Here’s the fourth instalment of our series in partnership with Dutch Design Week that looks at whether the ‘new normal’ has brought a new level of intimacy to the studios of creatives in the Netherlands.

Because of safety measures, self-isolation and social distancing, we’re having to reshape certain relationships. Many of us are having less contact with people and spending more time in secluded bubbles – on our own or in smaller groups. What does that mean for creatives and the way in which they interact with their audience? Have their relationships – with studio visitors, (potential) clients and collectors – become more intimate? Moved from formal and business-like to more personal and close? We’ve partnered with Dutch Design Week (DDW) for a series of interviews with creatives in the Netherlands to discover whether the ‘new normal’ has brought a new level of intimacy to the studio. Known for his playful objects and installations that address social themes, Jelle Mastenbroek explains what has – and hasn’t – changed in light of the pandemic.

What impact has the ‘new normal’ had on you and your business, and the way you run your studio?

JELLE MASTENBROEK: My working relationships didn’t change much – except for the missing handshakes and the lower level of physical contact. In the beginning there were more online meetings, at the moment a few. Because there were no gatherings arranged for openings and the like, deadlines became more fluid during lockdown – it was fine to install a work a couple of days later, for example. I’m experiencing this as a positive effect, and it would be interesting to see if it could stay this way on a certain level. The dynamic also changed because some of my assignments are for festivals, which as we all know were cancelled. While this was the biggest impact and change for me, I was lucky that the festival projects were replaced by other assignments, similar to things I would have worked on before the pandemic. Museum and exhibition spaces, for example, could open not that long after the lockdown.

Because Mastenbroek could continue working in his atelier during the pandemic, he hasn’t had to adapt the types of pieces he’s developing.

A play on the historical idea of porcelain-filled display cases symbolizing wealth, Mastenbroek’s Rozen Gaan refers to today’s growing economic equality.

Has the lack of physical and sensory contact with your pieces affected what you’ve sold or developed?

Because it was possible for me to continue my work in my atelier, not much has changed in that respect.

How did ‘confinement’ impact your creativity?

I didn’t have any difficulties with that.

How do you usually get inspired? And how are your projects initiated?

I get inspiration from the objects I have to work with – they have a story within them. I always need a reason for the decisions I make during my working process. In some assignments I have more freedom than in others, and I like to have a lot of freedom. Last year, for example, the Groninger Museum asked to find a new destination for a bequest. When I work without a specific assignment I’m also reacting to past works, more like an evolution.

Have you experienced – or do you expect – that the current situation will change the types of companies, clients and producers you work with?

I’m curious how festivals will be organized in the near feature – will they still be my clients? What will the impact on the economy be in the long term? Young designers don’t have a big network yet and people are not familiar with their work. How are they going to be found and how are they going to build a network? I can imagine that it will be harder for them to start up their practice.

Gold Fever Remedy is a comment on the relationship between wealth and health: inserting a coin into a medicine cabinet filled with gold bars administers a ‘musical treatment’. Photo: Ronald Smits

After placing a coin in the slot, users of Better Safe Than Sorry – which deals with the theme of saving and securing money – are immediately rewarded with a ‘musical sound of safety’. Photo: Ronald Smits

Without being present at design events, how do you make sure your work still gets seen right now?

It’s too soon to tell what the long-term consequences of not having Dutch Design Week will be, as the effects usually appear in the following year. My work still gets seen at the moment in museums and galleries.

Are there benefits that come with the digitization of selling and presentation?

I don’t see any benefits that come with digitization yet, as my work needs to be experienced physically. While I do share videos of my work, it will never be the same as experiencing it in person. In Data Orchestra, the sound comes from everywhere; it’s a 3D experience. This doesn’t come across via a screen.

A snap from Mastenbroek’s studio in Eindhoven, the city in which Dutch Design Week takes place.

At a time when design weeks are being cancelled to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, creative workspaces are open on an appointment basis, with or without design week. We are nowhere without creatives and their workspaces.

Hero image: Just as Mastenbroek’s projects involve a very hands-on making process, they are best experienced in person, he says. Photo: Wim te Brake