Belgian furniture maker Maarten Van Severen devoted himself to the rigorous exploration of basic furniture typologies and in the process developed a formal language of uncompromising simplicity and beauty.
He died from cancer in 2005 ( aged 48) and left behind an extraordinary collection of furniture and several important architectural projects.
In his designs, he strove to achieve optimal perfection in form, detail and execution.
He found this perfection by leaving all superfluous forms and materials out of his designs. His designs seem familiar and recognisable, even when we have never seen them before; they suit the way people live, and how the objects are used
One of the mantras that Maarten van Severen stuck to was that he’s “addicted to every possibility.”
This mentality allows the artist to explore various realms, and not close any doors when it comes to inspiration or ideas.
Restricting oneself to create within conventional ways of thinking is a surefire way to produce pieces that will flop, so Severn avoided this (of course) at all costs.
Dutch furniture company Lensvelt, who now produce Maarten Van Severen’s furniture collection, presented 2 x touching films about Maarten Van Severen’s career and life at the Triennale di Milan – as well as presenting a separate exhibition ( designed by Rem Koolhaas & OMA ) at Ventura Lambrate
Maarten Van Severen: Addicted to Every Possibility
Director & Writer: Moon Blaisse / 60 mins
Producer: Jules Debrocks (Pain Perdu Audiovisual productions)
Co-producer: CTM Pictures
Film director Moon Blaisse was originally asked to make a short promo for a Maarten Van Severen exhibition, but what she discovered during her research was too good to condense into a few minutes Two and half years later she presented “Addicted To Every Possibility”.
This movie was shown in an exclusive premiere at the Teatro dell’Arte at the Triennale Museum on the 10th April ( by invitation )
It is an engrossing film on the complex personality of the Flemish designer and architect Maarten van Severen.
He left us with one of the most extraordinary collections of furniture and several exquisite architectural projects, but importantly also 4 young sons ( Flor, Boris, Hannes and David Van Severen) who carry part of their father’s talent and personality.
The Severen brothers attempt to realize their own destiny from the shadow and footprints of their father, furniture designer and architect Maarten van Severen.
When they are confronted with some of the same challenges and problems as their father, history seams to repeat itself. Maartens’ artistic legacy draws them towards the same choices and temptations
The film icludes interviews with: Rem Koolhaas, Marij de Brabandere, Rolf Fehlbaum, Nick Top, Fabiaan Van Severen, Lot Van Severen, Johan Valcke, William Phlips, Fabiaan Schwaerzler.
Stills from the Film
“Addicted to Every Possibility” is a brilliant documentary that delves into the mind of designer Maarten van Severen.
His was a tragic personal trajectory. “Design starts with the memory,” the virtuoso once said in an interview. “I want to be able to understand the space. Master it.”
Blaisse aligns the success and downfall of her hero with his four sons who early in their careers already appear to exhibit similar fluctuations in their creative processes.
“Instability encourages creativity,” one admits.
The Van Severen family drama is gripping.
The mother of the eldest two boys escapes to Japan.
There she sings karaoke with the locals and films herself sultrily smoking a cigarette and reading a letter aloud to her husband. She tells him he is childish and that she won’t “make the biggest mistake of her life” by returning to him (and her own two sons) unless two conditions are met: that he remove those aspects of his personality that she deems childish, and that he quit denigrating everything that is not architecture.
She concludes the letter with a demand that he write back professing his love for her.
Instead, Van Severen finds a new wife who looks remarkably similar to the old wife.
Marij de Brabandere endures the tempestuous ups and downs of her creative genius husband and reflects throughout the film with remarkable calm and forgiveness.
Marij talks of her husband’s obsession with making archetypes “Not just a stool, but the stool,” she says.
William Phlips, a friend of Van Severen, offers a fabulous anecdote about a call he receives from his friend when the prototype for his now iconic chair is finished.
Phlips catches a cab to Van Severn’s workshop and asks the cab driver how long he has been driving cabs for ?. 35 years is the reply.
He makes the cab driver go in to see the chair explaining to Van Severen that he is no chair expert, but this man has been sitting for 35 years so is.
