After 36 years, Lucas Maassen finally got the sister he never had. Her name is Valerie, the name his parents would’ve chosen if he had been a girl, and she is about 6 feet tall, 3 feet wide, and made of 1,000 pieces of Lobmeyr glass. Valerie is a chandelier. But she is also, in a very tangible sense, Maassen’s flesh and blood. Maassen, a Dutch designer who likes to draw his family into his work (in a previous project, he hired his sons to paint furniture), partnered with the Swiss biomedical company Hoffmann-La Roche to crystallize synthetic microscopic DNA fragments present in his parents, then magnify them to create large glass visual representations, hand-cut by the famous Austrian glassmaker Lobmeyr. (Maassen would’ve used real DNA, except that in Switzerland, it’s illegal to copy DNA.)
Then he asked his elderly parents, who divorced 20 years ago, to assemble the crystals into a chandelier–to effectively create, without procreating, the daughter they never had–in front of an audience at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany. The performance took place earlier this month as part of the exhibit Confrontations: Contemporary Dutch Design.
The idea for Valerie, My Crystal Sister got underway when Maassen started wondering if, “it could be possible to use this process that made me as a design process,” he says. In the end, the project was far more personal, and poetic, than anyone could’ve imagined. As his father, Clemens Maassen, and his mother, Miep Creemers, silently strung up the crystals in a shape of their choosing (“Lucas has no say on that matter,” his father says), a film played in the background in which the divorced couple recounts memories of falling in love, starting a family, then separating before they had a chance to give Lucas a sister. According to the Dutch design news site Design.nl, the performance left audience members in tears. You’ll see why when you watch the film. Better grab some Kleenex:
“The whole project repositioned the way I look at my parents and the way I look at my children and the way I look at myself, actually,” Maassen says. As for his parents: Didn’t they think the whole thing was sort of… weird? “They liked it very much,” he tells me in an email. “But it was a confrontation for them I think. Like a sort of therapy. For me as well, BTW.”
[Images courtesy of Lucas Maassen]