Hella Jongerius: Woven Cosmos
“Through Woven Cosmos I try to understand the cultural meaning of weaving beyond materials and technique. This is also deeply linked to the challenges of our time: questions of sustainability, social responsibility and spirituality. For instance: what can be the healing function of objects?” — Hella Jongerius
Over three decades, the artist and designer Hella Jongerius (*1963 in the Netherlands) has engaged with urgent topics such as sustainable innovation, responsible production and societal regeneration. Jongerius does not view objects and their materials separately from one another; rather, according to her understanding, social and political contexts are concentrated within them.
In the exhibition Woven Cosmos, Jongerius explores weaving, among other things, as a forward-looking, multifaceted technique. Weaving provides an opportunity to reflect on both the present and future as well as sustainability and society. The archetype of spinning a cosmic web of existence is deeply rooted in cultures worldwide; it has long been considered a spiritual model for human understanding of the cosmos.
Apart from showing Jongerius’ research into innovation and progressive experimental practices, the exhibition highlights her ongoing enquiry into how we relate to objects – and how they can heal us. She believes that dismantling the prevailing hierarchy between humans, plants, animals and objects would have a healing effect. In her works animals frequently appear as narrators, reflecting on our human relationship to the environment and objects.
In the exhibition Woven Cosmos, Jongerius presents different results of her inquiry from the past two years. Extensive research underpins the works’ creation, with greater emphasis on open-ended production processes than fixed results.
In the months leading up to the exhibition, the artist’s studio, Jongeriuslab, moved into rooms on the second floor of the Gropius Bau to research intensively and develop new objects while simultaneously experimenting on site. Jongeriuslab’s production will continue every day throughout the exhibition, allowing a number of works to evolve during the show. This transformation from exhibition space to studio space mirrors the history of the Gropius Bau, which was once a Museum of Decorative Arts with an affiliated school.
Space Amulets / Guardian Dolls / Extended Jugs / Grain Wheel
The Space Amulets in the centre of the room are part of Jongerius’ exploration of healing and of the transformative power that objects have on people and spaces. The display refers to the healing and protective qualities of these objects. Material culture shapes the world and what it means to be human. Objects become meaningful because of the materials they are made of and our haptic engagement with them.
The Guardian Dolls recall an ancient relationship between humans and objects, namely the special relationship between children and dolls, as they offer comfort and protection. At the same time, pieces of armour indicate that the dolls also have to protect themselves.
In the series Extended Jugs, a soft mass is added to archetypal vessel shapes. This series prompts reflection on ideas of repair and considers how visible breakages and objects’ histories determine their beauty. Jongerius engages in a thorough examination of objects’ sensual and material characteristics: how do they change during object-owner relationships, when memories are attached to them, or when they encounter other objects?
Jongerius’ design approach is based on helping the industry heal itself by reconnecting social, cultural and economic interests. Success would be measured by the ability to achieve balance, not growth. For Grain Wheel Jongerius works with the technique of recycling by using materials that would otherwise fall out of the cycle of production, having been deemed unusable. In this work she uses grains of sand that were originally part of an art installation in the atrium of the Gropius Bau in 2020. The sand was melted and blown to form glass elements. The varying colour of the glass depends on the properties of the provided sand.
In numerous cultures, weaving and spinning symbolise fate, the moment when the threads of life are either shaped or cut. According to various creation stories, heaven and earth are connected by yarn, resembling a network that holds the cosmos together. In these stories, the turning of the spindle, like the circulation of the moon around the earth and the earth around the sun, reveals the mysteries of time. The interplay of the sun and the moon represents the cycle of life and death. In the Anthropocene epoch, the sun, moon and weather are no longer the only weaving forces at work; humans also turn the spindles, thereby influencing the environment. With the installation Cosmic Loom, Jongerius explores the idea of weaving a new texture of the world: a textile that connects mind and matter. The threads of the Cosmic Loom refer to the seven days of the week. Thursday and Saturday and their associated planets Jupiter and Saturn play a significant role in the installation. Before the exhibition, the fibres and colours were chosen with shamans inside the Gropius Bau – their understanding of astronomical and spiritual cycles of time was thus incorporated into this work.
Frog Table / Woven Windows
Frogs are considered to have special powers in many different contexts and are typically associated with metamorphosis, i.e., transformation and change. This is because frogs are born in water before migrating to land once their limbs have developed. Hibernating underground during the winter and becoming active again in the spring, frogs are often symbols of new beginnings and fertility in European tales and myths.
Frog Table is the union of an everyday object and the sculpture of an oversized frog. Jongerius questions functionality with this work – the principal criterion of industrial design. The work highlights the purely practical use of everyday objects and facilitates a relationship with the animal at eye level. Jongerius reflects on the apparent opposites natural-artificial and human-object, and their relationship. In her view, objects are fundamental to human reception, identity, and socialisation.