Together the three men open a bottle of champagne with the expert sitter declaring the chair good.
Rem Koolhaas with whom Van Severen worked on many projects spoke of the late designer as his equal, admitting that there are few others he ever felt as excited to work with.
Koolhaas trusted Van Severen to find the right balance between plain and imaginative. “Even finding a tension between the two,” Koolhaas says.
But Van Severen was a perfectionist – and prone to alcohol, drugs and violence.
Not at all unlike his own father who apparently believed in only three things: painting, mathematics and philosophy.
“Everything else was second rate,” says Van Severen’s brother. But the real spiral downwards for Van Severen came after he was discovered by Rolf Fehlbaum of Vitra.
Overnight fame combined with intense pressure and the need to hand over control of how his work was produced crated a lot of inner turmoil.
“In the real world you must deal with issues of cost, weight, price, quality, long life, ecology, ergonomics … there are many criteria a product must fulfil,” says Fehlbaum. “In the world of [limited] editions none of this matters.”
And with all the difficulties Van Severen’s chair did end up achieving the ultimate – commercial success as well as intellectual and creative status in the design discipline.
And with all the chatter in the current design debate focussing on the idea that enough is enough when it comes to chair design, Van Severen wholeheartedly disagrees.
“Of course new chairs have to be made,” he tells a journalist. “We have been making them for 40 000 years so why stop now?”
The film closes with a touching moment between Van Severen and his youngest son who wrote and dedicated a song to his father titled “Addicted To Every Possibility.”
It was this that gave Van Severen the strength to continue creating throughout his illness right to the very end.
Premiere showing at the Triennale
‘Maarten Van Severen. Works’ 2005
by Terenja Van Dijk; Moniek Bucquoye / 32 mins
‘Maarten Van Severen. Works’ by Terenja Van Dijk was shown daily on a big screen in the Triennale
In what would be the last year of his life, Maarten Van Severen worked on a retrospective, commissioned by the Design Museum Ghent, which showed furniture, prototypes, drawings, notes, photographs and more
The basis for the film is an encounter with Van Severen in his studio, which reveals the way he thinks, lives, collects, designs, and makes.
It captures the spirit that made Maarten Van Severen one of the the most interesting and influential designers of recent times.
Through conversations with Van Severen in his studio, and visits to some of his most important projects, we get a sense of the way he thought, lived, collected, and designed
The work of Maarten Van Severen exudes simplicity and has a powerful aura. This is furniture that is not only aesthetic, but also comfortable to sit in, lie on, and use.
His goal was that a piece of furniture has to look ‘as if it has always been there.’
Lensvelt’s Exhibition by OMA at Venture Lambrate
Rem Koolhaas, Maarten Van Severen and Lansvelt had a longstanding collaboration for landmark architectural projects in the past, including the Seattle Public Library, Maison a Bordeax in France, Dutch Embassy in Berlin and they also created several interiors for OMA, such as the Lemoine house in Bordeaux, the Casa da Musico in Porto, and Villa Dall’ Ava in Paris.
OMA created the Salone 2014 installation for Lensvelt to present their re-launching of the first series of furniture by Belgian designer Maarten van Severen.
“Addicted to Every Possibility’, the exhibition presented at Ventura Lambrate, featured a collection of re-issued production models and scale models against a three dimensional environment.
Situated within deceiving scenery – where photography and graphics were alternatively spliced – the decor re-enacted the experience of walking inside the former studio of Maarten van Severen.
On display were a series of rooms drawn in perspective recede into the backdrop for the First Series of furniture by the Flemish designer.
“Doing things together was exciting,” explained Rem Koolhaas of OMA. “That doesn’t happen to me very often. Working with Maarten was therefore also a sort of important moment in my own professional life. I knew I could rely on Maarten. He could create something that on one hand was extremely plain – but also highly imaginative. Maybe that was Maarten’s intrinsic talent. Sometimes there was a kind of tension between the two. The special thing about Maarten was that he never said: ‘that’s not possible’.’
The installation recreated Maarten Van Severen’s studio, and demonstrated how he went through the production process
‘The works of Van Severen are different. they are silent,’ said Hans Lensvelt, owner. ‘totally stripped down and reduced almost to a conceptual prototype – a simple hieroglyph.’
