Superéquipe is a (super)group of seven designers housed mostly in Berlin. It’s a cooperation between these opinionated and educated designers, each bringing their expertise and personal strengths to the table. They do create as individuals, one learns to never say no when there is a hand to feed you, but their main endeavor(other than their pieces of course) is to try and push the notion of singular virtuoso designer into an idea of the past, envisioning a continuous exchange between them. I met up with Jan Regett, Gesine Hillman and Miriam Lehnart to discuss everything from Government support(or lack of) to unknown designers to eating old cookies for Sunday breakfast. It was clear from the few minutes that I was in their company that they have chemistry, no pretensions and especially a whole lot of ideas and opinions.
Superéquipes’ Jan Regett and Gésine Hillman
Alex: What makes you decide to work with a material or not, or does the object inform the piece or the other way around:
Gesine: To answer your question, I wouldn’t, I can’t differentiate from one or the other…
Jan: In the case of the cabinet it was the material first, that gave the idea, the material with the combination function of the cabinet, the lockers of the older cabinets were made with brass, so the material. In flea markets you can find these old handles and stuff and you always start to wonder, you can see traces of time on the material and you wonder what object it had been attached to.
Alex: You are a group, and you work from different cities, and so how do you see collaboration, and also this need for certain designers to hone a piece wholly, even though they were helped by others like craftsmen:
Gesine: We are working really close and then with the rest of the group, it just comes up depending on the project. Actually right now together as a group, we are working on a project that is all about the concept of working together, we are not sure where we will exhibit, but it’s three of us, and four others people, Julia and Tjark, the ones who have been in the group before, and then two other guys and we started working. We asked the question about what the author is, especially in design you always have those big names that stand in front of the objects, and much bigger than that piece, and in reality you never design a piece entirely on your own, you always design a piece in a group. I can only speak for myself but I could never say that this is entirely my idea, We started to give around ideas draw, write down, and then the next one gets your sketchbook, go round, get it back, and then we have to complete it. That is our experiment right now. I am always very dependent of other people, especially for craft work, so many designers are carpenters, but if you want to design anything, you always have a more specialized craftsman who will help you to achieve what you want to do.
Jan: One of the basic idea behind Superéquipe was not to be a studio, not to put so much pressure on having to work together all the time, giving people time to get to know each other and share ideas, do projects together, but if you feel like doing your own stuff with other people you just go ahead and do it. Now it’s working out really well, we are getting together in different constellations.
Alex: You do have your sketch meeting conversations that inform your work, obviously there are different source points for your different pieces, but in a broader sense what inspires you outside of design…is there a story you want to tell…I guess it’s a vast question:
Gesine: Everything and nothing…. and I think we are a bit shocked about how small the source of inspiration seems to be nowadays. The internet is so big but I think it is important to go outside and see other things than what is on the internet and see more than blogs, in design it even get’s smaller, they look at the same things, and it doesn’t even have to do with inspiration. there is this big cloud of ideas that is really helpful sometimes but turns out to be very frustrating, cuz it’s so hard when you are doing like ten projects a week, so yeah doing other things than design, talking to people who are not designers.
Jan: What you mentioned about storytelling, or in this case(pointing to the Stuhl Eins) it’s rather modern technique, but then when you look closely at it, there is a story… if you have those other pieces it’s always a mixture of story and the use of modern technique, finding the appropriate way in between the two.
Miriam: I guess sometimes I even think about the things that excited you as a child. When you are reminded of what act you did, or which objects you had, how you held them, kept them, then it’s not just an object.
Alex: Yeah right because then it doesn’t just become an aesthetic object, that leaves you empty at the end of the day. Which brings me to the next question, when you were a kid, did you create with your hands, like a lot of people claim they did, and you knew:
Miriam: But there are people who know…
Gesine: I didn’t know that I was going to be a designer, and I still don’t know(laughing) but I always knew that I was going to be probably…as stupid as this might sound, something creative, I always liked drawing and that kind of stuff more than writing for example. I think it was a bit obvious that I would go in that type of direction, but I think it is shaped around the choices you make, your upbringing, who you meet, and paths.
Jan: For me it took a year of studying mechanical engineering to realize, it still helps sometimes but I’m really glad I changed fields. I can’t say that I always knew that I would be a designer. Actually in the first semester I kind of had an idea of what a designer is but not really what being a designer is like, what you are supposed to do.
Alex: And what is the process like, you talked about passing the sketchbook around, but obviously it’s different at every project, somebody might take the lead..but are you on your computer…:
Gesine: I’m on my computer, I don’t sketch so much, or I do but i don’t keep my sketches, I write something down but then I don’t use it again…yeah I often start and decide things in my head and don’t bring it to paper…
Jan: I sometimes have a feeling that it might be worth making a model, but i try to eliminate as much as possible in advance, which doesn’t work all the time, and then of course our generation, computer programs are a part of it, but then you realize it looks completely different in the computer so you build the model according to the sketch you made in the computer but it has nothing to do with what you see, at a certain time it is necessary and also fun to get to a workshop and try out.
