Eva Jaeger, 24
Lives in: Eindhoven, Netherlands
Hometown: Chicago, U.S.
Nominated by: Olivia Murphy
When I first ask Eva Jaeger to tell me about herself over email, she replies with a photograph. It’s a picture of a notebook with a timeline of her life so far. The first line that catches my eye is a section at the centre of the page labelled ‘Normal kid stuff’, followed by ‘Spice Girls and Sabrina the Teenage Witch’. It makes me smile, because although we’re at different points in our lives, it turns out some things – like singing along to Spice World – don’t change.
Eva grew up in Chicago and studied fine art in New York before moving to the Netherlands to study at Eindhoven’s Design Academy. She likes to ignore her mum’s advice that she’s setting too high expectations for herself and at 24, she’s genuinely surprised that she’s been in a relationship for six years. Eva is the first to admit that she’s young and at times naive, but she’s also full of creative solutions to tricky problems, perhaps because of those two very things.
A big thanks to Olivia Murphy for nominating Eva for this interview. We can’t wait to see what you both do next!
As someone who wants to create things for a living, do you feel like you have a good idea of who you are?
I’m still figuring it out. I’m using my creative practise to figure out who I am. Sometimes other people tell me, ‘Oh that’s very much in keeping with your style,’ and then I really try to investigate, What do you mean? You make something and it comes from you, but in the design world you experiment a lot, too, and you have to make a lot of choices. At each point where you get to make a decision you sort of have this identity crisis. Is that me? Or not? I don’t know. I hope one day I’ll figure it out.
What has influenced your decision-making process to get to where you are now?
I was reading an early Friday Best interview with Clare McFadden and you said the best thing about her was that she doesn’t really know how she got to where she is now. I think a lot of people feel that way. You take a step at the time, you don’t realise that you were at a fork, and you choose one direction over another. So for me, when I was applying to undergraduate, I was deciding between journalism and studio art. At that age, I thought, You put an application out in the world, and whoever takes it, that’s the direction you go.
Then there are other decisions that you make where you actively stop something, or you take a leap into a completely different field. I quit my job in New York doing product production and often I think about what my life would be like if I had just stayed instead of moving to the Netherlands to attend grad school. What if I had kept going?
You would get to America, have a talent, continue with it, and become successful. It didn’t depend on what your parents did.
Like so many of the women we’ve spoken to, I know travel is a big part of your life. Can you tell us a bit about where this travel bug comes from?
My dad is German and he moved to the States when he was 28, so his entire family is there. It was very important to continue to go back and learn to speak German and be part of the family there. I think that made me very fearless about travelling because it was such a common thing that I would fly to Germany in the summer and then take a train by myself to visit friends. I always had this idea that our life was suspended across an ocean.
Why did your dad leave Germany?
My dad left because he really rejected that German stereotype and, at least at that time, the American dream was very much alive. You would get to America, have a talent, continue with it, and become successful. It didn’t depend on what your parents did, which was the case in Germany while my dad lived there.
I know what you mean because my mum had a similar experience growing up in Czech Republic. It mattered what your parents did for a living and it was always a little hard to believe having grown up in Australia.
That kind of social mobility is not as possible today, but the idea that you can be anything that you want to be belongs to American optimism, which can be seen as foolish optimism.
Coming back to the whole American dream idea, I have to confess that I’ve never really understood what it is. What’s your take on it?
That kind of social mobility is not as possible today, but the idea that you can be anything that you want to be, that kind of cliché, belongs to American optimism, which can be seen as foolish optimism. Whereas, in my experience, the German mentality is very much like, let’s be reasonable here, let’s pick a good option.
I’ve found that, too. I often feel like countries have personalities and certain traits keep coming up.
Having this contrast with Europe, what do you think of America today? How does it influence the way you see the world?
I’m from a very liberal part of the United States, growing up in Chicago and spending time in New York. I’m sure that I have a superbly skewed idea of how Americans think, and I know that there is this other America, but I reject the ‘real America’ idea.
Living in The Netherlands, I notice that nationality is still tied to race. The American identity is so diverse that I would never make distinctions in that way. This cultural difference plays out in small ways that are very distressing and perpetuate racial divides. This is not to say that this is not also a major issue in the States. I think that I can now say that I was just very lucky to be in a community that actively fought against those kind of distinctions.
Also, I don’t know if this is generally American, but I definitely notice I have a very different work ethic to a lot of people here. The Dutch culture values a work-life balance. In the U.S., if you get an entry level job you get about one week of vacation when you start. Insane! Because of our economy, the idea is that it’s a privilege to be able to work, a privilege to be able to go to college, because it’s extremely expensive. I don’t take that for granted.
