Over the past ten years, designers Valentijn Goethals and Tomas Lootens have been working collaboratively as design studio We Became Aware. But during the process of finishing their latest publication, Occupation and Hospitality, which covers the studio’s work from design to scenography and running a public gallery space, the pair decided to pause their work as a design studio.
The reason for this is 019, the aforementioned public space the designers’ curate alongside a larger collective, and can be found in a former welding factory in Ghent. Deciding to navigate their creative attention towards 019 is a choice readers can see unfold, quite literally, within Occupation and Hospitality as it goes through the documentation of two projects.
The first is the actual design work that’s gone into the project space of 019, displaying exhibitions hosted on its outside facade. This is followed by Museum of Moving Practice “an exercise in moving our practice outside of our space and into the Design Museum of Ghent,” the pair explain. In choosing to place two projects which differ in material, output and design thinking into one publication, Tomas and Valentijn required a particular design flair to weave it together, resulting in Occupation and Hospitality’s binding and cover which unfolds from the centre to display a wide spread of content.
By choosing such a specific way of binding, one that would usually be seen in photography-focused monographs to display the expanse of an image, not only adds a quirk to the publication when seen amongst others but makes sense editorially. For example, Occupation and Hospitality features three essays alongside the documentation of the two projects, as well as advertisements for upcoming events and displays those they’ve collaborated with recently, including Tauba Auerbach, Experimental Jetset and Braulio Amado.
Valentijn and Tomas’ decision to draw focus away from their design work, especially after operating as We Became Aware for longer than a decade, may seem drastic but allowing design to inform choices, inside and outside of creative projects, is a factor of being part of the collective. “From the start, it’s been a laboratory that swings us into unknown directions, constantly sharpening our sense of improvisation and reinvention on the spot,” the pair explain. “The whole project turned us upside down. But in doing so, we became aware as well. We understood that the act of occupying and taking possession of the site was not the goal of our work at all. From the inside out, starting with a wooden construction in its interior and up to the billboard at an outside wall and a series of flagpoles on the roof, we gradually developed the place into an assembly of undergrounds for public and artistic encounter, an emerging space for collaboration that was grounded on the premise that all media at our disposal were common grounds to be rediscovered. That is when the work began.”
In turn, Occupation and Hospitality is a physical document of where Tomas and Valentijn currently sit within their own morphing design practice. It is a publication that should be pulled apart, inspected, switched around to view at alternate angles, one to read and visually take in too. It’s a designed publication that represents a point in the creatives output where “things began to move, for real,” explains the publication. “That is when we — artists, designers and the like — had all turned into scenographers, regardless of our discipline: co-authors of a scene that was constructed out of margins and constraints, participants in a game of give and take that we endlessly play around display we like to recycle.
“In the end,” 019, including Tomas and Valentijn conclude, “that’s how 019, our handling of its space through appropriation and dispossession, became the site of a moving practice, a collaborative way of working ready to be moved, reproduced and reinvented elsewhere.”
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