WDE Spotlight: Michelle Baggerman & Jessica den Hartog

In the WDE Spotlight series, we give the floor to various designers of the Embassies. This time it’s the turn of Michelle Baggerman from Bureau Baggerman and Jessica den Hartog who contribute to the Embassy of Rethinking Plastic. What are their backgrounds? What inspires them? What do they hope to achieve? Read it in this Q&A!

Type Update
Published on 8 October 2021
WDE Spotlight: Michelle Baggerman & Jessica den Hartog
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Can you tell us a bit more about yourself, your background and your design practice?

Michelle Baggerman (M): I am a design researcher and focus on sustainability in textiles by combining old techniques and materials with new materials and technology. I studied at the Design Academy Eindhoven and the Willem de Kooning Academy (Piet Zwart Institute) and in addition to my independent research work, I am also a research coordinator at ArtEZ Future Makers and work for the TextielMuseum and TextielLab in Tilburg. 

Jessica den Hartog (J): I, Jessica den Hartog, am a materials researcher and transform plastic waste into art objects with the aim of informing and inspiring the viewer about the value of waste. Waste is my source of materials, I recycle the plastic on a small scale per type of plastic and colour, so I can make free choices as a designer. The work is a continuous process in which I experiment in terms of material, colour and technique to reflect the versatility of this material. I graduated from the art academy in Maastricht four years ago.

Chrysalis - credits: Jessica den Hartog & Michelle Baggerman

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

With Chrysalis we are investigating new possibilities for high-quality recycling of waste plastic, by turning it into yarn. This already happens with PET bottles, for example, but recycled HDPE is currently mainly used in low-grade applications, for example, as traffic bollards. In this project, we try to bring out the quality and beauty in this material and show how it can be used better on that basis.

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

Our work is also about rethinking. Rethinking the current (recycling) system. We wonder ‘why does this work like this?’ and ‘couldn’t it be better if we..?’. By working together with companies in the chain, a plastic sorting company and a research lab that develops yarns for industry, we come to new insights together.

You do a lot of projects around plastic waste. Why did you decide to deal with this theme?

M: Because it’s necessary! Plastic is basically a material that is incredibly practical and versatile, and durable in the sense that it can last a very, very long time, but we are using it completely wrong because it is so cheap. In my work, I try to show how strange that is and how necessary it is that we change this. The more people are involved with this, the greater the chance that we will all look at this material differently and make better choices.

J: I have a huge love for plastic as a material. For years at the art academy, I automatically chose this material to realise objects. When I was allowed to develop my own project for my graduate thesis, it quickly became clear that this had to be about plastic! I was gutted by the news that plastic is a bad material, roaming everywhere and that the material has minimal value. If I wanted to continue to use this material as a designer, I had to delve into the recycling process and show the beauty in it. Now, five years later, I see it as a continuous process in which I want to continue to specialise.

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

M: I always choose projects where I can learn a lot. If you don’t understand something and can marvel at it, that’s a sign that there are interesting opportunities for design. By designing, you can get a grip on complex subjects and involve others in this. 

J: Generating new knowledge in the field of sustainability is important to me. This makes me feel like I’m adding something to society. I want to continuously feed this self-development with a creative process, and I also want to disseminate this new knowledge. What I would most like at the moment is to lock myself up for a number of years to reshape surfaces from plastic waste. I’d like to get involved in collaborations with all kinds of professionals and ultimately presenting it with a mega exhibition with all kinds of activities around it, so that we can start talking with various people again to really start a movement.

Can you name another interesting designer dealing with the same subject, and why is their work so strong in your eyes?

M: Jessica! We started working together because we were inspired by each other’s work and saw that we had common ground, but we could also learn a lot from each other. I think Jessica is very strong in her way of experimenting and showing beauty in what to others is simply waste. 

J: Fortunately, more and more designers are delving into this subject and coming up with really cool ideas. I believe that together we can bring about change. To name a few: Overtreders W, Precious Plastic, The New Raw, Dirk van der Kooij and of course Michelle Baggerman.

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

By not only proposing, but also proving that things can and should be done differently. We do this through collaboration with the industry. We don’t get stuck in the world of beautiful design products, but try to see where the possibilities are to change the system from the inside.

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

We would like to work with a good chemist. We have now reached a point with our project where we really need to talk about the chemistry of plastics. What happens at the molecular level? How do you process that, and what is the leeway that we as designers can find within it? 

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

M: The Plastic Pact has recently been launched in the EU, which brings together governments and companies to work on circularity in plastics and which now prohibits, among other things, single-use plastics’. A lot of creativity and ‘rethinking’ is still needed here because circularity alone will not solve the problem that has been created in recent decades. I would like to think about that. 

J: I would like to market a collection of chairs based on recycled plastic and colour design. I would prefer to develop my ideas for this with a brand such as Hay.

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