The installation featured pieces by van Severen such as: CHL 95, LC 95, C 92, T 88A, K 93, LT 92 and S 88
About Maarten Van Severen
Maarten Van Severen, born 1956 in Antwerp, Belgium
The son of an abstract painter, Maarten van Severen chose to study architecture at the Sint-Lucas Art Academy in Ghent, Belgium.
He came from a tradition of craftspeople and artists, accordingly, the combination of craftsmanship and artistry that characterised his work was instilled at an early age.
He completed three years before going to work in various agencies on interior design and furniture projects
He designed his first furniture pieces in 1986 and in the following year established an independent workshop, where he pursued the limited, semi-industrial production of his own furniture designs
The first piece, a long and slender steel table, has since been recreated as an aluminum model, which has been further refined over the years.
In 1989 he produced his first wooden table; long, slim and pure in form.
In 1990 he turned his attention to chairs. His work, hand-produced in his workshop in Ghent, reflects his quest for perfection in form, detail and fabrication.
This unified process of design and production was a fundamental aspect of his work over a long period of time, in which he devoted himself to the examination of basic furniture types: chair, table, chaise longue, shelving, cabinet.
He developed primary solutions for these categories based on a comprehensive exploration of the questions of form, material and construction.
Maarten Van Severen’s unmistakable trademark is a calm, elegant style of uncluttered functionality.
Translating the approaches of minimal art to design, he also derived inspiration from analysing the works of Jean Prouvé, Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, Gerrit Rietveld and Willy Guhl.
Yet far from being backward-looking, in his own work Van Severen used the latest high-tech materials.
Like many other Flemish designers, Maarten van Severen never lost sight of functionality, which is why his designs are especially comfortable.
Maarten worked in a variety of different materials: aluminium and ply to bakelite and polyester.
Beginning in 1990, Maarten Van Severen began to collaborate closely with Rem Koolhaas and also turned his attention to interior design tasks.
Van Severen was also frequently commissioned as a decorator and furniture designer for private residence projects, teamed with Rem Koolhaas.
They worked together on the Villa dall’Ava in 1990, then again in Bordeaux in 1996 (Maison ‡ Floirac, OMA).
He has also created exhibition stands of steel shelving for use at shows and trade fairs.
The beginning of his collaboration with Vitra in 1996 marked a new phase in his career. It offered him the opportunity to work with new materials and also brought a much wider degree of exposure and influence
Since 1997 he is involved in industrial productions for Target Lighting, Obumex, Vitra, Edra, BULO, Kartell, Alessi, and Pastoe.
His initial work was originally manufactured by Aiki (formerly Top Mouton) in Belgium but since 20113 it is being done by Lennvelt.
Since 1999 there has been an intense collaboration in further developing his furniture
During this period he also assumed teaching positions at a variety of institutions, including University College West Flanders in Kortrijk (1996), the Academy of Fine Arts in Maastricht (1996-97), Delft University of Technology (1998) and universities in Helsinki and Barcelona.
Until his death in 2005 in Ghent, Maarten Van Severen developed a range of new designs for Vitra, which have progressively entered series production.
Maarten Van Severen was a personal friend of Hans Lensvelt as shown in this nice video
About Moon Blaisse
Moon Blaisse studied film directing at the RITS, in Belgium.
Her graduation film, ‘Misschien later’ (Maybe later), was a success. With this film she won a VAF wildcard, which she is using for the development of a short film.
Through a commissioned film for the Severen Foundation on the subject of the Chair .03, she came up with the idea for the film; “Addicted to Every Possibility”, which was has received good reiews from architects, designers and others.
Pain Perdu was founded by Moon Blaisse, Jules Debrock and Daan Milius, together with other young talent to join forces and achieve.
We got to know each other during our studies at the RITS film school in Brussels.
We try to approach societal themes in an innovative way It is the visual aspect is very important; not only the aesthetics but also the place that the image itself occupies in society.
Our activities are very diverse, so are we among other things, movies, documentaries, music videos and television.