Rotterdam-based collector, design curator and composition artist Berry Dijkstra questions the boundaries between art and design. Following his win of the FDS Influencer Awards' Rising Star prize, Dijkstra sat down with Design Stories to discuss his joyful approach to design: form follows fun.
Hi Berry, and congratulations on your win on behalf of the entire Finnish Design Shop team! How was it to receive the good news in April?
“I was thrilled to hear that I made it to the shortlist, yet reminded myself not to get too excited, as I saw a lot of interesting accounts. I feel so honoured to have won, also because of the fact that the prize was given to me by a jury filled with design professionals and experts.”
Could you tell us a bit about your personal background?
“I'm a collector, design curator, and composition artist based in Rotterdam. My interest in design kicked off when I started treasure hunting in every open-air market and thrift store I could find. Even without in-depth knowledge, good designs were easy to recognise by their aesthetic, materials and shape. I did plenty of research to hone my expertise and slowly began to collect larger pieces, with a focus on Cees Braakman, Wim Rietveld and W. H. Gispen.
I'm very privileged to live in the Netherlands and especially Rotterdam, where there is a thriving design scene. Eindhoven is around the corner, and the quality of the graduates from the Design Academy Eindhoven is staggering – a goldmine for every collector and curator.”
What led you to create installations and share them with your followers? Also, what role has social media played in shaping your career?
“The pivotal moment came when I was arranging my Pastoe furniture collection for a photo shoot. Back then, I used furniture in a functional way, so the cabinets and objects were placed all over the house. To find an interesting composition for an image, I placed a cabinet on top of another. After the shoot, the photographer asked whether they should help put the items back in place, but I knew there was no turning back. Since that moment three years ago, I began playing with furniture and through stacking, collecting and having fun, I found a narrative and a signature. You can see the process on my Instagram feed, as I post a photo of every installation.
Social media has had a huge impact on my career. My first solo exhibition with Pim Top, the FDS Influencer Awards nomination, and all of the publications online and in print are because of my portfolio on Instagram. I am beyond grateful for that.”
What’s next for the Rising Star? Which dreams would you like to bring to life?
“I never work with a plan – just ask my boyfriend! I try to live in the moment and the same goes for my account. I need to be inspired and so far that has worked well. My ultimate goal is to live in a house, with at least four stories, that functions as an artist residency, a gallery and a place, where you can book a room or host a meeting. All in all, a space where design, art and living amongst the two come together. So, maybe there is a plan...”
“I like the sense of friction, which I also incorporate in my installations by combining objects that aren't easily married.”
In their motivation, the prize jury stated that your work feels intuitive. How would you personally describe your creative process?
“They are so right! Instead of making a plan or a layout, I start building. At times, I have an idea about a colour or a material that will play the main role, but mostly I just start shuffling. When the important pieces have found their place, it's time for fine-tuning, which can take forever.
As I approach the composition as architecture, references of the city I live in are never far off. Rotterdam was bombed during the Second World War and now, 81 years later, the city center has become an odd mix of buildings. It often feels like a collage put together in Photoshop – strange and therefore interesting. I like the sense of friction, which I also incorporate in my installations by combining objects that aren't easily married.”
Your images include a variety of objects, arranged in a way that seems to defy gravity. As a collector, how do you find such interesting pieces and what draws you to them?
“Buying is the easy part, but developing your own taste and view on design takes time. My advice is to read, watch movies and visit shows, galleries and design stores. As Diana Vreeland said, the eye has to travel. Instagram is a goldmine since you can start following designers, curators, and shops from all over the world in literally a second.
With the knowledge you've acquired, it's much easier to distinguish an original design from a knock-off, recognize trends and know where they originate. When you surround yourself with pieces that make you happy, they will be with you forever.”
Do you build the compositions on your own or is it a team effort? We are fascinated by the practical application of what the jury describes as creating art out of design.
“At home, I work alone, either in silence or with loud music – there is no in-between. It's also a great workout, as the stone and marble pillars are really heavy. I've developed some tricks: I use blankets to move bigger pieces around the house and a marble cube as a stepladder.
Many say that my work is situated at the crossroads of art and design. I prefer to call my work non-binary. It touches upon several categories, without fitting into any of them completely. While I view the jury's statement as a compliment, I also sense that it poses a distinction: as if art and design were two different things. I don't believe in borders, such as men and women or art and design, as they feel oppressive and old-fashioned. The binaries were created a long time ago, presumably by old, white, straight, upperclass men. I feel it is time to get rid of that mindset. In that sense, my work, which questions the status quo, perfectly fits in with the times we live in.”
There’s no escaping the joy that emanates from your work, and you talk about applying a form follows fun approach. How does your motto translate into practice?
“By stacking and flipping furniture, I bring it back to a shape. A functional item becomes a form, with a focus on the lines, the material and the aesthetic. In a world that is driven by efficiency and function, it is so liberating to build these still lifes, which have nothing to do with function. Beauty, composition and materials are all that matter to me. It's my way of celebrating design, form follows fun.”
Text: Eero Nurmi Images: Berry Dijkstra and Kaatje Verschoren