Interview withMia Grau and Andree Weissert: Monuments to Error
Mia Grau and Andree Weissert brought out a range of decorative plates in autumn 2015. These plates, in the familiar Delft blue, bearing depictions of various different German landscapes, were not merely intended as decorative objects; a second glance reveals that the view is of a nuclear power plant. Biblis, Brokdorf, Brunsbüttel, Elmsland/Lingen, Grafenrheinfeld, Greifswald, Grohnde, Gundremmingen, Hamm-Uentrop, Isar, Krümmel, Mülheim-Kärlich, Neckarwestheim, Obrigheim, Philippsburg, Rheinsberg, Stade, Unterweser and Würgassen: the design duo have devoted plates to all of these major sites. We interviewed the pair to find out how it all came about.
How did you come up with the idea of creating a range of plates featuring nuclear power plants?
We hadn’t had much to do with nuclear power plants or decorative plates in the past. And of course, there’s no obvious connection between these two things, not even for us. The idea first took root rather differently. We noticed that there was a discrepancy between the perception of contemporary technology and the nostalgic lionisation of everything old. We first started down this route following a conversation about the difference between the perception of modern wind turbines as “blights on the landscape”, while historic windmills are seen as picturesque features of the countryside. And then the plates, those windmills in Delft blue, sprang to mind. Things become romanticised as time goes by. Pictures rarely show a situation as it is, but rather unleash a completely separate association in the mind of the viewer. Our nuclear plates are intended to follow this same process. We call them futuristic nostalgic objects. They come from a future in which nuclear power plants are history, when the energy turnaround is complete and, looking back through time, people see the structures as symbols of a bygone age. Whether the individual viewer is reminded of all of the exciting demos that they attended as youngsters and which helped to form their own identity, or sees them as monuments to error or even as symbols of a better age is left completely open. We want to leave room for interpretation; we have our own opinions, of course, but we try not to place too much emphasis upon them in our work.
Are the plates intended to encourage further reflection among their users, or do they primarily seek to provoke?
We’re not interested in merely being provocative. Having said that, the plates are intended to provide food for thought and serve as a talking point. In the past we have seen the plates lead to an hour-long discussion. They can trigger many different associations in people’s minds. The word hubris tends to crop up a lot in this context. People are also keen to talk about images of the landscape and their homeland, as well as their own memories and experiences of nuclear power plants, about the frenzy and self-image behind the insertion of these structures into the landscape. They want to discuss the arrogance of the power industry, scientific models by engineers that promise more than they are able to deliver, and residual risk.
What are your professional backgrounds?
Mia Grau: I studied Film Directing at the Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen in Potsdam. Since graduating I have written a few feature-length film screenplays, made some short films and directed children’s theatre. My first book, “Das Alphabet der traurigen Frauen”, is being published next year by Berlin Verlag. I also do the odd bit of work as an illustrator. I’m fascinated by telling stories in words or pictures. If I can combine them, all the better. I don’t tie myself down to one medium.
Andree Weissert: I trained as a carpenter and studied Architecture. In 2009, after a few years working as a craftsman and a project architect, I founded the Studio Andree Weissert. I work as a designer in the field of architecture and furniture design, and am thus at the interface between design, project management and craft. Over recent years I have converted lots of houses. In 2012 I also founded the label Butshi Moeller, and since then have worked on independent projects, furniture and objects.
Did you just come up with the concept, or did you produce the illustrations too?
We created the concept and the designs. The porcelain painter Heike Topisch did the illustrations for us. We became aware of her work by chance, and we’re immensely grateful for her wonderful contributions and technical skills.
Do you have a personal attachment to wall plates?
Andree Weissert: Not at all. At least, I didn’t before. That’s all changed in the last few months, of course. As a designer I have a rather critical attitude towards kitsch and folk-inspired décor – those sorts of things only interest me if there’s some kind of deviation involved. But the plates aren’t just wall decorations – you can eat from them too, of course. Their practical value is very much at the fore. Having said that, it’s interesting to note how the walls of German homes are invested with the identity of their inhabitants. We can admire, interpret and analyse this phenomenon, as well as criticising it. Some people amass design icons and art in order to assert their sense of self, while others display pictures of the place where they grew up and things that allude to personal memories. Different strokes for different folks.
Mia Grau: Up until now, wall plates haven’t figured large in my life. In the past I either found them either funny or aesthetically pleasing, depending on the rest of the décor. There are wall plates and wall plates. My parents’ house contains old things, modern art, kitsch and design classics, all on an equal footing – they would choose a particular object not for what it said about them, but for its character. I like that approach, so I can’t claim to despise tweeness per se.