Domenique Himmelsbach de Vries started the Wilders Web Winkel (Wilders Web Shop) as a creative reaction to the now infamous arts funding cuts that have cut the Netherlands’ cultural sector at the knees.
“I didn’t like that the cultural community were acting and responding to the issue like victims,” Himmelsbach de Vries says. “I did not think it was the best way to handle the whole situation. I started thinking that they wanted us artists to go to market and to make money. They go on and on about cultural entrepreneurship. Of course the biggest visual symbol of this anti art sentiment is Geert Wilders’ face. He famously called art a left wing hobby of the elite … so of course it is logical to try to make money off his face. I have embraced him as my milk cow.”
The Wilders Web Winkel brand comprises merchandise like t-shirts, bandaids and bedsheets designed by Himmelsbach de Vries. Other products like garden gnomes and foot mats are designed by others who believe in the cause and are also available on the webshop. The products are mostly silk screened and finished by hand in Himmelsbach de Vries’ Amsterdam studio.
His interest in social design stems back to his education. Even as a student he was plastering billboards with his own posters claiming “I am engaged with your misery”. After graduating from art school he earned a Masters in social design from the No Academy – a programme with no specific geographic location offered to artists and designers whose work articulates a social consciousness.
Himmelsbach de Vries never wants to get stuck in his studio – designing for problems from afar. “I see that approach as part of the problem,” he says. “Too many players from politicians down are totally disconnected from the issues they are passing laws and policies about. They have no clue what it actually feels like to be in these situations. I think the best I can achieve is to create work that is genuinely engaged, not just objects to look at.”
While at No Himmelsbach de Vries got the chance to work with everyone from renting agencies to city archives. “These people I encountered have real access to the community, but have no real way of genuinely connecting with it,” he says.
Local media and other organizations started noticing how Himmelsbach de Vries – a designer with no agenda – was able to nurture the type of communication they needed but could not achieve.
Now groups form Belgium and Denmark have approached him to use his Wilders concept for their own right wing populist demagogues. “It is really just about how artists can make money by milking politics,” he explains.
Himmelsbach de Vries will continue with social design or what he also calls artistic research. “What I do is ultimately about creating stories that inspire people,” he says. “Finding a new archetype that people can relate to outside of Facebook.”
With that said one can access him on Facebook. And Wilders Web Winkel is also currently exhibiting in the Kunstvlaai in Amsterdam until December 2nd. Other designers with work that suits Wilders Web Winkel are invited to contact Himmelsbach de Vries.
This project is realized with the great support of social designer Tabo Goudswaard and artists: Chiel te Bokkel, Hajo, Robin de Kruijff, Marianne Kaars Sijpesteijn, Jitse Schuurmans, Trik, Finbar van Wijk, original concept and basic housebrand merchandise by Himmelsbach.