“Being successful starts by getting appreciated.” SMENT’s design-language and thoughtful experimentation

Thoroughly focussing on unique and limited edition, 21st century designs, art and design fair COLLECTIBLE returns to the Vanderborght building for its second edition. Drawned in by the undoubtedly rich articulation of design and art, its founders Clélie Debehault and Liv Vaisberg have specially broadened their selection, which now consists of over a hundred pieces of work. A highly expert selection committee, a showcase for young design graduates, and an impressive international line-up of artists and architects make for a more than impressive platform and salon.

We turn our eye to COLLECTIBLE’s Young Designers showcase, which includes three young Belgian designers. Following on from Nicolas Erauw is the Brusseleer studio SMENT, made up of Frederik Bogaerts (1988) and Jochen Sablon (1988). With one half working as an architect and the other in media studies and digital advertising, these young creatives complete their competencies resulting in a dynamic design duo. In light of their presence at COLLECTIBLE, they discuss their their first and latest project GESTALT, and elaborate on their design-language approach.

Visuals Jeroen Verrecht (c)

At its core, what is your work about? What is its starting point and statement?

Its foundation is based on design and furniture-making. By designing and building our own furniture, we experiment a lot and focus on the materiality and characteristics of the resources we use. Our two core elements are the material and the aesthetic. We ask ourselves how we can interpret the material in a new and interesting way without losing its main characteristics. Aesthetically, we design around the material while at the same time striving to design something that works both as an object and a piece of furniture.

We try to go beyond conventional ideas on furniture – we try to develop a certain design-language through which we can express our furniture using an architectural and sculptural approach. This language is formed by the material itself, and how it’s used. For example, the aim in our first collection was to find a new way to present concrete as a precious material.

Can you expand on your approach a bit more of us?

We tend to experiment a lot with materials we find interesting. We really dive deep into its many different possibilities, exploring how we could make it work within the framework of our design-language. Through experimentation, we always look for new applications or characteristics. Once we feel that we really understand the material, we start to design, keeping in mind what we’ve learned.

What characterises your work?

For the GESTALT collection, we worked with contradictions: the pieces of this project pose questions and provide answers at the same time. They’re brutal yet elegant, heavy but light, functional despite sculptural.

How do you actually work on a piece, from start to finish?

We start with a combination of sketch-making research on the material at hand. We always make plenty of scaled models, or models of smaller details. We like to study these afterwards, adapting them if necessary. Once we feel ready, we start making models on a 1:1 scale. The next step is creating a final model. Our first collection was made out of concrete, and so for this one we had to think a lot about mould-making. Conducting research behind the moulds is a process we both love – our different pieces require a varied use of moulds, and its materials. Once we’re confident the mould will work, we mix the concrete by hand to get the right pigmented mix. The final step is to polish and seal the concrete.

What series and / or project are you currently working on?

We’re currently finishing our first collection GESTALT. It consists of a low table, a lamp and a small bench. All three pieces are made out of pigmented concrete and are developed through a similar research approach.

Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your artistic practice?

Since we were both formed through a more theoretical practice, we were always on the look-out for a more creative occupation. The nifty craftsmen around us were important in us taking the first steps to making our own, smaller designs.

Our two core elements are the material and the aesthetic.

What are the challenges you face as an artist working in Belgium today?

Belgium is a wayward country – this has its downsides, but also results in great ideas, solutions and artists. Other than that, Belgium is small so stepping beyond its borders often needs to happen early in the growth process of a designer, artist or brand. That means a lot of new factors to take into account, and which are prone to affect one’s focus on creation.

How do you see yourself fit into the country’s contemporary art scene?

It’s not easy to pinpoint one’s place in a scene. We’re proud to be Belgian, but also believe that nowadays you need to be formed by a wider perspective than just the confines of your country.

Talk to us about the people around you, your local scene. To what extent does it inspire and influence you?

We grew up and live in Brussels, and are in love with this city. As small as it is, every city has its own vibe and scene, so it’s very inspiring to be open to as many of them as possible.

What does success look like to you?

First and foremeent, we’re happy with what we do – but of course it’s always highly motivating to hear people say they love your work. For us, being successful starts by getting appreciated.

To you, what role should contemporary art occupy in the community?

Contemporary art should ask questions rather than answer them.

Which Belgian artists do you follow, look at for inspiration?

We follow a lot of young Belgian designers and collectives. If we have to pick someone from the past, we would say Juliaan Lampens; from the present, Gijs Van Vaerenbergh. But in a wider sense we’re influenced by a lot of different people and angles, for example Lander Gyselinck from STUFF. or Lefto.

And what do your parents, your family, think of what you do?

They believe in what we do and are our biggest supporters. We’re very lucky to have such supportive families.

Design fair COLLECTIBLE will be taking place from 14th to 17th March at the Vandeborght building.