Since Sebastiaan Straatsma (1972, The Netherlands) started making, playing with existing forms, function and context has been central to his work. Archetypes and objects with historical and emotional value fascinate him. He re-uses and re-interprets these into new objects and products. He makes small adjustments to them, changes, abuses and replaces their material, form and status.

In 2006, vases became Straatsma’s subject of research. Fascinated by classic archetypical ceramic vases, he started challenging the recognisability of their function, material and history. This lead to the ever-growing series of unique and handmade ‘Dustcollector’ vases, made from (brightly) coloured epoxy resin. Originally, these kinds of vases were ‘canvases’ displaying contemporary symbols, drawings and representations of their time.

‘Dustcollector’ refers to the non-functionality of these vases, which Straatsma has taken as a starting point for his translation. The original ceramic vases lost their function and became status symbols and decoration; they are no longer the vessels for spices from the far East.

The ‘Dustcollector’ series resulted in an open form, a skin, not pretending to be functional at all, eye candy, while at the same time still referring to the emotional value of the well-known classical archetypes.

Straatsma has developed his own, very unique, technique. With each vase he follows a process – from an idea, a collage or sketch, to preparing a mould, mixing colours and actually making the vase by drawing, splattering and squirting the epoxy resin. This is a material he is very much fond of working with; endless possibilities for construction and structure are merged into one single material. A material so strong and elegant, one can draw with it. It can be used as a very thin, open, skin, but can also be applied layer after layer, creating a thick and almost crude surface.

The ‘Dustcollector’ vases distinguish themselves not only through their contemporary symbolism, but also through their detailed handwork and the specific method of production developed by Straatsma.

Rubber nr 14
The Thonet nr 14, icon and one of the first mass-produced chairs of the industrial age, conserved, re-used and upgraded.
Collection: Boijmans Museum Rotterdam, Stedelijk Museum Schiedam
Year: 2000 Material: rubber and wood.

Portable Stone
A stone, wrapped, conserved and made functional; making use of something seemingly useless.
Year: 1999
 Material: stone and rubber

Portable Lamp
A series of 9 lamps, where decoration, construction and function are merged into one material.
Year: 2002-2003
 Material: resin and lamp

Timeline Dustcollector vases 2006 –
Update 2020

The Dustcollectors of Sebastiaan Straatsma – by Timo de Rijk; art historian

Sebastiaan Straatsma made a gutsy entrance onto the world-stage of design. Choosing not to get lost in the development of an original form, he opted to work against artistic codes and reinvented an existing product. To do this, Straatsma took Thonet’s Chair Number 14 as his subject – an icon of modern design – and made his own version by simply pouring rubber onto the celebrated wooden chair ‘Rubber nr14’. A young designer taking on a Number 14 is a bit like challenging Johan Cruyff for a kick about in the park. Yet, despite the match’s inequality, a historic icon is nothing to be intimidated by. At worst, a retrospective shrug of the shoulders will pass any blame on to youthful impetuosity.

However, in Straatsma’s case no apology was needed and no defeat was suffered, as his project wasn’t an adversarial challenge. Straatsma’s intervention was that of an admirer. His admiration was for a chair whose standardised parts saw the blessings and advantages of industrial production. Straatsma correctly saw the Number 14 as a timeless icon and a piece of furniture free from the restraints of its time. He realised this timelessness could not be designed, and has to arise. To be concise, it is a quality stored in the lifetime of a product more than in the meaning of the maker.

After the Thonet chair Straatsma took a further step deciding to work with well known and archetypal vase shapes. The vase’s formats are familiar and striking in their use of predominantly brightly coloured epoxy threads resulting in an improbable lightness. With the Thonet chair as his subject matter Straatsma began a discussion with a design icon. The value of such an icon is considerable, since it is recognisable by many and the play on archetypal forms is a well-known commercial game. As such, Straatsma took a slightly different approach to his subject matter. His choice of ceramic archetypes (lidded vase, tea vase, trumpet vase and gingerpot to be precise) plays with the recognisibility of the form and the making of the products. The main difference being these products are more clichés than icons. Unlike the Thonet Chair, history has not elevated them to the status of untouchable products. Instead they are inexpressive forms used by those in need of a carrier for his or her intentions. These archetypes of ceramic history can be found in low budget discount stores and the opulent sales of Christie’s and Sotheby’s.

