Yesterday I attended the kick-off event for Pioneers of Change, a festival of modern Dutch design, fashion, and architecture that is currently underway on Governor’s Island. Presented to celebrate the 400-year history of Dutch-American friendship, Pioneers of Change features installations by a number of leading Dutch designers in eleven former Officers’ houses at Nolan Park on the Island. It’s the first time the houses have been open to the public in thirteen years.

Renny Ramakers, co-founder and director of Droog, conceived of and curated the event. Each of the designers was assigned to an Officer’s house in which to create their installation. All shied away from typical design and architecture presentations of models, drawings, and artifacts. In one house, Maarten Baas created large-scale clocks in which projections of people’s recorded actions become the clock hands, creating a performative aspect to the passing of time while illuminating it as an arbitrary concept. In another, Christien Meindertsma knitted a huge carpet from the wool of three Dutch sheep using six-foot-long needles, demonstrating a contemporary nod to handicraft while maintaining a connection to the raw material from which the carpet is made. Dutch fashion collective Painted collaborated with Native American bead masters and Parsons fashion students to create pieces to “dress” their house, imbuing it with life and beauty. On the lawn, passersby sit on the Boombench by Michael Schoner of NL Architects. And in yet another house, the incredible Slow Glow Lamps by Next Architects and Aura Luz Melis illuminate the Go Slow café.

The installations are inspired, imaginative, playful, and exploratory. They establish new collaborations when, for instance, visitors are invited to repair broken objects. They highlight local context, such as with ceramics made from clay originating in central Holland and New York. They emphasize sustainability, as one house showcases refuse building materials found around New York. And they celebrate new notions of luxury, such as time, silence, space, and slowness. Pioneers of Change is definitely worth a visit – aside from Governors Island being an inspired destination in which to picnic or ride a bike in New York, seeing the latest imaginings from some of the Netherland’s leading designers on our shores is truly not to be missed.

Pioneers of Change runs from September 11 – 13 and September 18 – 20, 2009. Governors Island ferries depart Manhattan from 10 South Street every 20 minutes.

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