Kite Club, 2023.
Kite Club. Kite detail, 2023.
Kite Club. Kite detail, 2023.
Kite Club. Flying kites, 2023.
Kite Club. Flying kites, 2023.

Kite Club: Poetry and Pragmatics

by Harmen Liemburg

When we meet at the Scheltens & Abbenes studio, Bertjan Pot, Liesbeth Abbenes, and Maurice Scheltens are just finishing up photographing a colorful rectangular kite that is an ode to the tools of kite making: a pair of scissors, a sewing machine, a soldering iron. The pictures will be part of One Kite, a forthcoming how-to publication showing every step of the process of making a kite. What is the iron is used for? Bertjan: “Melting together small dots of the overlapping spinnaker fabric (lightweight, thin, extremely strong nylon or polyester), so the different parts of the composition stay in position while zigzag stitching.” I've just had my first lesson in kite making.

Before they actually met, Pot and Scheltens had shared experiences through Instagram, talking about the kites they made to play with during their summer vacations at different French beaches. Both had developed a love for kites during their youth. Scheltens was first infected by his father’s enthusiastic stories of flying traditional Asian kites as a child in Indonesia. As a teenager, Pot flew steerable stunt kites that were all the rage at the time, thinking that single-line kiting was a little bit boring. But his feelings completely changed over the years. “Now, single-line kiting is much more interesting to me!” says Pot.

They eventually started Kite Club in late 2022 as a platform to share their experiments and designs. Soon they were joined by other artists and designers whom they invited to each try their own hand. They held their first public event the following spring at NDSM Wharf, a former shipyard in the north of Amsterdam that is now a breeding ground for creative makers. Alongside kites by Pot and Scheltens, new ones by Simone Post, Hansje van Halem, and FreelingWaters flew high at the waterfront of the river IJ.

Abbenes, a visual artist and Scheltens’s partner in work and life reflected: “An object that is lightweight and flies evokes its own associations and design challenges. Kites can carry their own message.” The kite titled Blown Away, for example, was given a shredded look but was still designed to fly, a playful interpretation of the idiom. “What the kite tells you, that’s what’s interesting to me,” she says. “But we're also obsessing with the details of materials and construction. The right type of straps, trying to make things lighter every time.”

Scheltens says that although the Kite Club is getting somewhat more serious, like requests for workshop with design students, “designing kites doesn't feel like work. We feel a lot of freedom to play around and experiment. It’s a kind of release that provides a lot of fulfillment.” Abbenes: “Contrary to what is acceptable in the art and design world, Kite Club is a playground where you can use one another’s ideas and inventions without punishment!”

Pot maintains that creating something that can fly is “the ultimate design question.” “You can think out all sorts of stuff, but in the end, it needs to go up,” he says. “Simplicity contributes to the beauty.” In terms of technical and artistic experimentation, Pot places Kite Club’s designs somewhere between single-line kites—expressive but can’t be steered very much—and modern sports models with two lines that can be steered to make fast and spectacular twists and turns. “You have to be pragmatic too, thinking about wrapping and transporting the kites to the beach,” says Pot. “Kiting has its own poetry. How many can you bring together in the sky or fly from one line; how do they look together?”

Harmen Liemburg is a graphic designer, screen printer, and educator based in Wageningen, the Netherlands.