Design Talk: New Technologies, Old Techniques – Evolving Craft and Design
Varmt välkomna till Finlandsinstitutet, Tervetuloa Suomen Instituuttiin. Welcome to the Finnish Institute in Stockholm and this opening night of our lovely exhibition Serving sculpture renewal of Finnish Craft & esign, and we're so happy that you're all here, that we actually have audience in our house and a warm welcome also to you watching this at home. This is the eighth year in a row that we are hosting a design exhibition in our gallery during Stockholm Design Week, and this year we have the pleasure working with a Finnish design agency and online gallery. UU Market and the owners and co-founders of UU Market. Milla Vaahtera and Hannakaisa Pekkala They are also the curators of this fantastic design exhibition. So thank you so much.
Hanakaisa and Milla, we love you and we love your work. And we also want to say welcome to our fantastic designers, Tervetuloa Tukholmaan. And after this design talk, you have the opportunity to talk with the curators and the designers downstairs.
And this exhibition, it highlights the change in form language, playfulness, sculpturality that has taken over the Finnish design scene. Traditional craftsmanship and new technologies intertwine into a sustainable and innovative artistic expression. A small scale, design focused creativity is challenging the norm of mass production and offering an ecological alternative.
And tonight you're going to hear a lot more about this. And now I need some help from you in the audience, because now we're going to welcome on stage. Tonight's moderator Lotta Ahlvar. And next on stage and professor emeritus of design and craft history Kerstin Wickman.
Designer and artist Milla Vaahtera, curator of the exhibition. An artisan, an artist and art lecturer, Nina Westman. And ceramic and visual artist Laura Pehkonen one of the designers also. So please Lotta. The stage is yours and enjoy.
Thank you so much. Thank you. And a warm welcome to this design talk.
Are we OK with a headset? Yes. So new technologies, old techniques, evolving craft and design is the subtitle. And we had a nice introduction of all the speakers, but I'd just give a little more background.
And I start with you, Nina. Your Swedish and you are a glassblowing artist. Yes. And you have a background in the performing arts? Yes.Theatre? So welcome. Thank you. And then we have Laura.
Are you set for? Do we hear you? Hello. Perfect. Laura, welcome Pehkonen. And you are the only one working in ceramics in this exhibition. Actually, I am not. There is Laura Itkonen also. Ok. Yes, you are sorry. Yes. But with the objects?
Yes, I have abstract. Unique object. Because there are also the world works. You are correct. Yes. Sorry about that. Where are you, Laura? Sorry.
I do work with wood and paintings also. But here in this exhibition, I have ceramic works and also represented at the UU Market. And then we have Professor Kerstin Wickman and you're a writer, a journalist, and I don't know anybody that knows so much about arts and crafts, not only in Sweden, but actually in the Nordic countries. You're old. But you also were the editor in chief of the magazine called Form Editor.
for many years. So we're going to talk a little bit of the role of the reviews and the media. And then finally, Milla Vaahtera. So nice to have you here.
Thank you. And you are a co-curator, but you're also participating. I have two hats, but tonight here I'm mostly thinking of myself as a curator. But I'm curious about the name "Serving Sculpture - Renewal of Finnish craft & Design". Why did you choose that title? Titles are always the difficult part. We wanted to really tie down also to the tradition that we have in Finland of this very strict idea of making useful objects. Because in Finland,
there's, compared to Sweden a little bit more scarcity of things. And that's why Finland has been poorer. And that's why the Swedish or even in history the Swedish craft has been more ornamental, more extra.
Finnish people have been making really minimal things. And then that was a really good breakthrough during that kind of industrial revolution that our style was somehow interesting internationally. What year are we talking about? In the 60s and 70s, Finnish kind of minimalism was a good thing, and I still think it's a wonderful thing. But now I think after many years of doing,
even in education, we have been really stuck on the idea of form follows function. But this new generation is more "Form follows fun" and more sculptural. And that is why we wanted to have the the name of the exhibition kind of showcase that we are not serving dishes and useful things only anymore, but also sculptural things. A good name. You are participating as well. But you work with glass blowers and they are your collaborators. Yeah, they're my co artists.
