Johannes Hemann. Photo © Dimitrios Tsatsas
questions for
Johannes Hemann

Jul 5, 2013

At the Design Miami/Basel, Galerie Victor Hunt from Brussels had one of the most exciting stands at the entire fair, presenting a series of works by young international designers, with Johannes Hemann’s being one of the highlights. Stylepark’s Daniel von Bernstorff caught up with the designer there for a chat.

Daniel von Bernstorff: Hello Mr. Hemann, your work here at Design Miami looks fascinating. You tread the border between design and art.

Johannes Hemann: My work is very strongly shaped by the creative process and my objects are almost always one-offs. So they are perfect for a limited-edition series, as here at Galerie Victor Hunt.

Nevertheless it is still design of course; you are a trained designer. Does the design process play an important role for you?

Hemann: Absolutely. I studied Product Design at the University of Art and Design Offenbach and even then I was very interested in creative processes, which take place either in an industrial setting or in your own studio. At present I am concentrating on the emergence of forms and so am controlling the processes myself in my studio. This creates a balance between industrial design and art.

Were you able to imagine, when you started out, exhibiting work at a gallery here at the Design Miami/Basel, in direct connection with the Art Basel?

Hemann: To be honest, no. My collaboration with Victor Hunt was the product of an impulse; it wasn’t a goal I was specifically working towards. I don’t work especially for a presentation at a furniture or an art fair, but with my designs I address various target groups that are interested in my work. And so I’ve wound up in an intermediate area that I call “design art”.

The gallery you exhibit at is also called “Designart”. The disciplines are converging in name – and precisely that is a hot topic of debate here in Basel at the moment. It is becoming ever more difficult to distinguish between the Art Basel taking place next door and the Design Miami/Basel. How do you address this?

Hemann: I am very comfortable with it. Victor Hunt’s slogan is: “We offer the design the industry can’t”. The industry is sluggish owing to its processes and it is hard to spark innovative ideas. This is far easier and quicker in the “design art” context and with the support of a gallery.

The gallery is also showing a huge work by the studio “Humans since 1982”. Countless clock faces move rhythmically, at times synchronously, at others chaotically, and now and again, as if by magic, we see the time. A highly poetic, but equally technically challenging piece.

Hemann: It is based on complex, special programming, and still it is an artwork that hangs on the wall like a picture. But when it shows the time, it becomes a functional object again. And thus it is an object between design and art, and once again we walk the tightrope between the two disciplines.

And precisely that is the difference to pure art: Design claims to serve a purpose, be functional. Your object on display here also has a very clear function, but is also very artistic, as it is not made in an industrial context, but essentially the way an artwork is made.

Hemann: Exactly! My primary focus is not the function, but an object to which a function is also attributed. So it even starts just with a new objective.

What is noticeable at the Design Miami/Basel is the excess of vintage furniture – over 70 percent at a guess. There are very few exciting new projects by young designers. What is your opinion on this?

Hemann: There are a few galleries showing younger things. But generally speaking the main focus is on making sales and of course for buyers it is more interesting and safer to buy objects that are already classics and have proven their worth over decades already. Then you assume your investment will pay off some day. Galleries that primarily show young artists have a difficult time of getting a foothold in the market.

How did your gallery come to select you?

Hemann: Galerie Victor Hunt saw my “Sturmserie” at the imm cologne when I exhibited work as part of the “d3 contest” and approached me. They also got interested in Tomás Alonso in Cologne, who is also presented here.

Meaning industrial designers suddenly have an opportunity to present their work on other platforms and in a different context.

Hemann: Precisely. Thanks to galleries like Victor Hunt, which have the courage to support young talent, the more artistic side of design has an opportunity to get people’s attention.

Do you see yourself as a designer or an artist? Or as a design artist?

Hemann: I prefer design artist!

Does this term not have negative connotations for you?

Hemann: No, not at all.

Because you are not looking to create a distinction between design and art, but rather an exciting new genre…

Hemann: I value the fact that I can work precisely in this intermediate area and decide flexibly according to the project at hand whether I want to focus more on design, base my ideas on industrial production or produce a small series of more artistic pieces.

Many thanks for talking to me, Mr. Hemann.

One object of the "Storm" series by Johannes Hemann. All photos © Dimitrios Tsatsas