This article was first printed in PETRIe 66 (2014). Part two of a five-part article.

Read part one here.

Bertjan Pot started designing before he even knew what a designer was. Building boomerangs and “boy stuff” in his parent’s barn in Nieuwleusen, Holland, he is well known on the European design scene for creating innovative interior products. Sometimes though, his material mandates a mask.

“I tried to make a carpet and then it got very wobbly,” Pot says of his first mask creation. “My assistant came in and I held it in front of my face - just for fun and he said ‘Ha, you should make a mask!’”

I think a mask is finished when I see that it has become something more than the material... like a character.

Illustrative of his design process, Pot admits: “It is more about the method than inspiration.” Taking a material or technique as a starting point, the designer will explore the creative possibilities it presents: “I see what the material will be best at, whether it will be a stool, a table or a light.” In the case of some 3.5mm thick rope in his studio, it wanted to become a mask. Through an intense process, Pot’s masks are created in a few short hours. However, many don’t make the cut: “If I worked continuously through the week, I would usually throw half away.”

Though identity is neither the starting point, nor the explanation behind his masks, it is clearly relevant in determining whether the mask is a success: “I think a mask is finished when I see that it has become something more than the material... like a character.”

One of the things I like about project design in general, is that I make stuff that ends up in someone’s interior and becomes part of their identity.

“They are all sorts of different identities and they are all unique; I can’t even reproduce them because the technique is so hard,” he explains. Though always seeking to improve his technique, Pot is nostalgic for a quality he finds in his earlier mask designs: “They are very clumsy, but the clumsiness has its charm.”

For Pot, identity may be suggested, but it is never imposed. “One of the things I like about project design in general, is that I make stuff that ends up in someone’s interior and becomes part of their identity,” he explains. “I put something in there but it’s never one clear story. It’s up to the buyer to see what’s in there.”

I don’t want to bother people with a certain identity. They should get from it what they want.

“With a mask, it’s not a full identity either,” he continues. “I don’t want to bother people with a certain identity. They should get from it what they want.” As such, Pot has refused to lend masks for photo shoots and commercials, insisting that those interested should make a purchase. “Once somebody has worn it, it has become theirs and it is hard to put on another character... it has got its final identity.”

Once somebody has worn it, it has become theirs and it is hard to put on another character... it has got its final identity.

“For certain masks we have names, but we never communicate it with the buyer,” Pot explains. Even where final identities have been envisioned - such as the self-portrait of the designer - the material leads Pot to create a different character entirely. Perhaps it is a sign of his design process - or maybe it relates back to the idea of identity being an ever-evolving entity, in which even Pot’s own sense of self is not fixed: “I guess there is some hidden frustration where I like to wear a mask every once in a while.”

Read part three: Making Faces - The Icelandic Love Corporation -->

Archive: PETRIe INVENTORY 66

Words: Elizabeth Neep

Images courtesy of Bertjan Pot