Silvia Knüppel is always on the go. At 33 she has already produced a wide variety of works that have been sold to collectors and museum collections. For the past year she has also been teaching design students at the Hamburg Design Academy. She came to Israel as a guest of the Goethe Institute for New Olds in which two of her pieces are being showcased. Her short visit here was rather hectic too, and included three lectures and a workshop she gave in the Curating Design course for MA students at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.
Photo: Shira Shoval
Before we begin, I must ask: is your name pronounced ‘Knuppel' or ‘Knippel'? I have to admit, we discussed this rather extensively.
Silvia laughs as if this isn't the first time she's been asked this question.
"My understanding is that there isn't an equivalent sound in Hebrew, but it most closely resembles ‘knoppel'. Actually, my name is very funny in German, and some people even ask me if it's my artist’s name, a name I adopted for myself. It's a kind of wooden stick, or a club that you use for hitting, and it comes from a legend. A bit like Fred Flintstone's club".
Tell us a little about the early stages of your career.
"I actually started out in fashion and textile. During my studies, the school was still being built and the workshops weren't yet in use, so I experimented a lot with my sewing machine. Most of my first projects are about body and space. Clothes are the closest thing to our body; it's the kind of closeness that can never be expressed in a piece of furniture. With clothes - every day you have to consider the conditions of your surrounding, like the weather, and every day you have to deliberate what to wear. Then I went on to intern with design duo "Bless" in Paris (click here for an article about Bless). They've found a wonderful way, in my view, to combine fashion, art, and product design. Their furniture is also fashion".
Searching for function that goes beyond beauty and fashion - Functional Hairstyles - hairstyles that can also function as shelves for small objects.
It is evident in your work that you're fascinated with cupboards, chests of drawers, and shelves. When did your interest in storage begin?
"Storage has fascinated me since my graduation project. It's an everyday action that we perform regularly. We buy and buy more and more things and shove them into a closet. Virtually everything we buy we store behind closed doors, and that's a pity. I wanted to create a cupboard that also displays; a kind of display cabinet. But unlike a sideboard in which objects are kept behind glass - in this cupboard they can be touched. Our generation no longer folds and irons, we're constantly on the move and travel a lot. We live differently, so we store differently as well. Most fabrics nowadays don't even require ironing".
New storage - Clothes Dispenser draws its inspiration from a tissue dispenser. Every morning the desired clothes can be pulled out of it.
"I noticed that most of us have a chair or a stand in our bedroom onto which we toss our clothes at the end of the day. After a while it becomes a pile and then you have to put everything back into the closet. Here storage becomes a daily practice. There's no need to put things back into the cupboard; rather, every day you can pull out the desired outfit and wear it again. What happens is that the outfit actually creates itself, that is, an element of originality is introduced into the way we dress in the morning. I think that if we were to look in our wardrobes we'd discover that most of the garments actually go well together - after all, we bought them".
How important is functionality in design, in your opinion?
"Very important. I have no desire to do art. I'm a designer, and in my view the functionality of the product is one of the most important elements".
But when we look at the cupboard in the exhibition, it could actually be said that its functionality is questionable.
"I think it's very functional. The possibility of taking a knife and making cuts in the cupboard to precisely adapt it to each person's needs makes it super-functional. You can store things in it that can't usually be stored in a cupboard. It fits the user exactly".
Has your engagement with storage changed anything in the way you store things in your own home?
"I think that I'm more aware today of what I buy, so as not to be in a situation of having thousands of things that I don't even know where they are. People tend to say that foam isn't an ecological, sustainable material. For me, sustainability is awareness of what I consume and buy; consumption awareness".
One of the striking features in your work is your use of humor, and more specifically irony.
"I don't intend to be funny or ironic in my designs. The thoughts that preoccupy me in design are very serious to me. The responses to the objects come from observers, from the audience's interpretation, but that isn't my aim".
Engaging in everyday issues - Winter Coat - a wooden chest of drawers incorporating wool threads. As a student Silvia lived in a tiny apartment with no room for excess furniture. She often sat on the floor, leaning against a cupboard or chest of drawers, and worked on her laptop. This piece was created from the desire to lean against something soft and warm, to create a kind of vertical rug. This is her most Sisyphean work to date: a wooden chest of drawers with hundreds of thousands of holes drilled into it, through which she threaded wool threads - all by hand.
"The piece was made as part of a graduation project and I didn't imagine it would take such a long time to complete. I started to panic and there was genuine concern that I wouldn't manage to complete it in time, and I had to enlist my whole family, friends and neighbors in order to complete and submit it in time".
I've noticed that you don't use much color in your pieces; is that intentional?
"Colors are difficult. I prefer to create neutral-colored pieces and let users add color to the product with the items they choose to store in the chest of drawers or cupboard. In my own home, too, I don't like too much color. Using colors has to be done in an extremely informed way in view of the position of the piece and the space itself. I prefer to focus on the idea and not the color. Actually, with Winter Coat I initially wanted to use color gradation, from white to black, but in the end I ran out of time and wool, so I stuck with black on black".
How do your pieces fit in with New Olds in your opinion?
"Tradition and archetypes are important, but I like to make them part of my life. Nowadays we no longer live like our parents or our grandparents did. At first glance my piece might look like something they created, while in fact it's something completely different. My attitude toward designs from the past is more as a reference point. I love antique furniture, walking around flea markets. You can learn a lot about the history of a place by visiting the local flea market. We all have access to and a connection with it, with our past".
From New Olds, the current exhibition at the Museum: Drückeberger, from the House Rules series | Photo: Shay Ben-Efraim
You often collaborate with other young designers.
"I've done several joint projects with other designers, including a lighting project with my sister, who's also a designer. I love working with others. It's challenging and requires negotiation and compromise. These days I'm working alone in a studio in Hamburg and looking for partners. Working alone is hard for me. There are always too many temptations. I need a dialogue with other people, not to create in a bubble. The connection with other young designers also stems from a financial need, to share expenses. And when we attend fairs we take a booth together. It saves on expenses and facilitates a dialogue and critique".
One of the joint projects with another designer is Homesick, a series of sports nets made using the traditional crochet technique, in contrast with the conventional square nets. As alluded to by the project's name, the nets shift from a sportive and competitive content to an enlargement of lace that is reminiscent of a comfortable home setting, perhaps as a substitute for the rivalry of the game.
Silvia Knüppel is very modest about her dreams for the future.
"I'd like to continue what I'm doing now, work in a bigger studio, and experiment with different things. I recently designed my first chair, and that's also something I'd like to continue developing. In Germany there's a very clear and distinctive division between fields of practice and it isn't customary to move between them. I want to combine and not be restricted. I'd like to work with a big company and produce something in commercial quantities. It's very difficult to collaborate with manufacturers. They're very cautious, and for women it's even more difficult. There isn't a single successful female product designer in Germany. Every year there are more and more female design students, but as yet there still isn't a figure you can look to and learn from. But the hard work is worthwhile. The fact is I'm here, in Israel, thanks to my cupboard. There are people who are very supportive of young designers, like Volker Albus (curator of the exhibition) for example, who's a very unique individual in Germany, and who doesn't discriminate between men and women".
To Silvia Knüppel's website >>
To the New Olds exhibition page at the Museum >>