Interview | Benched – In conversation with Studio 212 Fahrenheit

Studio 212 Farhenheit is a Dutch design studio in Groningen, set up by Albert Buring and Paul Mulder. This week the duo placed a new work of art on the wharf. This work called ‘Benched’ is a translation of the present time in the form of design. The bench is 2.5 meters wide, with a central piece that indicates exactly 1.5 meters. Only the left and right sides of the bench are clearly visible as a seating area. The reflection of this central piece creates a physical distance, but at the same time makes it invisible. We talked to Albert and Paul about their new work.

What characterizes the work of Studio 212 Fahrenheit? 

That is perhaps the diversity of our work. In any case, it always has a conceptual character, in which we find it important that an image is strongly narrative and communicative. The works are usually engaged and look like design. Our work is therefore at the interface between art and design.

How do you see the possibilities and limitations of design in a time full of measures and uncertainties?

You are forced to think about your possibilities. Initially, the virus throws a spanner in the works. We were supposed to be at Milan Design Week this year, but that will happen in 2021 instead. Assignments were withdrawn and museums closed. So a large source of income and the opportunity to profile ourselves on an international level were lost. Fortunately, we still had a number of long-term projects running, which meant that we did not run into any problems for the time being.

We also used this time to make art specifically related to Covid. For example, for The Small Museum (Paradiso) we placed a very small mirrorball with the text ‘Never waste an opportunity to show a mirrorball’, in which you see an empty dance floor that has suddenly been abandoned because of the measures. This image of an empty dance floor gives a feeling of melancholy, but the text also gives hope and encourages the entire cultural sector.

We also realised the project ‘Personal Square‘ in Groningen. This is a yellow plane measuring 49.03 metres x 49.03 metres, which indicates the maximum space that every Dutchman has if you divide the surface area of the Netherlands by the number of inhabitants. How does this feel? What does it do to you? What do you do with your space and how would you arrange it if you have complete control? So we have played with the minimum distance (those one and a half meters) and the maximum distance. Both works of art gave us a lot of publicity here and abroad. So those are the possibilities this time gave us. The limitations are that great art and design events did not take place.

As you describe it yourselves, the bench is a symbolic and poetic representation of the present time. How did you come up with the idea and thus the design of Benched?

A (park) bench has a strong symbolic character. It is about meeting, contact and dialogue. This includes everything that was suddenly being missed because of the corona measures. We noticed the empty benches in the park that were used so much before. With this bench we want to show that distance is imposed and you are limited in your freedom, hence the title ‘Benched’. But it also contains a message of hope; let’s not forget to keep seeing and speaking to each other in difficult times and let’s also hope for a better time.

The treatment with the mirror material makes the middle part invisible in a way and thus creates the one and a half meter distance between the people sitting on the bench. But there will come a time when you can sit next to each other again without distance. In this way, a sofa suddenly becomes some sort of monument of the bizarre period in which we are sitting now.

What do you hope the work will evoke in people who see it up close?

That they like it and when they see what the thought behind it is, they get a glimmer of hope in this gloomy time. Of course, the place is also very nice to close yourself off completely.

Why did you choose the NDSM-wharf as the location for Benched?

We were in contact with Buro Bordo from Amsterdam. We introduced our idea to them and they came up with the idea of this beautiful location. According to Jessica Voorwinde of Buro Bordo, this is the most beautiful place in Amsterdam. And we could fully agree with that. The bench is received enthusiastically and fits well in the whole picture. We are very happy with it and hope that we will be able to place a bench at several beautiful places later on, where it all started in Amsterdam.

Click here for more projects of Studio 212 Fahrenheit

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