For years, people have been painting over brick (much to my dismay). Whether artistically or just to treat a wall surface` with a ‘fresh look’, painted brickwork can be found almost everywhere. With DIY home renovations booming all over Australia, it would be no surprise to hear of paint stripper shortages across local Bunnings stores. And rightfully so! There’s always something quite exciting about stripping brick. There’s the thrill of not knowing what you’re going to find behind — a clinker, a cream brick, or a traditional red. Imagine though, stripping back a wall to find a brick imprinted with an image. Not an image you can scrape back, but a digitally engrained image that’s embedded into the masonry.
For last year’s Dutch Design Week, Prophecies of Dust exhibition delved deeper into the humble brick by showcasing a technological breakthrough in the heavy clay industry. Design duo Gianmaria Della Ratta and Georgia Gasco joined forces in 2020 to form Groovido — a design practice that explores digital culture through the creation of physical products. Transforming the 600 sqm hall of the Temporary Arts Centre in Eindhoven, Prophecies of Dust was Groovido’s dark and somewhat moody, culmination of various interests.
“We firmly believe that digital culture is now part of us, and we want to participate in its’ evolution”, says the duo. Groovido’s practice revolves around exploring the reciprocal influences between digital subcultures and their in-depth material research. “Over the years, the brick, as well as the pixel, became more than merely a structural element”, shares Groovido. “Thanks to recent technological breakthroughs in the heavy clay industry, it’s now possible to manufacture a digital image onto the surface of bricks, giving us new possible dimensions.”
Nijmegen-based Dutch brick manufacturing company, Rodruza, is known for taking “brick to new possible dimensions,” says Groovido, explaining why they were chosen to be their primary collaborators. Working closely together, “we designed a furniture collection, the wall panels and all the decorative elements necessary for the exhibition made out of clay, binding material, ceramic pigments, and glazes”, shares the duo. “We curated the whole exhibition collaborating with different professional figures and organisations in order to create the scenography.”
Being highly interactive, Groovido explains how the bones of this exhibition took shape through “exploring the digital spaces of RPG (role-playing games).” Much like an open map video game, visitors become the player and are free to explore the space (although, there isn’t a quest that they need to complete in order to unlock the next level).
Accompanying the custom quadraphonic soundtrack created by Richard van Kruysdijk were lighting installations that worked together to achieve a specific video-game-like atmosphere. Complete with a dungeon, props shop, and much more to discover, I can only wonder whether the duo would have even planted non-player characters into this material-driven exhibition.