Interview with Peter Musschenga who works as a multidisciplinary designer in Groningen. He began his own design firm after graduating from the Minerva Academy of Visual Arts in 1998 as a graphic designer. During his education, he enjoyed dabbling in various fields including photography and spatial design. He became a web designer in order to be able to offer a more comprehensive variety of services as a graphic designer.
How does it make you feel to win this award?
Pondering Around is my first outdoor artwork. In fact, it is my first public artwork without commission. So, I am thrilled that it resonated so much with the jury. With this installation I won the Audience Award of the Folly Art Route in Norg, the Netherlands. The public chose my installation with an overwhelming majority. Which meant a lot to me, as my work is all about the experience of the visitor. I met so many wonderful people on the site and had interesting talks about the meaning of the artwork. That Pondering Around has now also been chosen as best by an internationally acclaimed jury strengthens my feelings about the path, I chose some time ago.
What do you feel makes your work stand out, that drew the judges’ attention to it?
Wow, that’s quite a difficult question as I can’t look into their minds! When I first saw and felt the location at the edge of this small lake, I knew it was going to be a special experience with the floating platform. I was overcome by the beauty and the tranquility of the place and imagined how my work could strengthen this experience. Maybe that is what drew their attention: forest, water, a straight gangway, a circular float, that’s it. But there’s also the incredible contrast of this natural environment and the mirroring outer shell through which you have to go to enter the platform. It plays tricks with your mind, it alienates your current state for a moment, setting the stage for the tranquility and wideness once you have overcome the slightly narrow passage. I wish they were able to visit the work in person!
How did the idea behind your winning project come about?
I have made a lot of installations that form a backdrop for a story or performance. I’ve tried to make it impactful for an audience. But you can only draw an audience so far into your work when it’s on stage. I have always loved to visit outdoor art parks, like Storm King or Inhotim and am always intrigued by how a loving intervention in a landscape can take one to a whole new world.
I’ve always dreamed about making such an impact myself. Being outdoors makes one feel very aware, and part of nature. I wondered what happens in the mind that makes one feel that way, and how I could make that feeling grow even stronger. Then I created a stage for oneself as it were.
What impact does your background have on your work?
Having a background in both graphic design and stage design (the first by education, the second as autodidact) might deepen my view on the experience of the public rather than the object itself. As a graphic designer I take my clients on a journey to deliver what is the best answer to their particular question. We zoom in on the meaning of color, typography, forms, environment and use. As a stage designer I have been lucky to work quite freely with the first versions of computer controlled mechanical systems in the theatrical environment. This enabled me to make flexible designs where movement, perspective and light play a big role in the perception of the audience. A single movement or light change can be an impactful tool to tell a story. This made me aware of the importance of tactility and enables me to think of what an object or form does to the viewers experience.
Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?
The one artist that made me cry with his art was James Turrell, so I should name him first. It happened when I visited an exhibition of his work in Pace Galleries in London. I had a feeling of being totally lost and belonging at the same time. It still gets me thinking of it. And Ellsworth Kelly of course. He is the magician of balance. His work inspires three and two dimensionally and plays a role in some of my graphic work too. I should also name the Dutch artists Jan Schoonhoven and Armando. And Olafur Eliasson, and Andy Goldsworthy. I think there are too many. Not mentioning the many inspirational designers, composers and choreographers.
How has your own style evolved over time?
I think my style has become simpler. Although I have always been a fan of minimalism, my first work was very figurative and very explanatory. I used to be afraid that all the things I’d wanna say were not seen by the viewer so I put too much meaning in one piece. I’ve learned to trust the power of simple form, of not telling too much. And trusting to letting the object speak for itself, trusting the willingness of the audience to explore. It might be a result of trusting myself more than I used to do.
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