Behind the scenes: Voortuin

by Grace Wang in September 2016
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Art & design

Voortuin is one of those magazines that frolics on the periphery of what we expect a magazine to be, as the pranksters Nanda Meijer, Sim Kaart and Tom S. Janssen keep pushing the boundaries to make something no reader has seen before.

Last time, with a business theme, their issue included a CD-ROM, screen prints and access to digital content. This time, the trio wanted to stick to pure print, but still create something surprising and original. The result is an apparently messy collection of notes in a medical file, which on closer inspection reveals itself to be a meticulously designed piece of storytelling that builds a picture of 28-year-old Melinda Ströder.

From a sun-drenched garden in Amsterdam, Nanda, Sim and Tom sit, beer in hand, to talk to me over Skype about design, mental health, and making magazines that reflect their lives.


There is a climatic moment towards the end of the magazine, where a single photograph is laid out and readers realise that the pages before it contribute to this final image (below).
Tom: Yeah, and it kind of all makes sense. That page is actually what we intended to start with, because we really wanted to match the concept of the whole form with the theme of this issue. We were hoping people would find it cool, and think, “Now it makes sense that there is a lot of crap on all the edges.”

Nanda: It’s a file of a person, so we wanted it to look like something that was just stacked together, and roughly put inside a folder, just like doctors do.


Tell us about wanting to work with different materials, and push the boundaries of what defines a magazine.
Sim: For this issue, Tom kept saying “Let’s just make a normal magazine!”

Nanda: I think it should be fun for us; we do this in our free time, and I think we look for an excuse to learn more things — we use the magazine to learn more about websites or a movie or something else.

Tom: Maybe it’s quite egotistical, because it’s not going to lead to the best result, choosing to work with something you’re probably not the best at.

Sim: Yeah, I think mainly we’re just getting bored with the thing we just did, so we’re gonna do something new, and once we get the hang of it, when we know we’re like 80% expert in this little thing, we deliver and start all over again.


So what were the things you wanted to learn more about in this issue?
Tom: It was kind of about what we can do that is different and hasn’t been done before, but just sticking to print. That’s how we came up with the idea to make a file that looks like it was not that well organised, just thrown in and really messy, but then when you look at it better it is actually an intricate design.

Sim: We started with asking questions, like, ‘How can you define someone who’s normal?’ We wanted to try to build a character by asking people to write stuff about them. We sent an email to all the contributors, and explained that we wanted to figure out how to design a character, which has a bit of constraint but also has enough space for the contributors to make something up. So all the images and text are actually from different people, trying to figure out who this Melinda Ströder is.

Nanda: Yeah. Everybody together built one person, and they didn’t know what other people were sending in…


And it kind of explains why she has a bit of a split personality too. What was the pitch to the contributors?
Tom: It’s actually in the magazine; it’s the letter from the doctor, one of the first pages.

Nanda: It’s in, like, a medical centre, asking for help giving information about this girl, because they lost it.

Did you have an idea what she would be like? Or did you want to see what you’d get from the contributors and follow that?
Nanda: For me, I think I had an idea, because she’s like us. She’s 28-years-old, having problems but having no problems, you know what I mean?

Sim: She’s worrying a lot.

Tom: A millennial who doesn’t know what to do with her life.


I can relate to that. I love the caption, “Please read it all and don’t just look at the pictures”, which first refers to the nude photography (above), and then a few self-help books overleaf. Tell us about designing the haphazard layout of this issue.
Sim: This was actually really hard to design, because you don’t only have a spread, you have all the other pieces of the other spreads. We really had to approach this like making a painting, so every picture was on the canvas already so you can’t take it out. You have to work with what’s there.

Why the healthcare focus?
Nanda: We talked for, like, a whole day about this. We wanted to do something that was like our lives right now… mental disorders and all (laughs).

Sim: With the business one we were also in the middle of business time.

Tom: I think with all of the issues, themes work out best if it’s something people in our direct social circle are talking about, a subject that relates to what’s going on. That always helps us choose themes that work well.

Sim: We actually did one that was called “The Truth”, when I was, uh, cheating on my girlfriend…


What can we expect for the next issue?
Sim: We agreed upon making a short film. Some kind of book-ish thing that is also represented in the film, that has a sort of vice versa effect. And we’re trying to link something with the physical and make a digital movie. So that’s something we’re working on right now, and hope to have it done in a couple of months.

Tom: So keep your eyes out!

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