Born in 1986, Agata Karolina Niemkiewicz grew up as a Polish immigrant in South Africa. The first time we interviewed her was in 2011, not long after she completed her studies – graduating with a Bachelors in Brand Communication from Vega, followed by a Masters Degree in Contextual Design at the Design Academy Eindhoven.
In the span of only a few short years Agata has been involved in many different types of projects and exhibitions – some taking her as far as Taiwan, while others have brought her home to Cape Town.
To give Agata a definitive job title is tricky purely because of the incredibly broad scope of what it is that she actually does. It is simpler to begin with what she doesn’t do, as Agata says: “I do not define myself as a designer, the title doesn’t allow me to do what I’m interested in. My profession does not rely on me creating objects, but rather working with the people who do. I’m intrigued by the way designers think and create, the philosophies they develop for themselves and how they use them to develop an outcome.”
Currently spending her time between Cape Town and Rotterdam, Agata works as Studio Agata Karolina in the fields of design cultures, initiation, curation and project management. In what she describes as a very organic growth, the focus of her business has been shifting towards a different path. “I focus my work on ‘Design Cultures’, project initiation, research, design business and development, less product design, and I’m starting to get myself into curation and scenography,” she says.
Agata is inspired by people – the way they create, the questions they ask and their personal perspectives. She uses design as a cultural carrier, believing that objects carry stories and experiences. “When working with designers, you experience the reflection of their stories and perspectives in their work,” says Agata, “and in this way an object acts as a carrier. Every object comes from somewhere, each choice and detail is influenced and molded by personal experience. In this way objects carry stories.”
As for her process, Agata explains that it is still being defined. But, to give us an idea of what it could entail, she says: “When initiating projects we begin with defining it by asking what it is focusing on, and whether we want a definite outcome or rather a stage that allows for experimentation. From there the selection of designers begins – it’s about selecting the right designers, and challenging them through the process of the project.”
Among a myriad of other endeavours, Agata is currently working on two product orientated projects that continue from the time she spent in Taiwain. One of these involves working with Orushi – a natural lacquer, and the other is called ‘Pure Colour’ – a project that involves graphically defining culture and tradition through natural dyeing and weaving.
Also this year, Agata partnered with Dana Cannam Design to develop a new Bioplastic composite for an exhibition during Salone Del Mobile in Milan, and she recently participated in a runway show “Clash Project” initated by Matylda Krzykowski for the annual Fashion Clash in Maastricht, The Netherlands. She spent some time in Poland to give a presentation for Depot Basel – a group that defines themselves as “A temporary space for contemporary design” – while also exhibiting at the Centennial hall during the first WrocLOVE Design Festiva in Wroclaw.
Furthermore, two different projects brought Agata to Cape Town for three months this year: in addition to being part of the team that launched the first Open Design Cape Town Festival, she curated a new style exhibition for the Western Cape Furniture Initiative called “IN CONTEXT” that was held at The Bank in Harrington Street.
The exhibiting artists for IN CONTEXT were Gregor Jenkins, Thingking, Wiid, Indigi Designs, Haldane Martin, Vogel, David Krynauw, Snapp, Willowlamp, James Mudge, Goet, Tonic and George Hay. During the opening Heather Thompson from SOMA Confection installed her SOMA Simulator 5000ZX, where guests were invited to a ‘private’ chocolate tasting experience amidst the bustle of exhibition visitors. For the experiential areas of sound and scenography of the exhibition, Agata worked together with Markus Wormstorm, Gary Morris, Marco Filby and Andre James from [o]bject house.
Next year Agata is launching her biggest project to date – a project which, for the past two years she has been quietly developing. “Common Methods” is an Office for Design Production that connects designers from different countries through a six week collaboration with local craftsmen and manufacturers. The first edition is launching during WDC2014, and will include a series of open platform lectures and discussions as well as a final exhibition. “The future brings more exhibitions, more cross continental projects, and more time working in SA,” says Agata, who is looking towards Joburg, central Africa, and the East.
Curious to know the sorts of things that occupy her thoughts, we asked Agata about her recent influences and learned that at the moment she’s reading The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twang Eng, looking at Talc Magazine, and listening to these songs (especially The Space Lady – Ghost Riders in the Sky, as well as some local Dutch music: Sexy Beesten by De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig.) We can’t imagine that she has much free time, but reading, running, yoga, cooking and of course dreaming up new projects are some of the ways she likes to spend hers. “I’ve also been trying to go see the giraffes at the zoo for months,” she says, “maybe this weekend.”
For the past few years, Agata has been in the process defining her own, rather unusual career. The most relieving, which is also the most challenging, aspect of this process has been coming to a place where she is okay with not being a designer. “For a long time I really wanted to be a designer,” she says, “I admired my colleagues for their determination, patience and dedication. I’m hyperactive, I can’t sit still on the same thing for too long, which makes designing difficult for me. That’s why the products I occasionally do create are more experimental insights into a process rather than a manufacturable piece. Working in design cultures means I’m working on many different things at the same time – which is where the hyper side is incredibly effective!”
Reflecting on her own journey Agata says: “Do what you’re good at, and what you love most.” Her energy, intellegence and undeniable passion begin to explain how she has come to be where she is today. And, considering the scale and the complexity of the projects she has already spent her time immersed with all that’s left to say is this: if there is a secret, we’re pretty sure Agata knows it.
This content series is presented by the new and untamed Mercedes-Benz CLA.
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