In the Woven Windows series, Jongerius uses the motif of a window to explore the possibilities of weaving as an act of painting. The Jacquard weaving technique turns thread into a three-dimensional tool that she can use to “paint”. The window is a famous motif in painting – its structure resembles a frame, allowing viewers to look either outside or inside, or into a painting. The window is thus a symbol of seeing.
Dancing a Yarn
The centuries-old practices of weaving and spinning are intertwined with notions of togetherness. Before industrialisation, people spent the long hours of textile production together, which rooted social structures therein. Several hands work on a single product, which consequently becomes infused with stories and conversations. Collective craft is often considered to have a healing effect. Dancing a Yarn is created every day throughout the exhibition. Visitors are invited to participate in the production process actively. Similar to dancing around a maypole, the yarn materialises while the people are “dancing”. Using braiding machines and tools that Jongeriuslab developed especially for the exhibition, a fibrous network is created. Visitors can activate the manual twisting machine to produce a rope collaboratively. The ropes created during this process will grow to become rope ladders that extend out of the Gropius Bau’s windows.
Part of the Jongeriuslab was moved into this room in order to experiment and create on site. The individual steps of production, including the knotting and formation of the rope ladders, can be witnessed every day. Jongerius considers the unfinished, the provisional, and the potential to be essential components of the artistic process, honouring the gradual emergence of a work.
Space Loom #2
The loom is an archetypal example of the first machine. During the Industrial Revolution, mechanical looms developed in the early 19th century replaced many workers’ labour, thereby drastically accelerating the pace of textile production. In recent decades, industrial looms have become highly efficient, leaving virtually no room for human interaction with the machine and thus for creative engagement. Jongerius developed Space Loom #2 to explore three-dimensional weaving. Instead of expecting the machine to provide answers, it should be seen as a device that materialises questions. Consequently, it is the work process that generates answers to questions the experimenters could not have asked in advance. The installation explores the future possibilities of weaving and establishes the Matrix Modules of the series Pliable Architecture.
Hella Jongerius has been experimenting with three-dimensional weaving techniques and woven components for several years. She believes that technology contributes to the development of society and cultural values. Objects, too, provide answers to the question of how we want to live. In her work, Jongerius brings together craft and industry to explore new and lasting techniques and materials.
The group of works Pliable Architecture raises the following questions: How and for which purposes can we use this ancient craft today? How can weaving and technology be combined? Her research links thoughts surrounding resources with the urgent matter of which materials can be used today and how building materials might be reimagined. For this purpose, Jongerius experiments with multi-dimensional, expansive constructions that allow for changes in the direction of weaving. This method enables the creation of objects that achieve a large volume with minimal use of material, for example. Pliable Architecture experiments with thread thickness, split yarns, material compression and open spaces. This results in diverse materialities within one structure, ranging from stiff to supple and opaque to transparent. Occasionally, Jongerius adds functions to these woven structures, such as photovoltaic strips and energy conducting yarn, to activate and set them in motion.
It seems counterintuitive to address static and lasting architecture with soft and pliable material. However, woven structures are lighter, more durable and require less material, which makes them economically viable and eco-friendly.
Woven Systems / Angry Animals
For Woven Systems, Jongeriuslab experimented with yarns, weaves, textures and weaving’s fundamental logic – the intersection of threads in a grid. The interplay of transparent and dense layers characterises this series. These continue to produce new images and contexts, depending on the viewer’s perspective. Jongerius is fascinated by weaving’s rigid nature, which she employs as a symbol to think about systems, grids, layers, and connections. Western thinking, in particular, reduces processes to categories and rules, imposing a linear logic upon a circular planet. Economy, society and environment are increasingly interdependent systems that form a great whole. The well-being of one affects the other’s vitality. Our food chains, weather systems, fashion cycles and art networks are all interconnected. Jongerius believes that systems’ design processes create meaning; but also that they can simultaneously constrict and intimidate. She questions how we relate to these networks of connections that are beyond our control.
In many of her works, Jongerius engages with animals and the unequal relationship humans have established with them. She believes that dismantling the prevailing hierarchy between humans, plants, animals and objects would have a healing effect. Objects have the ability to communicate the unspeakable or inexpressible. This quality makes them silent partners that become catalysts and protagonists when activated. Many of the animals in Jongerius’ works seem friendly; they are often lifelike recreations that she combines with objects, such as a table or – in the most recent series – a vase. With the Angry Animals series, Jongerius draws attention to animals’ increasingly precarious situation and criticises their objectification.