Martijn Engelbregt: Breaking society out of its rut

Meet the ringmaster of Circus Engelbregt who oversees the delicate act of subverting social norms using design.

Circus Engelbregt is a “disordering process studio and place of social sustainability” run by artists Martijn Engelbregt and Pavèl van Houten.

“I believe that sustainability is not just what you eat or what you wear, it’s also the way we deal with others,” says Engelbregt in this interview.

Originally a graphic designer, he became fascinated with forms, questionnaires, procedures and statistics, which he uses to playfully subvert the assumptions and norms of civil society.

Engelbregt wants to help us break out of the boxes we have designed ourselves into through social systems and organisation. His work takes on a multi-faceted approach to art and design to draw out new perceptions and challenge controlled intuition and communication.

An example is Rest, a restaurant he designed where patrons eat leftovers and edible weeds on one of 64 wooden picnic tables stacked into a colossal triangle. The aim is to create chaos and movement and ultimately a new sense of order by people having to climb over a stranger’s table to get to their own and pass food to each other.

After researching a stubborn plant in his garden, Engelbregt discovered it has strong medicinal properties and turned it into a “product” – PRIMAL© Equisetum Remedy. It also inspired him to create a “medicine factory”. Here people explore a garden to find plants that they will mix into a medicine to cure their ailments. Without relying on science or medical knowledge, intuition is used and personal experiences are shared while new remedies are created.