Reineke Otten (The Netherlands, 1979) is a designer working in the field of visual sociology. She records and assembles images and information to reveal society’s patterns and orders — and occasionally, to generate beauty.
Since her studies at the Design Academy Eindhoven, Reineke has been investigating the distribution of skin colors throughout the world; she visually documents her findings to show the impact of social, technological, and ecological forces on these patterns.
This research first took shape as her 2002 graduation project, a collection of palettes and maps based on skin colors. Since then, The World Skin Color (WSC) project has been exhibited at the Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism in Shenzhen (2007), the Centraal Museum Utrecht (2010), and the Triënnale Hasselt, among other venues.
Her WSC Scarves, a collection of 231 data-generated designs for silk scarves, takes this research to a new level.
In parallel to the WSC project, Reineke practices ‘streetology’, an intuitive method of classifying and visually analyzing patterns of urban daily life.
To understand the delicate relationships among places, she collects images of mundane but unique details that are so often overlooked, lost, or forgotten in the development of cities.
This research process feeds her ever-evolving online catalog, urbandailylife.com, and has led to commissioned work by the Gwangju Design Biennale (‘Design is design is not design’, 2011) and OMA (‘Dubai Next, Face of 21st Century’, 2008). It also inspired her collaboration with the Dynamic City Foundation (2004), which resulted in the publication of two books: China Daily Life (2006) and The Chinese Dream (2008).
From her Rotterdam studio, Reineke continues to explore the boundaries of her role as designer in the realm of visual sociology. In addition, she teaches in the Department of Well Being at the Design Academy Eindhoven.
Imagine people as color pixels. Flying over the world, you would look down and see . . . what?
Our planet is an unstable composition of complexions: through migration, intermarriage, cosmetics, war, trains, planes, and automobiles, the ‘view from above’ of the earth’s skin tones is in a continuous state of evolution.
With the help of The World Fact Book, the pantone color system, data from Internet, interviews with dermatologists, research by cosmetic companies, thousands of images of people, and her intuition, Reineke Otten created the World Skin Color Project, a visual analysis translated into maps of skin colors as they appear throughout the world.
Based on color palettes created for all 231 countries worldwide, and using one dot to represent one percent of each country’s population, Reineke’s maps depict our changing world as a flux of skin tones. Light dots are visible through dark South Africa; faces and races mingle in Brazil; thousands of guest workers tint Dubai, while pale tourists sunbathe in the Bahamas.
But like populations, these maps are ephemeral – snapshots of the world as it is composed today, poised to change in unexpected ways tomorrow . . .
How can we start to understand the modifications of these skin tones? What factors and conditions determine the particular colors that make up each palette? Every country has its own composition of skin colors that is linked to its population, climate, economy, politics, and social practices.
The World Skin Colors scarves turn this (demographic) data into a visual language, and then into fashion. A program directed by Reineke Otten and applied by LUST designers translates these gathered statistics about migration, population density, temperature, UV radiation, GDP, and transport into a graphic code: the numerical grid of an Excel sheet becomes shape, color, and pattern in eight overlapping layers. Each layer represents a different factor influencing the composition of skin tones in a particular place.
Each of the 231 scarves is unique because each country generates its own data. The scarves reveal relationships, histories, and patterns of populations; they tell stories that you can fold, twist, drape, hang, or wear; stories to contemplate, discuss, or retell.
I create the conditions for these layers of information to interact visually. The beauty, for me, lies in the surprises — the unexpected ways in which these shapes and colors come together.