Vanitas and the beauty of imperfection by Birgit Severin

I started to work with rubber and surface textures during the last year of my Master at the Design Academy Eindhoven – the year in which I also turned 30. Having studied psychology first and worked for a while before returning to university, I was naturally older than most of my fellow students. The question, what it means to get older as a woman, was therefore of course on my mind. We live in an aging society striving for youth. Advertisements, article, and pieces of advice on how to stay young, fit, healthy and slim are surrounding us every day. In Berlin, the city I live in, you find more easily an organic superfood store than a local bakery. Yet, paradoxically, while “age” has long been synonymous with wisdom and prudence—indeed considered in itself sufficient to have earned society’s respect—these physical realities of aging have, particularly in a female context, often been deemed as something negative, unflattering, almost shameful. While humans are nowadays perceived as going from an ideal state to a less desirable one,  objects, on the other hand, can even increase and unfold their character and beauty through traces of usage and time – a trend which can be seen in antique and vintage furniture. Inspired by the topic of transformation, aging, time and death I started creating objects which express these themes in various forms. I strongly believe that beauty, neither in humans nor in objects, is based on perfection. It’s rather change, imperfection and even decay through which beauty unfolds.

VANITAS is a series of handmade rubber vases inspired by the form and color of withering flowers. For this project, I collaborated with MARSANO, a flower shop from Berlin. I followed the decaying process of a bouquet over the course of 4 weeks, taking every two minutes a photo of their evolution. The result is a time-lapse movie in which their transformation accelerate in front of us. While we watch the flowers growing, flourishing, withering changing and dying they reveal their full spectrum of grace. Inspired by these observations, I created vases expressing the beauty of each stage of life.

The production process of VANITAS combines the newest production techniques with handcraft. The process utilizes 3D printing and rubber rotation casting to produce a flowing, matte surface overlayed with a sparkling pattern of jewel-like dots. While unchanged, pristine and full form vases are always identical, vases expressing a stage of decay are hand shaped and always unique, capturing the poetry and singularity of this process.

I think there is a current trend in our society for “imperfect” objects, to make them more human or to reveal their production technique and source of origin. Objects which are designed to express concepts, ideas or stories are still not common. Often people are still surprised and sometimes even unreceptive for these type of conceptual work. It’s not the aesthetic of my objects but their ideas which are disruptive.

Interview with Birgit Severin / Images © Guillaume Neu-Rinaudo

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