Can you describe what you do?
We like to refer to Kastaar as an analog print factory. Both of us are graphic designers who’ve been active in the creative field for some years now. We met while teaching graphic design at Sint-Lucas School of Arts, and noticed we had a lot in common. We both spent some years in product design, before switching to graphic design. From the beginning, it was already clear we would never stick to 2D. We needed to feel the material, to touch the colours we print, play with shapes, smell the work. A lot of artisan printers are retiring these days. We want to save their old beautiful machinery and historic equipment, making sure not everything ends up at a scrap yard. Our love for traditional, slow print made us move mountains, or at least tons and tons of lead type, cast iron machines and wood type cabinets. Our love for traditional, slow print made us move mountains, or at least tons and tons of lead type, cast iron machines and wood type cabinets. We met a lot of interesting people, and our quest brought us in wonderful hidden treasure chambers. We even stumbled upon an old printing workshop, that was handed over from father to son for four generations, but no one in the family had the intention to step in their father’s shoes. Kastaar is more than a printshop. It’s a bold playground for graphic experiment.
Where you are based? Describe the neighbourhood
Our workshop is located in an old coach house and depository, somewhere behind the beautiful Art Nouveau facades of Zurenborg. We have no window in front, or a plate with our name on the porch, so we’re not very visible from the street. This gives us the opportunity to work in peace, without having people knock on our door all the time.
How do you perceive Antwerp? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?
Antwerp is actually a small town trying to dress up like a metropolis. You always bump into people you know, which we kind of like. A lot of things are happening. If you’re in the creative scene, you somehow know all the other creatives and what they’re doing. There are a lot of us packed in this small cosy town, so you are forced to develop your own specific style, craft, or way of thinking. You find ways to work together, but at the same time develop your own identity.
Designers and their audience are often treated with child’s gloves.
How would you say Antwerp contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
Antwerp has always been very important to our personal evolution, and to the people and workshop we are now. It’s the city in which we both built a personal network in the first place. It was and still is our playground for creative outbursts. Antwerp has also played a big role in the history of print and spreading of knowledge. It was home to 16th century printers Christophe Plantin and Jan Moretus. You can still visit the conserved remains of the original residence and printing establishment at the lovely Vrijdagmarkt. Not only does it house the two oldest surviving printing presses in the world and complete sets of dies and matrices, it also has an extensive library, a richly decorated interior and the entire archive of the Plantin business. It was actually the first Museum on the UNESCO World Heritage list. We feel very connected to the museum, and now, with the recent renovations and update of the museum, we’re working even closer together.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city?
We think a lot of creative and graphic power is lost because some people are too cautious and tiptoeing. Trying not to offend anyone, fishing in the same old pool of safe rules and graphics, underestimating the audience – too afraid of change. Maybe this doesn’t apply to just Antwerp, but to Flanders and Belgium in general. A lot of graphic design in the public space seems uninspired, uninspiring and too obvious. Designers and the audience are often treated with child’s gloves. (And we’d also like to mention that there can never be enough green in a city).
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Antwerp? If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?
Rent an apartment for a few days in the old city, between the 15th & 16th century facades. Wake up with the buzz of the city coming to life. We already talked about the Museum Plantin-Moretus. It is located on a rather hidden spot in Antwerp, de Vrijdagmarkt. You can only enter this square through small streets. It’s not a place you bump into easily while strolling through the city. Bustling with life and energy, the Vrijdagmarkt has stayed the same for over four centuries now. Every Friday morning, antique auctions are held on and around the square. If you want a nice overview of the city, go to the rooftop of the museum MAS.
A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth?
If you look up some stories about the origin of Antwerp, you will stumble upon the myth of the giant Antigoon. Guarding a bridge over the River Scheldt, he demanded toll from those crossing the river. For those who refused, he severed one of their hands and threw it into the river. Eventually, Antigoon was slain by a young Roman soldier named Brabo, who cut off the giant’s own hand and flung it into the river. According to folklore, this legend is the origin of the name Antwerp: Antwerpen, from the Dutch ‘hand werpen’. Centuries ago, big bones were found in the neighbourhood of the Steen. This discovery was one of the cornerstones and origins of this myth. You can still find these bones in the MAS. Only centuries later, scientists discovered that these bones once belonged to an unknown whale species, estimated to be five million years old. Whale bones are often found in Antwerp, and it seems like the city was actually build on top of one of the largest whale cemeteries. Awesome.kastaar.com Photography Miles Fischler