Picture: Laurie Wiid van Heerden on the Meraki Daybed by Wiid Design
Artist Robyn Denny and product designer, founder and owner of Wiid Design Laurie Wiid van Heerden are taking on a contemporary collaboration between a fine artist and a high-end designer. The exhibition, Cork & Cacau explores the historical relationship between Portugal and South Africa through art and design. In the Q&A below, we chat to Laurie about his career, design style and get a bit of insight into the upcoming Cork & Cacau exhibition.
Can you start us off with a short introduction to Laurie Wiid van Heerden?
I am a self-trained Cape Town based product designer, founder and owner of Wiid Design. My studio started designing, manufacturing and selling products in 2010 and Wiid Design was officially reregistered in 2013.
I was born in Cape Town in 1987 and opted for a hands-on approach to studying design and manufacturing. I apprenticed with Otto du Plessis and Charles Haupt at Bronze Age Foundry as well as with a carpenter for three years. From 2009 to 2013 I worked closely with leading South African sculptor Wim Botha as his assistant. During this time, I started designing and manufacturing my own ceramics and furniture and collaborated with fellow creatives.
As a creative, I am inspired and challenged by the endless possibility of materials, shapes and forms. It has become a natural part of my being to constantly design, rethink and develop new and original concepts. It is a privilege and a wonderful feeling to express oneself through design and creativity. Creating something from nothing and presenting it in a physical form is an incredible experience.
What was the first piece you designed and completed?
My career started taking shape when I designed our signature benches. At the time I did not have a studio space or many tools, so I asked Wim Botha if I can use his studio over weekends to work on my own pieces. The design incorporated a unique leg fabricated from steel. The legs were used in combination with old, reclaimed timber beams including engineered steel structures that are finished in automotive coatings including special patinas. The benches became popular and were exhibited at Design Days Dubai and Design Miami in Switzerland.
You are known as a contemporary high-end designer. How do you describe your work and design style?
My studio’s work comes from a conceptual and artistic environment, an angle on various topics of contemporary culture, with a focus on traditional handcrafting in combination with avant-garde techniques. By combining handcrafting and specialist techniques, Wiid transforms materials into life-enriching and durable objet d’art.
Regarding my design style, this question is always difficult to answer, as I feel it must be answered by an external party. I am constantly involved in my work and sometimes it’s difficult to step back and look at what has been created and in what style. Therefore, the design process is a natural process for me, where I can express my personality, my passion for materials and my obsession with detail in my work.
It’s important that my products or style incorporates unique or original, honest, sustainable, tactile and natural elements. I love collectable objects and collaborating with fellow designers and artists, therefore I enjoy creating pieces that transform materials into life-enriching and durable collectable products.
What has been the most defining moment of your career thus far?
My career truly started to blossom when I discovered a unique, natural and sustainable material, a material I could transform and make my own.
When I first started experimenting with cork in 2010, I realised its wonderful properties and manufacturing capabilities. It quickly became evident to me that I want to place my focus on cork and make it one of our core materials.
An important motivational factor was to push the limits and add value to this wonderful, natural and sustainable material on an international level. By doing so we had to create awareness and push the boundaries to achieve a number of world “firsts” – including the world’s largest cork pendant light and cork cabinet.
Do you have any other passions besides design?
I am a collector of antiques, art and plants, especially cacti. I enjoy planting and displaying ornamentals in beautiful ceramic pots either made by my studio or sourced. I am very fond of animals and have a wonderful Vizsla called Elio and 2 cats, Kai and Finn.
Some of my hobbies include collecting natural history objects, such as tortoise shells and taxidermy. I also love trading and sourcing collectable pieces from various local and international artists and designers. Interior design has always intrigued me and I have assisted a few clients in the past.
Overall, I am quite private, where I prefer spending time at the studio and at home with my partner Kevin. Family and friends are also very important to me, I therefore always try to make time and take a drive to visit – life is too short, so I try my best to appreciate the people I love.
Considering everything you have learnt thus far, what advice would you give to young designers just starting out?
Try to surround yourself with people you look up to, people who have good values and are true to themselves and their work. I strongly believe in mentors, therefore the people you surround yourself with is very important. No need to follow trends or to be pretentious as to who you are or what you want to create. The industry can be intimidating but everyone has to start somewhere.
What made you decide to be a part of the Cork & Cacau exhibition?
I was introduced to artist Robyn Denny by Jessica Gamsu. Jessica visited my studio earlier this year and asked what I have planned for 2021 with our studio and showroom space.
Due to my busy schedule and our constant day to day rush to finish projects and orders, my focus has drifted a bit from hosting exhibitions and showcasing our pieces collaboratively with fellow designers and artists.
When we initially renovated in 2015, the building was split in half, where one side is dedicated for manufacturing and the other for storage, office, and showroom space. The studio layout was therefore designed with the intention to showcase the work we do and to host events and exhibitions.
This is when I decided that it would be wonderful to host another exhibition but this time with a new artist whose work is separate from mine. The art showcased must however relate in a way so that we can exhibit collectively and tell a powerful story. Being the amazing connector she is, Jessica suggested I meet with Robyn.
What would you like your audience to take away from the Cork & Cacau exhibition?
I want the visitors to be inspired and to understand how instrumental art and design can be in creating awareness for a sustainable future. Robyn’s work has a deep narrative and my studio’s pieces showcase high-end design manufactured from Portuguese cork. A material that is fully biodegradable, reusable, lightweight, and durable, which is ideal for high-end collectable and functional, design applications.
Cork & Cacau is taking place from the 15th of May to the 28th of May 2021 at Berman Contemporary. The details are as follows:
Saturday 15 May, 11:00
Amorim Cork South Africa’s Joaquim Sá to open the exhibition. Join the artist, designer and curator for walkabouts between 12:00 and 14:00.
Saturday 22 May, 11:00
Curator Els Van Mourik to host a conversation between art writer Ashraf Jamal, artist Robyn Denny and designer Laurie Wiid van Heerden. Walkabouts between 12:00 and 14:00.