Arts & Entertainment

This Woven Rattan Armor Is What Social Distancing Should Feel Like

‘Well-Distance-Being’ reminds you to be present while social distancing.
IMAGE Karen Eloot and Pieter Vanoverberghe
Comments

No handshakes. No high-fives. No hugs. No holding hands with your honey. No kisses from Mommy. The new world order requires humans, whether friends, lovers, or foes, to stay at least two meters away from each other. It’s the price we must pay to subdue the invisible enemy, pull down that fat curve, and survive the plague that we probably brought upon ourselves. 

How a Rattan Bubble Reminds You to Smile

Scientists show that reduced physical contact has been effective in preventing the spread of the virus, but the remedy comes at the cost of coldness. Humans are weird creatures. We require cuddles at night, long dinners with friends, or just someone to pat our heads when we feel bad. This imposed division goes against the natural order, and it may have a profound effect on our well-being

Under lockdown in his studio in Belgium, product designer Sep Verboom has been thinking about this a lot. What does social distancing mean? How can it work for social beings like us? The artist poured all his thoughts into “Well-distance-being,” a crazy rattan creation that can be described as two gargantuan baskets worn over the head and around the body so that it forms a self-cage for the pandemic. Think Bubble Boy but chic. 

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
CONTINUE READING BELOW
Recommended Videos
Photo by Karen Eloot and Pieter Vanoverberghe.

“Reflecting on the situation on the streets, where there was a strange and cold atmosphere, there seemed to be a misunderstanding of social distancing,” Verboom muses. “Physical distance should be respected, but that does not mean you should shut yourself from all sympathy or empathy.” The designer created the piece so that “people could understand the concept of physical distance, but still be aware of the importance of smiling once in a while.”

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Why You Need to be Warm While Distancing

“Being” was created for the United Nations Call Out To Creatives, an initiative that seeks to uplift people during the crisis with art. For his piece, Verboom wanted to promote the feeling of being warm and present, the opposite of distancing. And its unusual form simply does the trick.

What else can elicit emotion than a garment that looks like it was made for Judy Jetson? That is what Verboom and his team of creatives found out when they took it out for a spin. Following necessary precautions, the designer took “Being” to the streets, and what he observed is how it invited connections. “People could not just ignore it. It was clear they understood the concept, and were able to relate with common feelings,” he says.

Photo by Karen Eloot and Pieter Vanoverberghe.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Photo by Karen Eloot and Pieter Vanoverberghe.

This feeling of warmth can also be attributed to the use of rattan. The designer, who discovered the material while doing a project in the Philippines, likes working with rattan because of its lightness, flexibility, and, yes, warmth. For the piece, he bent rattan strips (using a blowtorch) and fashioned these into the fanciful shape of a lampshade or a skirt with the characteristic open structure of a weave.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Putting it together proved to be a little challenging as Verboom was confined to working at home by himself. Luckily, there was enough leftover rattan from a previous workshop, and he also found help from a living mannequin, his partner. “It took me some time to calculate and find the right dimensions,” he describes. “That’s how it started—with creating big hoops with a blowtorch on our little terrace of 1,5 square meters.” 

Photo by Karen Eloot and Pieter Vanoverberghe..
ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

After “Being” was completed, a friend pointed out its resemblance to a crinoline, the structured petticoat that women wore during the 19th century. Verboom notes how some crinolines are made of cane, which is like rattan. He says, “Sometimes the puzzle fits together.” 

How a Belgian Designer Discovered Rattan in Cebu

Verboom, the founder of Livable, a platform that creates alternative solutions through design, has a Filipino connection. “At the age of 21, I was lucky to experience the Philippines at the barangay level, where I first lived for half a year with my 'Filipina mom,' Nida Cabrera. It was my biggest eye-opener so far,” he says. 

Photo by Karen Eloot and Pieter Vanoverberghe.
ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

The product designer, who specializes in sustainable development, spent time in Barangay Luz in Cebu City to innovate waste management, and what he and the community came up with was nothing short of amazing. Verboom took the guards of discarded electric fans and fused them with wickerwork by local craftsmen to create table and ceiling lamps that wouldn’t look out of place in a modernist apartment. 

“The Filipino communities I worked with are proud, resilient, and cheerful,” the Belgian says of his experience, adding that the biggest thing he learned about Filipinos is how we approach everything with creativity and a smile. That, and the art of “tagay-tagay.” 

Photo by Karen Eloot and Pieter Vanoverberghe..
ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

In 2015, Verboom and his best friend, Matthias Hoogewys of the KAPOW collective, also hosted a one-day festival in Cebu. “There was balut eating, basket painting, a skate contest, live silk-screen printing, and many more,” he shares. “I still remember kids running home to get any shirt to be printed on. The week after, when we were walking in the neighborhood, we saw local kids wearing T-shirts by (artist) Soika Vomiter all over the place and shouting KAPOW!” 

How We Can Overcome the Crisis

Now, Verboom is back in Belgium, adjusting to life under the thrall of a supervirus. He reports how international collaborations have been postponed, but that just gives him more time to focus on local projects. 

For “Being,” the designer is mulling over the idea of producing limited prints whose sales will be directed to heroes of the pandemic. Beyond this, Verboom plainly says he sees no practical application for the piece. For him, the woven rattan garment is a symbol that reflects today’s changes and challenges. 

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
Photo by Karen Eloot and Pieter Vanoverberghe..

Verboom knows that overcoming the pandemic will need more than just a statement creation, but a Herculean effort from everyone and maybe a top-to-bottom overhaul of how we, the masters of the Earth, have been running things. But he points to how a positive mindset may help: “Every crisis brings opportunities. Let us hope these opportunities are used for the common good and not for the individual.” 

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Though we find ourselves in an upside-down world, where we are stuck at home, reading about the strange garments of future humans and connecting only via cold screens, we should still remember to be there for each other. Smile, be kind, and wave hello. Even from a distance, we're never too far away.

For more, visit livable.worldinstagram.com/livable_world, and facebook.com/world.livable 

Comments
About The Author
Clifford Olanday
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
View Other Articles From Clifford
Comments
Connect With Us