Education is very accessible for people who want it here [in the Netherlands], and I think I have this pressure; I feel I was very lucky to have this kind of opportunity. I work til late at night, til I’m about to faint. I just work hard because not everyone has this opportunity and I don’t want to waste it. It’s a symptom of the education disparity in the States. I don’t know if working this way is a good thing or not!
I think it’s a good thing as long as you’re kind to yourself, too.
Right, and I see that the Dutch culture is definitely about being efficient and returning to your family at night. They really value weekends and it’s very family-oriented. It’s a good thing but it’s just not how I think at all!
I really felt this constant need for approval from teachers.
What has been one of the most important things you’ve learnt outside the classroom?
The hardest thing when you come out of school is to not need the approval of a mentor. I really felt this constant need for approval from teachers and I wish someone would have told me that your peers, and the idea exchange between you and your peers, is so much more important.
As a student, getting closer to the end of your studies, what’s your relationship with money like?
Erm, I don’t have a lot of it! I used to think, Oh I don’t care, if I make a lot of money. Now I think, Well, no, I want to have savings. If something happens to me I want to be prepared. Somehow that normalcy and rhythm that sometimes money can bring seems more and more appealing to me.
They have the idea that what they’re doing is worth money and people will pay for this service because it’s worth something to them. It’s like a redistribution of wealth, basically. I’m very optimistic about that.
And as a creative, a role that’s typically been associated with financial struggle, how do you go about defining what’s of value? Do you feel hopeful that you’ll succeed?
Now that I’m in the design world, we do talk about money a lot. We talk about the customer, or the user. We talk about what the market needs, and not in a money hungry way, but in a ‘we want to make this for people to use’ way. So there has to be an idea that someone would want to buy.
There’s also a shift now. There’s social entrepreneurship, there are companies that are acting in the same way that non-profits do. Purpose, Kickstarter, Honestby, all these young startups have a social initiative and they have the idea that what they’re doing is worth money and people will pay for this service because it’s worth something to them. It’s like a redistribution of wealth, basically. I’m very optimistic about that.
My mum warns me, ‘I think you have set yourself expectations that you’re in danger of not meeting.’ I am very naive about that.
What are your biggest fears?
Not achieving the kind of career I want for myself. That’s what I’ve been working for, and I’m not even exactly sure what that is, but I know I want to be able to do creative things on a daily basis. My worst fear is being older and looking back and thinking, I missed that chance, and now I’m just working at this office.
My mum warns me, ‘I think you have set yourself expectations that you’re in danger of not meeting and it’s not because you don’t work hard, you’re not smart, it’s just that life doesn’t work out for everyone. It’s not a clear path, and you can’t let yourself be so disappointed if things don’t work out.’ I am very naive about that. It leaves you in a stressful position.
You have to decide whose opinion do I value, who just didn’t get it, and who said something that really bothered me, but I know that it’s true.
Being so driven, how do you take on feedback?
That’s been a very valuable skill that I’ve learnt while studying, to take criticism. You have to decide whose opinion do I value, who just didn’t get it, and who said something that really bothered me, but I know that it’s true and right.
For instance, at the end of last year I had a very intense critique during my final and I spent a lot of the summer really replaying it in my head. I even had a video of it and I spent a lot of my time being angry, but I think in the end I was able to separate any personal feelings and say, ‘No, in the end they were right and this is how I can get better.’
What were you hoping to create? Now I have to know!
I was trying to comment on the roots of this trend called Normcore (a combination of the words normal and hardcore). It’s a trend that is based on the idea that there is nothing new or eccentric anymore, the internet makes every subculture instantly mainstream. So the most radical you can be is completely banal. I was paying special attention to the use of the Nike swoosh and its evolution. Whenever you get to the commercial world in my field of design, critics reject that commercial connection and I was trying to bridge that gap.
What did it turn out like?
I designed a sheer top, invisible like a figure skater wears, that had distorted Nike checks in it. I was happy with it, not as a final product but as an iteration of an idea. You can recognise something as a step forward, but it’s not a finished thing – you’re just happy that you put something out and made it.
I realised the authentic experience is the boys lining up to buy fake Nikes, listening to Nicky Minaj, and not really getting the words right.
And what are you working on now?
