Nienke Hoogvliet – The potential of the water world
Interview by Viveka van de Vliet
Water flushes through the work of Nienke Hoogvliet like a red thread. Whether it’s the Mourn urns from bioplastic from waste water, SEA ME, the carpet of algae yarns hand-dipped on a fishnet, Waterschatten, objects of recycled toilet paper or the Fish Leather Book. Her fascination for how man, nature and society relate to each other leads to smart and poetic designs that carry the problem: the ugliness of polluted water and the solution: the beauty and potential of the water world.
Nienke Hoogvliet loves the sea, the underwater world. She grew up in The Hague and often went to sea. When she attended the Willem de Kooning Academy, she noticed how polluted the beach in Scheveningen was, despite regular cleaning. That vision combined with a dose of idealism and activism, and her interest in natural materials, sustainable and traditional production processes, and the need to make people aware, led to a stream of sustainable products.
Designs in which the ugliness is mixed with an aesthetic beauty. For example, her SEA ME carpet – a carpet of algae yarn knotted by hand on a discarded fishing net – refers to the environmental problems like the plastic soup in the oceans and seas, and shows that the solution is also in the water.
After all her research projects, the textile, product and concept designer thinks it’s the right time to find partners to scale up the production. For example, she wants to produce a series of limited editions of the SEA ME rug, of which the yarn is dyed with the natural pigments from seaweed.
Because the Netherlands no longer has a significant textile industry, Hoogvliet finally found a partner in Taiwan. This company continues to develop the yarn of the Dutch seaweed, so that Hoogvliet can bring the knowledge and production back to the Netherlands. ‘It does not really exist here yet, but there is an increasing need for it’, she knows. ‘More companies want to change and consumers become aware that textile production is one of the most polluting industries and that they have a choice to buy or not to buy things’, she says. ‘I think that algae yarn can contribute to the improvement of the textile industry. After all, algae yarn is one hundred percent natural and algae purify the sea during growth.’
The client with whom she shares her idealism is the Nederlandse Waterschappen. This government organization developed a sustainable treatment plant as a solution for the toilet paper of which we wash 180,000 tons annually through the toilet and for which an equal number of trees are cut. Used toilet paper can now be recovered as cellulose. Nienke Hoogvliet turned the negative association with toilet paper into a positive one. She made an aesthetic series of handmade objects: lighting, a table and bowls named Waterschatten. The Nederlandse Waterschappen asked her for a new project since it was able to recover a new sustainable material from waste water: a bioplastic called PHA (Poly Hydroxy Alkanoate) that completely dissolves itself in nature in contrast to other (bio) plastics.
Hoogvliet combined this with a topic that is all over the news: the sustainability of burial and cremation. ‘The large amounts of scattered cremation ash causes soil and groundwater contamination on cemeteries and spreading fields. Our body is a trash bin full of toxic waste that we can not use or process, such as heavy metals and phosphates, which can over fertilize the soil ‘, Hoogvliet investigated. ‘The earth can not process that large amount of scattered ash as quickly.’ Hoogvliets solution: Mourn, a sustainable urn that mixes ashes with the bioplastic. This ‘bio-ash’ can absorb the earth at its own pace. The soil remains clean, and you can give yourself or your loved one back to nature in a responsible way.
Thanks to Connecting the Dots
Portrait by Boudewijn Bollmann