• Reflect, Image by Lisa Winters

Why do we reflect and how is that of value?

Published: Monday 12th October

We live in a time of change. A time of reflection. A time of rediscovery and reinvention. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, grand statements have been done in the media. As a response, one might say we need to enter an era of reflection. Reflection is a structured way of understanding and giving meaning to things that happened in the past. But how do we give meaning to reflection itself? Why do we reflect and why is this of value to us? In this fifth studio session experience architect Renee Scheepers (Scheepers&Renee) conversates with transition specialist Tim Meijer (Tim Meijer Fotografie), multimedia designer Anouk van Mil (MILC), letter artist and storyteller Sebastiaan van de Venne (Draw Slow) and colour magician Lisa Winters.

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Happiness in life

It has been almost two years since Anouk decided to quit her own design agency including staff. Ever since, she finds herself in a constant mode of reflection. “I have the idea that I enter this mode of reflection more often since the corona measures were taken. To me, reflecting feels like a warm bath because it requires mindfully sacrificing your own time and peace, to commit to hearing your own undisturbed thoughts. By doing so, I can distinguish my own thoughts from what happens in the rest of the world.” On the one hand, reflecting is a very personal and intimate process for Anouk. On the other hand, she incorporates it in her work. She creates new perspectives on existing problems by creating multidimensional installations. Together with the audience, she reflects on these perspectives. “Everybody is responsible for their own happiness. If you have a job, you reflect together with your employer on your work and whether you are happy. As an independent entrepreneur you are on your own.”

Reflection rituals

Sebastiaan connects people through communication and searches for the authentic story of the person he works for. “I think you should make time for reflection. It sounds strange,” he says, “but it helps.” As a result, you realize what that day brought you.” Sebastian created his own daily reflection ritual. Every night he writes down everything that comes to mind. He learns from what happened that day. According to him, reflection is an iterative process.

Anouk adds something to her “happy list” everyday. Sometimes these are small things, such as seeing beautiful sunbeams or someone bringing her a cup of coffee. “It helps me to make myself aware of the things that make me happy and are important to me. I learn to be aware of those things by working on the happy list every day. If you pay attention to something, it grows.”

Lisa only actively reflected at the end of last year. Inspired by the people with whom she shares a studio, she wrote down her goals for 2020 in a so-called end-of-year reflection. Writing down these goals was an essential part of it and made it extra valuable. “From the beginning of this year, my blinders have gone off. I have turned from a chaotic allrounder into someone who has a focus and a plan.”

Tim reflects by mirroring himself to others. He works in a building together with other creative entrepreneurs. In his role as a designer, he finds it important to question other creatives and start discussions. In his autonomous work he designs moments of reflection for his audience. For example, he studied a lignite mine in West Germany, named Garzweier, which excavated an area of 40km2. Thousands of residents who once lived in the area were forced to move. Intrigued he photographed the remaining memories of the residents. By photographing analogue, he creates a moment of peace in the chaos, a moment of reflection with himself and later with the audience. Similar to an old attic filled with memories, you can spend hours wandering through his photos.

• Tim Meijer

The role of the creative industry

Do you need inspiration to reflect? Are creatives better in reflecting than others because they have the right tools for it? According to the drivers: “We see it as our role to inspire others, to help them deviate from the already trodden path and walk a different route. But only when they want it.” It is our goal to show something, and the next step or action belongs to the audience or user. Not pedantic, but loving, open and free. “Our role is not to drop the penny, but to plant the seed,” Anouk adds.

Until now, reflection is discussed primarily as something positive, or as enlightenment. Tim wonders out loud if one could take it too far. It is time for a little nuance. Yes, they see reflection as something valuable, but they don’t consider it any less worthy if it isn’t there. Is reflection a luxury? How does it relate to priorities as food and shelter? “In any case, it is not at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid of needs,” says Anouk. Reflection is not an elitist activity and is not dependent on socio-economic status. However, having time is considered a luxury by all drivers. Tim: “Ask a designer what would make him most happy and he will often say that he would want more hours in a day.”

Does reflection have an end?

• Tim Meijer

The ingredients for a good reflection

Tim believes entrepreneurship can also be seen as a threat to reflection. As a free autonomous maker you use your own time and reflect automatically. But if you have to go from assignment to assignment, and are controlled by deadlines, there is no time left for reflection. Anouk and Sebastiaan try to prevent this from happening by developing rituals. Lise uses the end of the year as a reason to reserve time for reflection.

One person requires ease and the other doesn’t. One confides in paper and the other in a discussion partner. The one collects, the other structures. All drivers have different preferences about the context, the ritual and the design. At the bottom of the line there is only one ingredient you need or a good reflection; and that’s time.

Text: Renee Scheepers. In conversation with: Tim Meijer, Anouk van Mil, Sebastiaan van de Venne and Lisa Winters
Oginally published by Dutch Design Week magazine.

Intrigued by this Studio Session? Listen to the full podcast here.