Dominic—we know that the TYPO party isn’t until tomorrow evening, but imagine we were at the party right now. How would you explain what you do?
Sometimes I change it just for fun, because it doesn’t really matter. I say that I invent magical things. Or I say I’m an inventor. I mean there is no such job, but if there was, a real inventor is more like James Dyson, the inventor of a type of the vacuum cleaner. If I say “Oh, I’m an inventor“, people normally go “Wow I’ve never met an inventor before, what have you invented?“. If you say you’re a designer, they will think you make chairs or websites and if you say you’re an artist they think you’re painting landscape paintings. So inventor is quite a good word, it is really open.
In the documentary “The reinvention of normal”, your father said that your work is very “off the wall”. And in fact, you create really unusual inventions. At the same time you often make things out of everyday objects. So do you like the everyday? What do you think about routine?
Well, the everyday in itself is quite dull. But creative people tend to give the everyday a lift, a surprise or a smile. They add something new to it. I like that. It is like a white sheet of paper for an artist. I use the everyday as a challenge for me to give it something more interesting. The everyday world is my canvas. I think it is very difficult to be creative when you’re in a really crazy environment. It is a bit like me if I go to a party: when there are lots of loud people, I go quiet. Because I don’t want to compete. And it’s the same thing with design. The context I work in starts quiet.
So would you say you’re rather an introvert or extrovert?
Oh I’m definitely an introvert. Just because I can talk on a stage doesn’t mean I’m an extrovert. I’m only confident there because it’s my work and I’m the expert to my work. No one else knows my work better than I do. That’s a good starting point to give you self-confidence. But if I was talking about any other subject, and there were people in the audience who I knew were more knowledgeable than me, I would get super nervous.
Do you know Gyro Gearloose (Daniel Düsentrieb)? He is an inventor and the friend of Donald Duck. He once said: Sanity is not far away from madness. What do you think about that?
(laughs) What sort of intellectual cartoon characters do you have?! I mean—everybody got their own feeling of what normal is. So everybody’s normal is a bit different. It just depends what experiences you had and what thoughts you’ve had. So to me, what I do is perfectly normal and logical. But there are people who have never experienced what I have, or who don’t really go to galleries or think about things. They would see something as the most craziest thing they have ever seen that I would see is pretty simple and perfectly normal. So it’s all relative to a person’s sense of what is normal.
You were talking a lot about your project “Little Inventors” in your talk. Do you still see yourself as an artist in this project, or do you think your role changed within it?
It hasn’t changed that much, really. I just show my ideas and talk about how to find ideas. I suppose I’m thinking more about how to explain what I do, so other people can understand it better.
… which wasn’t really a part of your work before.
I try to think and talk more about questions like: Why do we do what we do? Where can we find ideas? How can we be more creative? What’s the value of creativity?, and so on. Because then you can explain it to people who don’t understand creativity—particularly politicians! If they don’t understand it, they won’t know how to create an education policy that involves creativity. I think I’ll be talking to those kind of people more now about the value of creativity. So yes, there’s a little bit more thinking about what I’m doing, but mostly—within Little Inventors—I’m just called the “Chief Inventor”.
Ok, probably one more pragmatic question …
… well of course, this is Germany, isn’t it?!
Absolutely, we need to stick to the cliche! When and how did companies like Kellogg’s start approaching you? Did you always work freely as an artist or inventor for yourself, or were you focussing to get more commercial clients, to make a living of your work?
I’ve not chased anyone, and I never applied for anything. Actually, when I lived in Berlin for two months, I had nothing to do, so I started a blog, Variations On Normal, and then just started putting my ideas on that. And all of a sudden I had an audience! I didn’t really fit into the art world exactly, and I didn’t fit into the design world either, so it was the internet and Berlin that gave me an audience and a reason to continue and showing my work. I did a lot of stuff for free in the beginning, and I quite enjoyed it, even though it was challenging, too. It looks all fun and happiness, but obviously, sometimes when things look the most fun, they were actually the most challenging to do. You have to keep on believing in yourself and keep going. Eventually, enough people saw my work. And as things go, most brands have marketing and PR agencies who are looking for people with ideas. I guess they saw one of my works on some website, and then they asked me to create work for them. So it always found it’s own way just by keeping on going.
… And putting yourself out there, obviously!
Exactly—give a little presentation now and then, talk to people, and eventually, you get a collection. In my work, each project is quite different, so a lot of people see and know the projects, but they don’t realize it was all done by the same guy. After a talk, they approach me and say: “Oh, I didn’t know who you were, but I know all of your work”, because they have seen them over the years.
You said that everyone has creative potential. What is your advice to not only young people, but everybody? How can they emerge their creative potential?
Ideally, creativity shouldn’t be a thing you switch on and off. You have to try to get into a rhythm of creativity; a way of thinking that you’re looking for ideas all the time rather than just be like “Ok, we’re gonna be creative now”. It’s not so much about creating ideas, but rather about finding ideas. The ideas are already there, hundreds and thousands of them—you just have to go and find them.