Reviews by Stuart Bailey
537 words3 min read

Drift is an educational institute recently founded by Graphic designer Melle Hammer. It’s aim is to foster the development of participants’ personal interests in text and image. Jack is the most visible result so far: a project based on Harmen Liemburg and Richard Niessen’s shared preoccupation with the nature of creative processes. To observe how different personalities working across a variety of media develop ideas, they designed an experiment to be played out in public by a collection of writers, musicians, and designers. Six writers were invited to create song lyrics on the theme ‘Het Begin’, six bands and six graphic designers each interpreted one of the contributions. The results were presented at Amsterdam poetry shop Perdu last June where a capacity audience witnessed a shambolic evening of performance, readings, slides and interviews. The wider implications were immediately obvious: given an imposed starting point and deadline, are artists designing?. Given such an abstract theme, are designers making art? Do such definitions prevail, or matter? These are familiar enough points of debate in Dutch graphic design, but rarely apply to writing or music. This is the uncharted territory Jack intends to explore.

The project revisited Perdu in mid-November, and was sold out within minutes of the doors opening. This time the trigger-theme was ‘insert space’, with the initial order of assignments rearranged: three music-makers (rather than ‘bands’) produced a demo-tape of a song, forwarded to three image-makers (rather than ‘graphic designers’) and three writers for response. Although the number of participants was halved, genres were more broadly represented. Where the first evening’s music comprised only guitar-based bands, for example, the second included a freeform linear improvisation (involving vocals into a telephone), and a pre-recorded sample-construction. Jack02 was less chaotic than its predecessor, yet maintained the homemade spirit, juggling between projections of video, animation and photography, with occasional impromptu interruptions from the earlier demo-tapes and a wandering dog.


Jack02 entertained by juxtaposing contrasting personalities which, heightened by a bottle of whisky, fluctuated between the earnest, hysterical, cynical, obtuse, and romantic. They were supplemented by a neat line in audience participation; a supply of paper aeroplanes on which to write questions or responses, then mail directly to the floor. The hit-and-miss nature of the work itself is part of the event’s charm – if you don’t like what’s happening at the moment there’ll be something else along in a minute. But both occasions relied on this momentum alone, whilst the intended deeper insight into the creative impulse was conspicuously absent. In fact, the most significant response to the base question was how the majority of participants – usually on their own admission – ignored it, preferring to just turn up and do their usual thing. At worst, this suggests that the wider intentions of the project are not important or interesting enough to warrant response, though perhaps the organisers just need to impose stricter conditions.

Meanwhile, Jack represents the best and worst of young Dutch art and design; healthy funding, enthusiasm and cross-disciplinary participation, with insubstantial, – or at least unfiltered – output. Hopefully the learning curve will result in a more convincing Jack03, planned for a bigger venue in Den Haag this year.

  • Born York, UK, 1973. Studied graphic design, Reading, UK, 1991-95. Part of the first group of participants at the Werkplaats Typografie, Arnhem, NL, 1998-2000. Dot Dot Dot magazine editing with Peter Biľak from 2000. Currently leading double life between New York and L.A. Also currently a failed musician.