Yeah. And you also described a little bit for me that you like the process with them working with you and also that things are happening that you can't really control. I think that this is one thing that I really want to change in in craft. There has been
this idea of the artist coming from above, and then you have people who help the artist make their vision. And I think so much potential is lost when you don't see the other person with the skill of the craft as an artist as well. Of course I do some some of the craft myself, I do the metal work. But the potential in people
who have knowledge of some craft is invaluable. I think the culture and the knowledge that we have in the people who have the knowledge of the craft, that's something to maintain and that I feel that is equally important as sustainability. I was thinking you too have a similar background because you went to design school like a classical design school. And in those days, the Aalto University was a bit different. You refer to Aalto as the
"old Aalto" because it's changed a lot, but there you have a traditional design education. But you both have decided to go away from that. Is that the shift that We escaped. From the industry? But also the society changed a little bit because there are not so many industries. Are you a part of this shift due to the industry
disappearing? Or was there time for something else? Well, for me, there was no industry when I was studying. I did study it in a design school, but I didn't think of myself as a designer. I studied in ceramics and glass department. I was one of the last years to graduate as a glass and ceramic designer from that department. When I graduated, there was no industry anymore in Finland, so it was for sure for me there is no job where I got to apply. But for me, it's it's difficult to answer this question because I was not interested in that.
Already from the beginning? So during my last years of my studies, my masters studies, I, already started to establish my own studio. I found a studio and space where to work with my art pieces. And I started to build up my artistic career. So I didn't want to look for design jobs or that field. So I don't know how it was. So today you have your studio a bit outside.
Yes, it's a bit outside of Helsinki, 30 minutes with train. A really nice old factory building with beautiful windows and bad quality floor that you can You can mess around? Not too careful. So it's perfect for artists. I've been there for 10 years, so that tells you something that I have enjoyed the place. But Milla, you started up working as a designer.
I've been teaching design as well in universities. And I think in my education there was a gap of the teachers and maybe not even thinking that this is an alternative. Because I think many people who find themselves in the creative industries or in Finnish, we have this word "Taideteollisuus" which is Art industry. And I think it's a really good word for what we do. I think it's similar in Swedish. I think many people have a kind of spirit of an artist.
And then then they can think, OK, design seems a little bit more reliable than just art. And I think many people who are in design education are artists at heart But the education doesn't, in my experience in the schools that I teach even now doesn't really give the students that much kind of support on creating a career similar to ours. And I think that is something that kind of needs to change because many of the teachers still think that there is an industry to lean on. And we have another teacher here.
Nina. I think it's a really interesting discussion is something we always discuss at Konstfack but we kind of change the narratives throughout the years. Because a lot of things that happened with the industry, I don't want to say dying but being minimized and less jobs.
So we talk about in discussions. We acknowledge that there are different fields in that sense that you can be a designer or you can be an artist, you can be a crafts man. But what we do and also what Konstfack has taken a kind of leap is that we have created a master program called Craft and also at a bachelor. I'm a teacher and workshop responsible and for the glass education at Konstfack. We we even in the BA level, we speak about us as "Crafts person", and it's more fluent. We do teach that there are different contexts. There is the
context of of art and these kind of galleries is where they exhibit art and this is a context of formgivning & design. This is a context of craft and the platforms. So we try to acknowledge that all of this, but we don't label the students themselves can label what they want to be. So we have a fluidity. But one thing that is really important when you speak about the the craft, is in the glass department we have gone from, when I went to Konstfack, and maybe even before that. The glass it's been in the field of design that there is a technician or a teacher that can help you to blow things.
But again, it's also because the industry is not there anymore. So if you want to go out in the industry, for example doing your period of practice, is there anywhere we can go ??? There are some factories left. We have Rejmyre, Kosta, and you have Målerås. So there are a few factories left.
No students go there at this point. This is not really how it works. But we do say that if you want to make a project, and focus on design. You can't produce all this at our government funded school But try to make connections and start working if it is design.
We are really working hard and I think we are accessing also with doing the glass accessible. The glass education that we have is really intensive. And what has happened at Konstfack now is a lot of people with no prior experience of entering the world of glass. You see new expressions. You see a lot of things happening also form wise.
What is the shift? Is it the same shift in Sweden? Because you also mentioned when we were talking earlier a little bit that you feel it's changed in Konstfack in the recent years. And I think it might be a similar shift that you experienced in Finland because they're much more driven the students now. They are aware and they know where they want to go. I would say if sort of I think we have so competent students. They are so well aware of the field already from social media and being able to to present themselves in social media and very quickly start to sell things and talk about their work in the narrative.
The new technology is an advantage. And similarly a little bit to UU market because you also benefited from digitalization. I was thinking, Kerstin, you have you have a long perspective on this. Do you think there is a shift also in the Nordic countries? The shift has been going on for a while and the students, they start to produce their own material. It's sand or clay or glazes, but they produce the
glazes, they produce the different clays. They produce the different glass material. So from the beginning to the end, to the product, which they sell. And some history. I think in the 50s and 60s, when the students finished school, they already had jobs in the industry But they were so sought after in the in those days. The head teacher arranged for the students. You should go to Johansfors, you should go there. So they arranged the whole thing. I think
they were having a good time. So that is a great change. And I thinking because you have been talking about functionalism and in the second during the Second World War, there was an exhibition, with Finnish ceramic products from Arabia in Sweden. And it was art works, because a lot of our pieces were made then. And the Swedes, we were so functionaltic back then. And we complained and said, don't they do practical things in Finland? And in Arabia they started What shall we do? And then Kaj Frank came. And so did the shift towards functionalism.
