With his partner Jouw Wijnsma, who left Clifford Chance to join him in setting up several concept stores for 'wearable art' in Amsterdam, Hamburg and Lisbon, Martin Kullik initiated Steinbeisser. This platform for 'wearable art' and experimental gastronomy, has a partnership with the Cultural Embassy since they settled in Amsterdam in 2011.
Trained as a fashion designer in Porto, Martin has accumulated a passionate knowledge of all the artists he represents in his shows. The final show for 2013 was themed 'Purple', which later turned out to be the Pantone colour of 2014. If anything, he is an experimentalist with a growing international network of designers, performers, trendwatchers and art academics. This last experimental jewellery show of 2013, meant a new step towards total transparency concerning the used materials and the price-setting.
What is your background?
I was born in 1985 in Halle Saale, very close to Leipzig in East Germany, the former DDR. When I was four the wall fell, and we went to live shortly in Hamburg. My papa died when I was eight, and I have very little memories neither of him nor of the time in the DDR. I remembered we went camping in the woods, but that’s about it.
At 10 my mama, stepfather and I went to Portugal to live in the Algarve near Loule. Six years laters we moved to Porto where I studied Fashion and Textiles. It was a course of 3 years after which I went to Lisbon and started to work with the fashion designer Lidija Kolovrat and doing styling for photoshoots.
Do you contemplate about the cultural differences in your background?
I do sometimes. At this moment I am fascinated with understanding the differences between German, Dutch and Portuguese culture. When I take the train to Hamburg, at Bad Bentheim the train changes, the people change. 'Guten Tag, sehr geehrte Damen und Herren...' it’s so very different. And then again village life in Portugal is less developed compared to that of the Netherlands. In a small village in Friesland people will have an iPad or an iPhone. In Portugal there are areas where people will mainly live outside. They just have a wood oven and take care of a few animals, harvest olives. Technological gadgets are far away.
How about German 'Gründlichkeit' in your work?
This is very funny. We were very intrigued when we received two rings of binchotan, which is a Japanese coal used for purifying water. The artist took these long branches of carbonised oakwood, she drilled a hole in them and just like that you could wear it as a ring. Since we make an issue of transparency you can see all the details of the price setting.
It becomes clear that the artist included a trip to Japan, during which the material was purchased. Because of the thorough information, potential buyers are now able to decide for themselves what to think of a price and if the calculated costs are reasonable.
Does the demand for transparency change the atmosphere around the items?
It does. Some artists use 'nasty' materials, mined in conflict areas or whose production results in environmental damage. Artists are now getting aware that it is possible to choose a different source for their materials. Small changes can already have positive influence. Copper, silver, gold, iron, palladium, platinum, and other metals can come from recycling fragments of disused personal electronics, like mobile phones and computers, it is called 'urban mining'. If people are curious, they can get all the information.
Do you see this change towards transparency more often in jewellery?
There is a growing demand. Through Fairtrade, gold can be purchased since 2011. There are four mining cooperatives that are providing the gold, Oro Verde in Colombia, Sotrami in Peru and Cotapata in Bolivia. And more mines are working on changing their practices. It is slightly more expensive as common gold, though in terms of health, safety and democratic organisation it can be very beneficial.
There is also 'Honest by' from fashion designer Bruno Pieters, the former art director of Hugo Boss. It provides 100% transparency: how much textile, how much thread, what does it cost, where is the source, etc. Some pieces are called 'vegan' or they are labelled 'European' and 'skin-friendly'.
One jewellery designer had created a series of pieces with a lead-coating. Lead may be very irritating to the skin, so it said 'beware this piece may cause irritation'. This idea of providing responsible information about your products happens more and more in various disciplines.
In what sense are you aware of the saleability of an object? Where do you see yourself on the scale between commercially viability and creativity?
I am more interested in the story or the experiment of items. A good example is the cutlery of the last dinner [Experimental Gastronomy event hosted at the Lloyd Hotel] made of old cutlery combined with working tools. This had good saleability and they were highly creative as well, each piece had a strong character. I think experiment and saleability rarely coincide in such a way.
Can you say what your ultimate aim is? Do you want to change people’s minds?
With the right inspiration, we can best stimulate change in ourselves. At the moment I am preparing to share the knowledge that I have gathered over the last years, and then I want to start to go into conversation about this. It is regarding products that were cultivated and produced in the Netherlands, products we may never have seen in a supermarket, food store, or reformhaus, for which ever reason. Let us keep our eyes open.