Miriam: I used to, i don’t know why i don’t have a sketchbook with me anymore but I used to have one with me, I would always scribble, write a few things, collect pictures. It’s kind of nice, cuz when you have an idea and you are in the subway or wherever, normally when I come home, I’ve forgotten about it, because it’s just a glimpse of something, and mood boards, I collect pictures and photographs and something might come up or not.
Alex: And so how do you see Berlin as a source of inspiration, is there anything that you like or nothing at all:
Gesine: It’s a really nice city, I don’t have the same inspiration or feeling about Berlin like other people who come from another city, cuz I’m born here, and sometimes a bit annoyed by all the party, we’re so cool, everybody likes Berlin thing, cuz I think it’s true that it is really nice and cheap, but if it could be different it could be nice for the people. if we had more seriousness about the work, not that people aren’t serious about their work, but it’s more a critique on the politics of the city. They are always promoting the creative scene but they don’t do anything for them, they use the people to advertise Berlin but the people get nothing in return.
Alex: What do you mean by “they don’t get anything”:
Gesine: Everyone moves to a certain part of the city, rents go up, so the people that make it popular have to leave, and it is happening everywhere. The people who have the scholarships….
Jan: Berlin has their own design firm…they are advertising the greatest scene, but most of the creative things going on happens because people just do it,cuz they have the freedom it would also be nice if they were appreciate by the people who use it to advertise it of…
Miriam: you are totally right, but all the things that the government is doing, in my creative opinion is total shit so…
Gesine: Yeah but what…
Miriam: there are so many people who decide on what they have to do, and so it looks like…they could help people, to support, the people who live here, Berlin is cheap, that’s one of the main reasons’ Berlin got so popular. when they ask the poor designers of Berlin to design a poster there are so many rules that are made by people who don’t have a taste at all.
Gesine: But what I mean….
Miriam: I know what you meant but if they would just support people….
Gesine: I mean like competitions, the description is often made for people already established and big companies, you don’t even have a chance to try out, they could have bigger offers or support for the event, but in the end it’s always the same people. Other than that I think Berlin is a great city and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Miriam: I’m from Berlin as well, and I thought okay I want to move, but where am I going to move, nowhere in Germany that is for sure…
(we all laugh)
Miriam:…so you either leave Germany or you live in Berlin
Alex: To be honest with you there are all kinds of gentrification happening everywhere, where people go to the shitty, cheap parts of town, and everything get’s ridiculous:
Gesine: Yeah I know it’s the same everywhere but in New York this perhaps happened 50 years ago, so people don’t complain about it anymore(laughing).
Jan: People are so super creative and they come from all of the world here, which is really cool because it is what makes it so inspirational, but it’s also the reason for price bumping, because you will always find someone who is going to do it for ten bucks, in a way that is frustrating. You would imagine if we were all like at the same time decide to work for 25 bucks then it would be fair, but in a way….
Miriam: But again it’s not just Berlin…
Jan: No again it’s just part of the game.
Alex: It get’s to be a problematic because people don’t value the people behind it, they just want the final product:
Gesine: I think that is also a German problem, that people don’t value the work…
Gesine: Not yet enough that the education behind it is not good enough, people always think “Oh aren’t you a designer…can’t you do that for me…”, and it’s like yes of course I can but it costs this much.
Alex: Do you have a connection to your clients, people come to you and you design taking their ideas in consideration, or do you definitely have your products:
Gesine: I think that’s what we are all doing, the two at the same time…
Miriam: We need the money
(we all laugh)
Gesine:…I would like to always work on my own things of course(jokingly), it is fun to work on some things that you never thought of, like I designed a logo for a company, I had to do it because it was money, but in the end it was fun, I learned something. It was a nice challenge, to have to talk to people that are totally in another world and to explain to them what you mean and why you did it, it is also fun.
Miriam: I guess it is good to work with someone else to realize that it’s nice to have a project on your own again, and on the other side then when you have a project on your own, you don’t have a deadline, you don’t have any ideas and is it good enough, and after 3 months you realize…wait i could change things, it could’ve been totally different, let’s start over again.
Jan: There are also nice projects…one comes from a designer,who has a project and the designers act as mediators, and so they go to an elderly home and work together, did workshops, this way is a nice way to work with a client, then it is appreciated from both sides.
Gesine: I never thought that I would spend an extra two hours on the computer then I would need but I did a lot, because the work was really important to me, and I liked the fact that they liked it.
