WDE Spotlight: Liselot Cobelens

In WDE Spotlight, we give the floor to various designers from the Embassies. This time we talk to Liselot Cobelens, who contributes to the Embassy of Water. What is her background? What inspires her? What does she hope to achieve with her work? You can read it in this Q&A!

Type Update
Published on 2 December 2021
Part of Embassy of Water
WDE Spotlight: Liselot Cobelens
Part of Embassy of Water

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself, your background and your design practice?

My name is Liselot Cobelens, I am a starting designer. At the moment, I’m focusing with my studio on the landscape and the relationship that products and people have with it. For example, I am interested in the natural process and how our presence shapes the land. I also focus on product design and making objects that tell a complex story. I am fascinated by natural processes, but also in industrial development, how a product is created in a factory.

Dryland - Liselot Cobelens

Your Dryland project is part of the Embassy of Water during Dutch Design Week. What can you tell us about this project? 

Dryland is a carpet that depicts the consequences of the drought in the Netherlands. The project arose from my own fascination with the landscape. I grew up in the Deurnese Peel area, and over the past five years, I have seen the high peatlands change due to desiccation. For me, that was a reason to start a project about this.

The Dutch landscape is associated with large amounts of water, splashing ducks, green linear grass fields, grazing cows, dikes, many canals and turning windmills.  It’s hard to imagine that there’s a quiet and slow desiccation going on. With Dryland, I investigated the origin of the desiccation and what the various consequences of the desiccation are. For this, I interviewed various experts and the four consequences of the desiccation have been translated into a landscape carpet.

The carpet has undergone several treatments to depict the four consequences as clearly as possible. For example, the first step was to tell the story of the origin of the “desiccation” by first setting up the channels. The height of the thread that’s set up at the factory tells the story of “sinking”. Where the groundwater is too low, the ground sinks a few millimetres per year. The story of the “loss” of plants and crops is told from the perspective of a farmer. Parts of the carpet have been cut away. Finally, there is the “burning”. Parts of the carpet I burned with a weed killer. This reflects the wildfires that occur during prolonged drought.

Dryland in the Embassy of Water - credits: about.today

Can you explain how your project relates to the story of this Embassy? 

The Embassy of Water is of course about how we deal with water and how we look at water. Desiccation is a result of too little water in a certain area. Ultimately, my project is about how we deal with water. On the one hand, we are currently experiencing problems caused by water, but on the other hand, we also need the water very badly to prevent sinking, for example. That is why my project fits in well with the Embassy’s narrative.

Have you done more projects about water? And if so, why did you decide to deal with this topic?

No, not yet. I do plan to continue with Dryland and collect more stories so that the story is told clearly. Ideally, I would also like to portray a different location. Every location is completely different, has a different landscape quality, soil and has its own problems. 

For example, these locations with their problems would seem very interesting to map visually:

  • Zealand (with fresh-salt water) 
  • The effect of desiccation on the high sandy soil such as the Hoge Veluwe or areas in Twente
  • Other high and low peatlands

What kind of design/project would you like to realise in the future and why? 

I am now mainly interested in landscape subjects and their relation to an object. I’d like to continue with that, but I don’t know exactly what I’ll be working on in the future. At the moment, I’m investigating the possibility of a project on the Peatlands. Many peatlands in the Netherlands have disappeared over the years, including for peat extraction. They had a major impact on the surrounding villages, and their traces are still visible. I am still looking for partners and interested parties for this subject, so it’s really still in the starting phase.

Can you name another interesting designer who deals with the same subject, and why is his/her work so strong in your opinion?

There are a number of designers, but also a lot of literature that I find very inspiring. For example, how architect Christian Norberg-Schulz writes about design and Genius loci. How, as a designer, can you include a location in your design? Or Jean Baudrillard’s The System of Objects, which provides insight into how objects and products have become so important within our current Western culture.

In addition, I think the work of the design agency KCCM is very good. Their work is based on research involving the location and sometimes the location’s materials. I also think Sophie Krier’s work is very strong because she collaborates a lot with experts. She researches, writes, creates and seeks connections between different designers and philosophers.

How do you think you can make an impact with your work? 

Dryland is based on interviews and collected information. This has been incorporated into the project to inform others about the desiccation. During DDW, you saw that several visitors were very interested. Some visitors were not even aware of the problem of desiccation, but after listening to the stories, we had conversations about the consequences of desiccation. Therefore, the project has made an impact on many people and will also be exhibited at other locations in the coming period. The project will soon be on display in the provincial government building so that policymakers can also become acquainted with Dryland.

If you could choose one person to work with (a scientist, artist, philosopher, biologist, designer, politician, anyone), who would you choose and why?

I prefer to work with the landscape as my most important partner, because I think that working from a different perspective can provide insights. We are pretty used to thinking from the perspective of human needs and insights, but looking at what the landscape would need now yields completely different answers.

If I had to choose a human partner, I would choose philosopher Matthijs Schouten. Because he has so much knowledge about ecology, the changing relationship we have with nature and how nature is central to different faiths.

For or with which company would you like to do a project? And what kind of project would that be?

I would like to set up a project in collaboration with another water board to provide insight into a different area. Dryland is based on De Peel, but the solution that will be found for the desiccation at that location is not necessarily applicable everywhere.

In addition, I’d also very much like to collaborate with other like-minded people, such as designers who are affiliated with the IABR or the Stichting Satellietgroep. Both organisations work with landscape subjects in which research is translated into an installation.

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