With over 15 years of experience as a designer, art director and conceptual artist, Diddo Velema’s achievement lies in breaking down complex human emotions into artistic manifestations. His popular series ‘Designer Gas Masks’ got noticed across the world for its boldness, largeness and sheer brilliance of his concept. Even after much adulation and praise, Diddo’s approach towards art is like that of a newborn – full of amazement and intrigue.
Emaho : You started your career with product design and art direction. And now you are an artist. How did the transition happen?
Actually, the transition has never been that clear for me and to be honest it still isn’t. I think a successful project involves many disciplines and/or people working together. Indeed, I’ve developed strategies and concepts to reposition brands and products. Working on conceptual art, however, gives me the freedom to develop ideas that can deliver a powerful message to a selective group of people. With art projects, I’m not bound by specific history, people or blinded by commercial gain. My goal has always been to get the most out of my passion as well as the enthusiasm of those around me.
Emaho : You’ve used a 24-karat gold plated syringe and a single 5 ml dose of dollar ink (recovered from approximately $10,000 in US currency) for your artwork “Cure for Greed”. How did you come up with the idea?
Initially, I was inspired by recent bank and corporate scandals, especially the question: why did ‘these’ people behave the way they did and let it get so out of control.
I wanted to explore the power of greed. I’ve since learned that greed is a fundamental human behavior that’s served our species so well throughout history. It is still an inseparable part of who we are.
However, man seems ineffective at controlling his own primal urges. In an attempt to refine our humanity, society and culture, we have sought to govern these basic urges with intricate systems of reward and punishment. As individuals, the best we can do is to actively participate in that part of society, which rewards progressiveness and provides a harsh scrutiny to the negative excesses, which diminish our potential. I think it’s only through observation and reflection that we can begin to understand the power of our own instincts. With ‘Cure for Greed’, I’ve tried to initiate and catalyze this process of self-reflection.
Emaho : Your thoughts are very radical; what’s the inspiration behind the strong statements you make in your art?
My inspiration is human behavior. I’m particularly interested in behavior that seems irrational or antiquated. The world appears to be fixated on the results of our actions, but to me the behavior that initiates this action is more interesting.
Beyond that I enjoy examining the space between what we think and what we allow others to think for us. We are subject to forces, which continuously bombard us with propaganda designed to influence what we think and how we behave. This psychological and economic climate has an enormous impact on our emotional wellbeing. A lot of different themes and influences in this process inspire me.
For example, think of the military-information complex, biotechnology, so called ‘social’ media, economic and ecologic crises, etc.
It’s more important than ever that we learn to cope with these hostile environments. If my art can somehow help people open their eyes and reflect along the way, I will be most satisfied.
Cure for Greed
Emaho : How did you come up with the idea for ‘Designer Gas Masks’ and were there any difficulties acquiring permissions from big labels?
I think we are in a state of perpetual war – with ourselves and with the eco-system that sustains us. This perpetual war breeds fear of course, but it also makes us accustomed to fear. How we choose to live and wrestle with this fear is what ‘Designer Gas Masks’ seeks to express.
Part of this fear stems from our extreme desire for authenticity and manifests itself in our culture of insatiable consumption. Because deep down, we are afraid we may never be satisfied. An expanding archive of branded myths and icons plays on this fear.
The brands I’ve chosen have become, to many, the religious institutions of our age, proprietors of our deepest desires and phobias. Brands are vehicles that bridge the worlds of perception and distraction. This creates a three-way tension that powers consumerism. I’ve used the brands in a purely symbolic way, not to disrespect them, but to highlight their place at the pinnacle of consumer culture.
The Designer Gasmasks are aesthetically functional, and one might even say, “life saving.”
Emaho : Your artwork that uses Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Cartier material is not commercial or commissioned work. However, do you think there is a possibility we could see something of a commercial nature in the future?
I’m always open to the idea of collaboration.
Cure for Greed
Emaho : Your artwork leaves the onlooker/audience very exhausted. What are the other feelings you wish to evoke in us?
Exhausted? I hope not!
I hope to intrigue and inspire, but mostly I want people to step back and reconsider their beliefs. I’m not interested in coercing people to think my way, but want to give them a second chance to think for themselves. I want my work to provide a platform from which people can explore and reflect on their own ideas and opinions.
Emaho : Very little is known about your personal life; tell us about your childhood and what stoked your interest in product designing?
Thankfully, I’m still enjoying my childhood. I hope to continue this mindset as long as I can. It’s a way of seeing the world with fresh eyes every day, and reassessing my ideas again and again.
Emaho : Where do you see yourself going from here? Any current projects that you would want to tell us about.
I feel like I’m just getting started. The world is full of things that could benefit from a lot more self-reflection. I’m looking forward to future collaborations, travelling and meeting inspiring people all over the world.
In a few weeks I’ll be launching a new project that I’ve been working on for the last year and a half. It has also been my most difficult project so far.
I’ve had the opportunity of working with some very bright people from the world of chemistry and I can tell you this: it will challenge your assumptions about human nature, specifically the tension between biology and society and how it defines our humanity.
Art & Culture Interview by Meenakshi Iyer