Jan: It’s necessary, sometimes the designers, we tend to forget that it’s made for people, you know how they have to sit and feel and then it’s this shape, but you always have to talk to people and check if your on a good path, it’s a general designer disease, to think of knowing how stuff works.
Miriam: It has something to do with not giving up the idea, that’s essentially what we try, are we good at giving up parts of the idea and letting people design parts of the project
Gesine: It’s really hard.
(we all laugh)
Jan: The idea came a bit out of the idea of digital contact the whole open source, creative cannon stuff, so we were wondering also in an analog way, have an open idea, you always try to possess your idea, but never wonder if your idea wants to be owned. It’s nice sometimes when you are stuck, to give it away and if you do it in a group with people you trust then it’s ok…you get it back
Gesine: You might get it back.
Alex: For me objects, though in the design category, they pertain to art in my eyes and some sculptures retain to this idea of just being an object, do you differentiate between art and design, or do you think that it’s just unnecessary to categorize this much:
Gesine: No, I think it’s a question that was contemporary a few years ago, but now it is not necessary, and of course there are some projects that are more art than others and there are designers that are strict designers, but for me it doesn’t matter. In school we were never shown any borders or distinction between art and design, but it’s not a question I ask. Sometimes there is even in design an object that wants to be in a gallery but then I think they are in a gallery but it is not art, and then if it’s just a question of making more money through the gallery system then it’s not valid, so it’s more that question.
Jan: I think what changed is that you can’t distinguish anymore, maybe 10-15 years ago there was art that you designed, and then you had the mass production, but nowadays you also find art exhibitions that show the piece of mass production and also reveal the process of making it and just by the way it is presented, showing how you get from a piece to a mass product, it can be beautiful as at stand alone piece.
Miriam: I think there was a big movement of designers who really like that idea of art as design, from Holland, they all went with their pieces that was more dependent on the art market and then people wanted to buy that and so..it’s much easier, you don’t need another chair, you don’t need anything anymore, so when you design a table it’s much easier just build a table and sell it as art,it is easier to design as an anti-object maybe.
Gesine: Objects that never intended to be an art object, but was a hardcore industrial design, the shape is so good, so it’s worth as having it as a sculpture, so that’s why there is no border.
Jan: It’s been a while now, but Germans had this quite serious and hardcore functional items, and all the Made in German thing, like you said you need to be ecologically responsible, politically correct. It’s what we were educated for but then it’s nice to do a piece that is not all serious and perfect and well thought, you just have a little story and then it’s done, a vacation from serious design.
Miriam: Yeah and the more exciting it looks, the easier it is to sell, kind of.
Jan: Then it’s also really challenging to make a mass product, I really want to make a good one someday…everyone wants…
Miriam: I don’t.
Gesine: Even if a person makes a big mass product and that turns out to be art…
Miriam: What do you think of?
Gesine:What do I think of…well there are so many good chairs designed to be mass pieces and look like a sculpture and nobody buys them because they are so good in their function.
Miriam: Yeah but sometimes you don’t sit on a chair you just have it around a table, a lot of people have their Ponton chair, in a corner or whatever and nobody sits on it EVER, then make it to be a sculpture.
Jan: That is again not even meant to be art, it’s related to the design. The pieces you think of first(when thinking of design) by these big designer geniuses…..it’s complex but most people in the history weren’t even a designer, the formation didn’t even exist yet, they simply had a special eye for shapes and lines, made beautiful objects that work as mass pieces as well…makes me really jealous.
Alex: What do you think of that word genius, because it’s used for everything, somebody turns a cup upside down and it’s a new product and that person is a genius, for me it’s a bit problematic:
Gesine: It’s horrible, I hate that word.There are not so many.
Jan: The further we go in time, there is more history just to understand, so it’s hard to make new stuff, and as we discussed before you can’t do it on your own, you need people, you have to be a group genius..I think the only genius can be a collective where each one has a specialty, and all together you can be a genius group maybe but not a person, or maybe there is but….
Miriam: Maybe it’s a secret(mimics unbuttoning her shirt, like a superhero to reveal that she is one)
Alex: What do you eat on Sunday mornings:
Gesine: We don’t eat so much because we forgot to buy groceries before, which is quite awful, but i like to eat eggs and…
Miriam: Actually I always forget to go do the groceries on Saturday so I always wonder why I don’t have anything on Sunday.
Alex: So you start chewing paper:
Miriam: then get excited:”oh…a cookie here, okay food”.
Super Équipe consists of: Jan Regett, Gesine Hillmann, Miriam Lehnart, Stefan Rechsteiner, Lisa Hillmann, Julia Fellner, Tjark Pfeiffer and Marc Birri
Photography by: Ottilie Maters