Artist Eric Van Hove begins Montgomery Fellowship

by Joyce Lee | 1/20/17 2:15am

Last week, artist Eric Van Hove began his term as this winter’s Montgomery Fellow. His work as a conceptual artist was introduced to the College last year when the Hood Museum bought “V12 Laraki,” a sculpture that is a replica of Mercedes-Benz’s engine. He and several Moroccan artisans constructed the sculpture by hand using dozens of materials. It was put on display last year at the Hopkins Center while Van Hove was an artist-in-residence in the department.

As a Montgomery Fellow, Van Hove plans to construct an electric motorbike with the craftsmen of Morocco, thus building on his work on “V12 Laraki.” Van Hove said that globalization and imports have increasingly become a threat for the three million craftsmen in the country. He thinks it is important for the craftsmen to find a way to reconnect with the core industry in the country, and that the new line of products will provide a better income and create a source of pride.

Van Hove’s first prototype moped was a fully-functioning replication of a relatively simple motorbike from China. He built every element of the bike, save the battery and engine, which he said he transposed from the original motorbike.

Since then, Van Hove said he has made a second prototype with an original design that showed the craftsman’s potential to make motorbikes. Because driving mopeds is a sign of status in Morocco and other African countries are oriented towards driving mopeds, Van Hove said that there could be a huge market for such a product. He said that while most of the mopeds found in Morocco and Africa are made in China, the number of skilled craftsmen in Africa inspired him to consider how they could build their own motorbikes.

“The point of the project I’m going to work on this term as a Montgomery Fellow is to involve the Dartmouth community in conceptualizing and realizing the third prototype,” he said.

Van Hove has already begun to work with Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, which put together a task force of students. They arrived in Marrakech, Morroco a month ago. DEN director of entrepreneurship Jamie Coughlin said that students have been working with Van Hove for a crowdfunding campaign to develop the content, the story and the visual side, through both photography and videography. The campaign will launch on Apr. 15, during the opening of Van Hove’s exhibition in Belgium.

Kristie Chow ’20, a DEN student who went to Morocco during winter interim, said that she and other students were able meet with the artisans working with Van Hove. She was involved in creating a video for the campaign on Indiegogo.

“It was heartwarming to meet the artisans firsthand,” she said. “Through interacting with them, it proved that they truly love what they do, and I think that reinforced how important what [Van Hove] is doing.”

Van Hove said that he will be developing a pilot project that will build a hundred units of motorbikes based on his third prototype. He plans to use copper, steel, bone, wood and 3D-printed materials. He said that this prototype will include parts that are 65 percent made by craft, 15 to 25 percent 3D-printed and some factory-made parts, such as the battery.

“[This is] a project that could potentially change things for a place like Morocco and other countries that [have] similar properties or needs, between craftsmen presence and the need for mobility,” he said.

Van Hove said he hopes to put together a task force of students to begin building the third prototype. He plans to begin the project by drawing the motorbike, assessing its strengths and its fragilities and then using the Wood Workshop at the Hopkins Center, as well as the 3D-printing machine at Thayer School of Engineering, to materialize the design and build a life-size model. He plans to finish this model by this summer, after which he will bring the design to his team in Morocco. The craftsmen will then attempt to replicate it with local materials. Van Hove said that he hopes to have a finalized prototype that he can commercialize by the end of this year and to raise enough funds to produce in a larger number.

In the further future, he plans to approach the government of Morocco to see if they could help implement “formations,” or guilds, focused on building motorbikes so young craftsmen can also be involved. Mohammed VI, King of Morocco, has already established formation centers for crafts including woodwork, metalwork, copper work and wielding, but Van Hove said he wants to establish a master-class in those centers so that younger craftsmen, who don’t enjoy the work they consider to be old fashioned, low paying and labor intensive, can apply what they’ve already learned to make motorbikes.

“The idea is to informally change the mindset of Africans about their own craft,” Van Hove said. “If craft represents 20 percent of the active workforce in the country, as well as throughout the continent, we hope to launch an inspiring project so they can make their own motorbike for their own market.”

Van Hove’s project will also connect with Morocco’s efforts to achieve 42 percent renewable energy in the country by 2020. He said that the theme of renewal is present in his project not only with the source of energy for electric motorbikes but also with the craftsmen, for whom there is not much vision for the future.

“Connecting these two things would be something the palace is interested in,” he said. “It will help the beginning of this new century to reintegrate craft with a new industry, [and] to create a hybrid model to better fit how Africans can do industry.”

Van Hove said that he hopes to also work with Tuck School of Business students to market the motorbike, as they will have to deal with a largely informal economy and an organic manufacturing model. He said that they would have to focus on not only replicating the Western model of marketing, but also creating an entirely new one.

“When it comes down to craft, it comes as a package with a lot of doubts,” he said. “Craft can be seen as low-key and not something you want to consume when you’ve been told for so long to consume things wrapped in plastic. Even when it looks gorgeous, if it’s made from copper, it seems old-school, so it’s a very interesting case study in the post-colonial context and post-Fordist context on how to approach a nation’s consumers for something that they will create themselves but don’t have an embedded trust in their own production.”

Van Hove said that he also wants to work with students from Thayer to conceive of a strong, simple moped that could fit the needs of Moroccans.

Coughlin said that DEN is introducing and connecting more technical students with Van Hove and that students also expressed interest in the business aspect of the project.

“We discovered there was a lot of potential for collaboration and partnership because what [Van Hove] was beginning to explore himself was the concept of social entrepreneurship, and DEN was supportive about this concept,” Coughlin said.