Right now, I’m preparing to give a thesis proposal. I’m interested in trend as social and political indicators – trying to understand what different parts of the culture we’re wearing, eating, doing, talking about, and why certain things are adopted in some places and certain things aren’t adopted in others.
The place I was most recently was Morocco. It was the first time that I had ever been to a Muslim country and immediately that was inspiring for me. How do women negotiate covering themselves, especially in the heat? I was especially fascinated by how they branded themselves. They wore a lot of scarves with logos on them, or traditional Moroccan slippers that had the Louis Vuitton logo on them. It was globalisation embodied in one object; a Moroccan slipper and the European luxury brand. I think it’s the perfect object!
Often when you travel, you’re looking for that very authentic experience, but I realised the authentic experience is the boys lining up to buy fake Nikes, listening to Nicky Minaj and not really getting the words right. This is the authentic Moroccan experience in this city right now. It’s not just tagine. It’s not what people go there to see.
I love that!
If you become obsessed with how you look you can’t focus your energy on the things you’re making
When you need advice, who do you look to?
This woman who I’m staying with here in Amsterdam, Nicolette, she’s a bit older and a designer, and she sort of rocked my world in terms of always being this mentor to me. She’s always given me really good advice and I probably wouldn’t even be doing this if it wasn’t for her. She was a friend of my parents who I just sort of latched on to and I’m glad that I saw her as a friend and not just a friend of my parents. She’s very much like family to me.
What kind of advice did Nicolette give you?
Nicolette gave me an important piece of advice that I remember a lot. She said: ‘When you’re a creative person or making creative output, you can’t worry so much about how you look. If you become obsessed with how you look you can’t focus your energy on the things you’re making.’
Obviously, that’s not an easy thing to shut off! But it was important in terms of simplifying my life and the things I own so I could put all of my energy into the output. I basically have like eight outfit uniforms. I try to keep everything simple.
Are there any other philosophies you like to come back to?
I agree with the not having many things. I’m also interested in the idea of the ‘total work of art’, which is the philosophy that everything is part of a universal artwork. So, your life is your artwork – birthday cards, the food you eat – you’re always creating and small things matter. It’s not like you turn on your creativity and you make some work and then you turn it off. It can sometimes be misunderstood as a shallow thing – that you’re obsessed with how everything looks – but I care about the way things take shape: having less, and choosing those things carefully and caring about your friendships as a work of art, or about the food you make yourself, or the breakfast table that you lay.
I’m surprised that I’ve been in a relationship for almost six years. I always thought that I would be travelling and moving, and by myself all the time.
And what’s the most precious thing in your life?
Probably my relationship with my boyfriend. We try to see it as something we’re working on as a project and it’s very precious to us in that way. We don’t take it for granted. Both of us are very analytical, very perfectionist and interested in the new kinds of ways you can have a relationship.
I’m surprised that I’ve been in a relationship for almost six years. I always thought that I would be travelling and moving, and by myself all the time. I’m very happy and proud that both us can do what we want to do and be companions in life. Each of us is home base for each other, even though we’re constantly moving. It’s really nice.
I think you have to create the solution and bring it forth as a solution that you’re ready to workshop.
Ok, now to one of my favourite questions…What do you think we should talk more about?
A lot of things get talked about, but a lot of people are arguing. It’s not solution-oriented. The two issues that are close to me have to do with production practices, so workers rights in factories, and also women’s health issues in the States.
So how do you think we can get closer to solution-oriented discussions?
I think you have to create the solution and bring it forth as a solution that you’re ready to workshop. We’re sort of past the point of saying, ‘Hey, this is an issue.’
There was a group of artists, Women on Waves, and they chartered a boat and that would pick women up from the coast and perform abortions and bring them back. This was basically art activism and I think there needs to be more things like that. There was a lot of uproar and obviously a lot of religious and ethical issues. Those kinds of loud solutions are important, if nothing else just to inspire people into more creative thinking. They thought, We’re not going to be able to change the policy here. We’re going to figure another route out.
Any last words of wisdom from Eva Jaeger?
I feel like I haven’t earned the right yet to give wisdom. I’m still taking wisdom in!
Want to know more about Eva? Check out her blog, Sonderlist, right here.
Things I Love
Any city! I want to hear what people care about, see what they are wearing, how locals interact and what I can learn from it. Cities are the root of my inspiration.
Westernised yoga is the closest I will get to having a religion. I would be lost without it.
Dinner with friends
This is my all-time favourite way to spend an evening. Since I move around a lot it’s hard to get a big group together – once I manage that I can really feel ‘at home’ somewhere.