator, it’s trying to organise the creations, which is a very different thing.
PS: A lot of your pieces are one-off commissions and installations. Do you imagine that you might create mass-produced pieces one day?
JS: We have just finished our book, The Book of Job, which I would say is our first industrial object. It’s about Studio Job, of course, but also references the Old Testament’s Book of Job, which we redesigned with beautiful illustrations.
PS: What attracts you to work with materials such as glass and metal?
JS: We usually look for materials that are as freeing as possible. With bronze, for example, you can do any shape you like: the only restriction is imagination. Bronze is more a material used in the world of art, not the world of design, so we like that crossover. For instance, by using stained glass in our design – an old, slightly kitsch production method, you also refer to the past. We’re not nostalgic about that it’s more a comment on our own mortality. We are only here for a brief time after all, which is kind of tragic, but then tragedy can be the thing that inspires you the most, I think.
PS: A lot of your pieces have a playful expressiveness. Sometimes it’s an exaggerated scale, such as the SilverWare collection for Bisazza, or details that are slightly surreal, as in the Wonderlamp series in bronze and hand-blown crystal that you did with Pieke Bergmans for Milan 2010. Tell us about those.
JS: Wonderlamp was like a Genie in a bottle! In respect of how we represent scale, I think it comes from our belief that humanity is a bit overrated. By making the objects bigger then we make ourselves smaller in relation. That’s what we find initially interesting about enlarging things. Once you blow things up, they naturally become more sculptural and theatrical. For Bisazza we got to make mosaic tiles, millions of them, and Nynke and I realised that by taking the Silverware set and using the mosaic as a pixel and then enlarging it, you get sculptures from pieces that are normally common utensils. That’s what we find interesting.
PS: What projects have taught you the most about design and the process of making things?
JS: Our Robber Baron collection (2007/2008) was a breakthrough for us. Also, one of our first collections Oxidised, which we did in 2003 in rusted bronze. Both collections are very expressive. Both are flirting with kitsch and yet are monumental sculptural pieces – which is what we are all about. This is unlike our Farm collection, which is much more about being still and quiet and the utter normalcy of something as simple as a pot or a pan – very important items in our daily lives. I think to represent those two facets, possibly in the one object, is interesting because that’s how we are as people. Nobody is only one person. You can be a very different kind of person each day: expressive and shouting, or quiet and still. So I think for us it is very interesting to be able to express and materialise all those different facets of emotions.