in art and design, there are no rules
STUDIO JOB’S NEW HOME IN MILAN
The Belgian designer has moved to Milan, where he recounts a newfound harmony with the place he calls home and a small group of Italian push-modernism
During MDW2019, we were invited to visit the Job Home in Porta Venezia, where Belgian designer Job Smeets has set up shop in his first permanent space in the city. To find out more, we sat down with the creative himself in his new Milan apartment.
The artist-designer behind Studio Job, like a modern Mastroianni in Divorce Italian Style, presents himself in ultra elegant striped pajamas — a quirky choice he pairs well with a handprinted Borsalino. As we enter, a smooth jazz vinyl plays in the background as he explains that he moved in to the apartment just four days ago — it’s the first time he’s ever lived in an old building. And for the first time, it’s clear: we’re not in a studio, or a gallery, but in Smeets’ new home in Milan.
“Nothing I say can be considered true and everything I say could be a lie”, he begins. “This idea of reality understood as absolute truth doesn’t exist anymore and it’s very exciting, because it can be a great source of inspiration. Even if there’s never really been a single reality in art and design.”
We ask him then, what could arise from the relationship between fake news and design? A question to which he responds with an anecdote: “My photographer is a master of Photoshop and the other day he edited one of my pieces into the Guggenheim in New York. It was so real that we posted it on Instagram, saying: ‘the new Studio Job exhibit at the Guggenheim.”
When asked what the reaction to this provocation was, he replies, “none, not even a warning from the Museum. Perhaps they saw it as an artistic expression”, adding, “what I’m trying to say, is that falsification is an important ingredient in the creative world.”
With a volcanic sense of creativity, a larger than life personality, and a penchant for exploring the unconventional, it’s hard to fit Smeets into any category or template. “In my projects, I only put what is strictly necessary. In fact, in art and design, there are no rules, the only rules are those we impose ourselves. Essentially, you can do what you want, but under one condition: that the result is pleasant.”
So, we ask, what is beauty for the artist and designer? “The concept changes constantly, but if a piece designed 20 years ago manages to encapsulate the vision of that period, it’s able to stick over time and eventually becomes a part of history…” What is it that sticks? “Impertinence and not following the rules, but it’s a difficult line to walk — one that keeps you constantly on the edge, where it’s very easy to fall.”
“Up until just ten years ago, perhaps even still today, notoriety in design was based on that one chair you designed back in the day. Instead, I believe that one should constantly create — in your mind or on paper — producing drawings, collages, paintings, sculptures, or even doing business or collecting. You should always take a position in life, but what I say as a collector can be vastly different than what I do as an artist.”
We ask Smeets what it is that he collects — a question that moves the creative to show us around his room, passing from the classics of Italian design to works from famous contemporary artists and emerging new talents. He says there’s only one thing that they have in common: they’re all from people he admires. From here, we start to discuss his big move to Milan.
“When I first came into contact with this small group of Italian ‘push-modernism’, I was inspired for the first time in my life by other designers — I mean living designers! I immediately felt this harmony with them — for their way of working, for their personalities, for the complexity of their work, and for their approach to design and art, which seems extremely fun — a serious kind of fun with numerous layers to be uncovered. I believe what we’ve done here in the last four or five years has great potential, and could even become the new Memphis, a group of friends based in Milan capable of doing incredible things.”
“I was definitely ready for a change, and for the first time in my life, I feel inspired by the city I live in — both creatively and spiritually. It’s always been the opposite for me. Looking at the world around me, I’ve always wanted to subvert it, to hit it. Instead, here I feel part of a flow that’s moving together. I’m obviously speaking for myself here, you’d also have to ask Charley (Vezza), Stefano (Seletti), Maurizio (Cattelan), Paride (Vitale), and Fabio (Novembre). But I have this feeling, and for me, that’s enough. So I decided to move to Milan. After 20 years of Studio Job I was definitely ready to open a new chapter and I’m very proud to have been here at the Salone to showcase our works, not in a gallery or an event, but in my home.”
“It’s like I said before, it doesn’t make sense anymore to exhibit in large museums, you can create an exhibit in your own home, making everything — in my opinion — more fun and intimate. I love inviting people to my place and offering them a drink. When I exhibit at a stand in the fairs, it’s all very nice, but it’s missing that personal touch you can add in a domestic environment. One where you can establish more direct personal relationships and still wear your pajamas.”
“What I want to say during Milan Design Week 2019, is that I’m home. After ten years, we’re back to show our famous sculptures during the Salone, and I wanted to do it here, in my new home.”
Job then takes us for a tour, showing us the beautiful old wood windows and their traditionally Milanese sliding blinds and shutters, which he says you can’t find in Northern Europe. It’s the first time he’s lived in an old home, having always preferred concrete lofts and industrial spaces. Perhaps it’s because the old Flemish homes aren’t as well preserved as their Italian counterparts — maybe something to do with the climate, Smeets ponders. What he does know, is that when he entered the apartment, everything was perfect: from the solid wood flooring to the finishes on windows and doors, he didn’t want to change a thing. Even the artworks — just like he himself — immediately found their place, as if they were made for the space.