Straatsma’s choice promised a battle. How would he manage to take a meaningless shape and transform it into a valuable artistic statement? His reasons for choosing these vases and other products were that they are omnipresent and therefore well known. Straatsma specifically analysed how they developed and why they had not changed in shape. By calling his vases and other products ‘Dustcollectors’, he implies an intended function of the archetype as seen through his specific design sensibility. After all, the vases and jars in his collection are no longer meant for displaying flowers or storing food. Straatsma takes the non-functionality of the decorative product as his subject, only translating the vase’s form through its decoration. The resulting form is open and no longer physically sealed. This decorative character of vases has allowed their forms to nestle into collective memory, in contradiction to radios or telephones, which many children would no longer recognise the archetypes of.

The series began with seeming caution. With the first lidded vases from Delft, Makkum and China, Straatsma keept close the original charm of the blue-white and coloured painted ceramics. A degree of prudence was needed when leaving the enclosed form and exchanging the earthenware as Straatsma risked pulling the proverbial tablecloth from under himself. The resulting combination of a neutral well known form and glowing bright coloured plastic, that many associate especially with cheap materials, could easily become kitsch in careless hands. But Straatsma abided by his precise translation of form and decoration. This treatment achieved amazing results in the large trumpet vases, which from the corner of the eye are incomprehensibly close to the Chinese originals. Manufactured in this way, the effect they create is a tension between the similarity of the glossy epoxy and the blue-white or priceless imperial porcelain.

Sebastiaan Straatsma realises that the real value of this project is in the study of the limits of form and function. The original vases have become Dustcollectors, and together with their decoration remain an imitation of the recognizable. Stretching these two concepts brought Straatsma to the border of what still produces an appealing product. Without doubt the most beautiful results are found in the vases where the decoration is only a shadow of a once fixed historical decorative standard. The free style painted (spouted, preserved, drawn?) decoration of the ‘Punkvase’ is a highpoint. Like all Dustcollectors it remains close to the canonical form, yet in this case it is in sharp contrast to the texts and symbols covering it. This sort of vase reminds us of the work of Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry, who works within the traditions of porcelain and confronts the viewer with images of sex and the dangers of over-consumption. The materiality of Straatsma’s vases is intriguing, building up layers to an almost clogged effect, sometimes looking like a thick layer of posters found on an old shutter or street wall.

Straatsma further examined the form or the construction as he calls it, and found even with threadlike epoxy strands the form continued to remain intact. The results of this research were a kind of carcass, a line drawing of a literal carrier for new meanings. When decorated with flowers Dustcollectors recall old English ‘trelliswork’, the wooden or metal frames along which innumerable gardeners choose to grow their roses. With a butterfly motif the work becomes a cage on which escaped butterflies sit happy and beautiful on the outside ‘Butterfly’.

The Dustcollector’s strength seems to be in the most experimental or pronounced copies. At the edge of the abyss the most beautiful flowers grow and Straatsma’s seemingly literal imitations of originals and the refined monochrome copies such as the black trumpet vase ‘Hidden’ both belong to this category. Their opposite manifests itself in the crown jewel of the very last series, in which an enormous vase ‘Pikachu’ presents an epic tale, where symbols and characters from all kinds of sources can be recognised. They detail the maker’s view on life using scenes from comics, mythical tales and biblical stories. It is an amalgamation where Barbapapa and Manga, angels and planes, good and evil all fight for supremacy. In this vase Straatsma’s analyses and experiments come together and seem to reach a provisional peak. It is hoped that this valuable effort is not the end of the line but the beginning of a new and impressive series of artworks.

All rights reserved 2020 © Sebastiaan Straatsma. Credits & copyright: Ben Deiman, Bob Goedewaagen, Carmen Kemmink, Pascal de Man, Timo de Rijk, Yvonne Rijpers