Photography by Valentina Sommariva
Though most of us may dread a forecast of rain, Jólan van der Wiel begs to bring it on. In the Dutch designer’s latest project, titled “Journey of a Raindrop: The strange attraction of water” and on display at ISSEY MIYAKE in Milan, we get a unique perspective of water and air by bringing nature’s forces inside. With a variety of installations made of transparent tubes, van der Wiel walks us through the many forms that a raindrop takes: a spiral shows rain’s interaction with wind, crystal-like shapes bring to mind its frozen state and water streaming upwards is reminiscent of evaporation. The installations beautifully interacts with other elements of the store in order to create a one-of-a-kind visual dialogue surrounding the idea of nature’s powerful forces.
Van der Wiel’s work is known to examine natural phenomena and challenge our understanding of “invisible” forces. He’s worked with brands like Volvo Car Group, and his creations have most recently been on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. Below, van der Wiel talks to us about the method behind his latest series of installations at ISSEY MIYAKE, as part of their annual collaboration with designers, artists and other creative professionals for the week of Salone del Mobile.
Tell us about how this collaboration with ISSEY MIYAKE came to be.
I think they saw some of the work I did with Magnetic Forces and out of that, they paid interest and we started communicating. Every year, they look for an artist who wants to collaborate within their store in Milan during Salone [del Mobile].
What about showing in Milan is so exciting for you as an artist?
Almost every year, I go there with someone for several projects. In this case, it was interesting because we could collaborate on this store and merge natural forces to see what could come about
Let’s talk about the piece itself: Journey of a Raindrop. When did you first become interested in water as a source of inspiration?
From my youth, I liked to walk through the rain. Rain is a beautiful material, but it's a very destructive material as well. Everybody loves it; everybody hates it. But, at the end of the day, we all need it and it's a very multicultural material.
I'm always interested within my work to visualize natural forces within the material and to use new technologies to make the project happen. Most of the time it starts with an environment. I think about how objects or materials would react in different environments, like cold areas or warm areas or extreme areas.
ISSEY MIYAKE asked me to develop something that would be fun and joyful to look at, but would also speak to many languages and cultural backgrounds in the world. That's why I decided to continue with this topic of water because water is basically a textile—it's a material, you can move it, you can bring it in different shapes. At the same time, it's something that everybody can relate to.
I really like this very old story of the Journey of a Raindrop—to imagine that this drop is traveling the whole world all the time. It evaporates, it falls down, it travels through wind, it meets lightning, it freezes, it gets hot, it's becomes a river, and you drink it. It travels a lot and we can give it a sort of personality, just one drop.
Tell us about the materials you used.
The idea was these drops of water traveling through the building. I wanted to develop these transparent tubes where there's different pressure. We can play a bit with gravity, so the water can go up, it can go horizontal, it can go any direction. We developed this structure of installations from transparent tubes which are shaped into different structures inspired by different natural forces—basically the whole Earth in small installations. What you see is water and air going through those tubes.
How is it different showing at a store versus at a gallery or in a different space?
It's totally different. There are clothes and there are materials in the store, and it's a very old building, so we cannot put anything on the walls or drill. There are these limitations. But at the same time, it's nice because it already creates a certain atmosphere—people want to be there. For me, it was important that [the structure] was there, but at the same time, I didn’t want it to take over the whole store. That's why we started working with transparent materials so that you can still look through it and can see people walking on the other side, see clothes on the other side. It really emerges with the interior.
You've collaborated with so many amazing people like Iris van Herpen and brands like Dom Perignon. Is there a collaboration you hope to accomplish in the future?
I've started small projects already with an architectural company from the Netherlands. I would love to continue collaborating with architectural companies to bring natural forces into buildings and bring natural force into our daily life, especially with rain or with water. There’s this idea that natural forces are actually there to work with instead of them being our enemy. I like to work with different disciplines than my own discipline because it gives you different end results. It's a merge of different worlds to do something new.
Going back to the journey of a raindrop, if you were a raindrop, where would you want to land if you were falling from the sky?
I think in the canyons of Spain, in the Pyrenees. They have these very dry rocks, so you can fall over it and convert into a river, then you come to these paradise canyons where you could stay a while. That would be amazing.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.