Ted Noten is one of the most innovative jewellery designers working in the Netherlands today, an area of design that is yes, confident, but which equally has a tendency to get blinded by its own sparkle: that of jewellery. Traditionally the world of contemporary jewellery design belongs to the select few, a modest coterie that sets the tone for discourse and debate. Step outside of this and you will find that, generally, ignorance rules.
Ted Noten has always moved in the outer fringes of this somewhat sectarian community. Yet contemporaries cannot ignore his work, which by its sheer presence marks him as a bit of a maverick. With seemingly effortless ease he is one of the very few who manages to venture into projects that fall under the heading of product design. Thus Noten teamed up for several projects with Droog Design and has presented his spoils at the Furniture Design Fair in Milan. Similarly, during a stint working at he European Ceramic Centre he experimented with ceramic dinner sets. For other projects he sought out artists to work with. Yet it is essential that Noten emphatically and symptomatically keeps coming down on the side of design, and more specifically for design that employs, feeds off and expresses itself in terms of jewellery design. Because it is from this inside track of the craft that he comments on what jewellery design actually is and that he is able to best challenge representatives operating in other areas of the Arts.
In recent years Ted Noten has created work for private collectors, local councils, art institutions etc. A broad spectrum of galleries and museum collections now represent his oeuvre. The designer initiated some of these projects, only to be adopted later by a museum, as was the case for example with 'Chew your own brooch'. With a little help from the chewing gum he hands out, everybody can become a jewellery designer; simply by chewing the gooey substance into a shape the craftsman then casts either in silver, bronze or gold. One of the events at which Noten manifested himself with this project was an open day at the Boijmans Museum, when hundreds of people filed through the museum, chewing their way to a design.
Ted Noten's designs act as a critique on contemporary life and on the history of jewellery, as well as on the wider context of product design. Interestingly, his work equally relates to architecture. The underlying, recurring, theme of his work is to challenge convention and processes of habituation, the familiar and the unusual.
His oeuvre gains in depth from his idiosyncratic response to the apparent familiarity of our daily surroundings, whether this be a market street in Amsterdam, the explosion of building construction in Shanghai, or a gang of road sweepers at work in a provincial town in Russia. By lifting symbols from their everyday surroundings and placing them in a new context, he doesn't so much query the symbol itself as our perception of it. As with the Mercedes-project for instance, for which he cut out brooch-fragments from the bodywork of this status symbol par excellence and then offered them for sale. Or the fire weapon he cast in an acrylate handbag. Or the boxing glove to fit the hand of a baby. Or the pearl necklace for the bird sculptures of artist Tom Klaassen.
Ted Noten looks for fixed meanings in the banal and the cultivated. He debunks their essence, then reinvents them back into reality. In affecting and infecting symbolic values he actually reveals their unmistakable intangibility.
Gert Staal (DESIGN CRITIC and former deputy director of the Netherlands Design Institute).