Tomáš Libertíny Blurs the Line Between Craft and Nature

His new “Melancholia” exhibition features rarely-seen sculptural works alongside his iconic Honeycomb Vases.

Tomáš Libertíny bees
Honeycomb Vase (2006) Courtesy of Tomáš Libertíny

Held in Tomáš Libertíny‘s own Rotterdam showroom till November 30th, the Melancholia exhibition brings together 25 works that reveal the designer’s often overlooked process-oriented approach. “For this exhibition, I had the freedom to show what I wanted without external pressures,” he explains. “All of these pieces are being shown for the first time and together demonstrate different aspects of my artistic vocabulary.” Beyond the trend of material experimentation–for which Libertíny is often typecast–this expanded body of work reveals his ability to produce beautiful works that comment on art, craftsmanship, and even environmental crises.

His approach is best exemplified by the ongoing Made by Bees series. Stemming from his seminal 2006 Honeycomb Vase design–which was acquired by MoMA that same year, quickly catapulting the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate into fame–the cumulative collection of vessels continues to draw on a close relationship that Libertíny established with bees 11 years ago. Channeling the natural process of hive-building, the designer provides the insects with different molds to shape beeswax honeycomb structures. Though the material reflects a raw natural occurrence, the resulting form resembles a man-made vase, a sharp reference to industrial production and consumerism.

Tomáš Libertíny bees
Endless Column (2017), Spazio Nobile Courtesy of Tomáš Libertíny

From the start, the designer was interested in exploring man’s complicated relationship with nature. “I was obsessed with the Japanese tradition of Bonsai; how one controls the artificial and prolonged growth of a crippled tree,” he says. “Both the gardener and nature are equal forces of design.” Finding the right moment to intervene and apply what he calls “slow prototyping,” Libertíny began by observing how bees construct their hives. Today, he associates this careful interplay with jazz. “Orchestration can only go so far in controlling the various improvisational contributions of different musicians,” he describes. “Eventually, intuition establishes a harmony between the different players.”

Since this first project, the designer has developed one-off variations in different scales and forms. Some of the Made by Bees iterations are abstract while others are symbolically referential. These have included the anthropomorphic Unbearable Lightness sculpture produced in 2010, the teapot-inspired Thousand Years design developed in 2014, and the recent Endless Column. “Every year, I explore a new complexity in my relationship with bees and attempt to push new boundaries without losing my connection to nature,” he expresses. “However, like with any craft, once you reach a certain level, the improvements are incremental and less visible to the outside world. The projects I do today might look the same as the first Honeycomb Vase but the bespoke skills I’ve honed since then has allowed me to create works that are entirely different.”

Tomáš Libertíny bees
The Unbearable Lightness (2010) Courtesy of Tomáš Libertíny

In both the guided process and its final products, this series is a metaphor for environmental degradation, ever more relevant today: “The Honeycomb Vase is fragile and needs certain conditions to exist but only then can it survive,” he says. Here, the designer draws a direct link to the underlying theme of his current exhibition, Melancholia. Its title takes inspiration from Lars Von Trier’s 2011 film of the same name. In the movie, scientists predict that another planet is about to collide with Earth, though most people disregard the claim. “The current significance of this metaphor is hard to dismiss,” he explains. In the United States, pesticides have provoked widespread Colony Collapse Disorder, killing large populations of bees and threatening food supplies. He adds: “In life, we need to accept and embrace the dark realities and anxieties around us. We need to find positive ways to address them.”

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