In the same time, we are discussing all the time, why do you do that and couldn't you do that? Could you already see the difference between finnish, design or art compared to Swedish? I can't say today there is great difference, but it has perhaps up till today that you always had a special feeling for material in Finland. We don't have exactly the same. This genuine material as when I look at your pieces, for example, in the exhibition and other pieces, and this fantastic feeling for the material itself. In Sweden, we are very much up to narratives now. We want to tell something, and to make a sculpture in itself is another thing than making a narrative. I think the two of them are good, so I have no idea about what is the best, but we learn from each other.
And you also said that your experimenting a lot with your glazings and you're doing your own material as well. It is fantastic what you do. I am so impressed. That's really something from Kerstin! Yeah, we had a really nice talk downstairs and and I told something about my materials. And I want to add to your sayings that in Finland,
For example, in Denmark, we do have really a large knowledge of materials because it's just for one person called. Her name was Kyllikki Salmenhaara. She used to teach and run the ceramics department in the 60s and 70s. She was fantastic. You're talking about the Aalto school. Yes. So she was already before me, like in the 60s and the 70s. I didn't study then. She thought the the next generation who became my teachers and I've been taught by the students of Salmenhaara, it was very much material based, and during my studies I wasn't so interested in the materials. I was more interested in decorative and
porcelain painting and surface techniques. But during my years working as an artist, I've now found my passion for materials. And for example, in downstairs, there is a unique piece with glazing that I have made from from the ashes of my own cottage. With wood and sauna. So I go and warm up the sauna with wood. And after I feel relaxed and I collect the ashes. Go to my studio and I make some glaze of it. So it's this I couldn't do
without the knowledge of of Kyllikki Salmenhaara from the 60s or 70s. But that's a beautiful interpretation of being sustainable. The part of the new movement as well. When you talk about these industrial
designers running and doing commissions all the time, but also being more close to the material and also being more sustainable. I think that students in crafts education, they are so sensitive what the time is needing. We were discussing that you and I before that we need fantasy. If you look at your architecture, we need something to happen there. And because it's rather sterile. If I should be complaining about architects today and if you look at our society today, we are lacking fantasy. So, it was more visible during the pandemics.
Or has it been like this for a long time in Sweden? In Sweden, we are lacking fantasy. The people are really longing for colour and fun. Imperfection, I think. And affection, because I think there's a real hunger. There's a hunger for something that is made by hand. Everything is so perfect. It has been double checked that it's good to go through the to the factory line and nobody will complain about this being imperfect. And I think in imperfections and that's
the the most beautiful thing about craft is the human and the kind of the mistakes behind it. I think there's a real hunger for that and also for the story behind it. Is that also something that is a part of the new aesthetics because in the 60s, I'm sure they didn't really want the errors. It's definitely it's definitely part of the aesthetics. But in the glass movement, because it was in the late 60s and the early 70s that the glass studios got established by Åsa Brandt, Ulla Forsell, Anders Wingård, Eva Ullberg. And something happened also there. I think it's a similar movement because now I did not call it this, but someone called it right now popular with sloppy craft I think in the end of the 60s, I started with the 70s. Also, it was it was sloppy, but it was different from the industrial glass, even
though I think later at least Kosta Boda was Avant Gardistic with their style. It was interesting what you said about Finland and Sweden because of the money that it differed. I haven't really looked at it that perspective, but still a studio movement offered something else that offered some other kind of glass. That was more playful and not so tillrättalagt, what's that in English. Not so perfect. And I think and I don't say maybe it's I think it's been going on. It's then and now it's I guess it's it's happened over time, but right now I think it is something also and it comes back to the digital movement also because we have also galleries that work online. And I see students are getting picked up
really early. It's more of the experimental. Would you like to mention a few of those online platforms? We have UU market It's online and also physical. We have an old two and we have Something Something. And I'm not calling it sloppy craft, but you could see that there are playful fantasy objects. Is it a special look that is in demand? No, I wouldn't say it's that, but it's a diversity of Diversity is a very significant for our time. Diversity in materials, diversity in expressions. I think every student is doing something very personal.
They are not similar to to each other Somebody said something of the personal touch. And I think this is important, too, because we are lacking personal touch in society. All what the society really needs, I would say thanks to the students, they are feeling that in their head, down, in the fingers and they start to do this. I was thinking a little bit about the gallery and the traditional gallery where you have your artists, you follow them, they come back and do new exhibitions and so on. But what's the difference, really? Because you are monitoring this digital platform and now you're curating this exhibition here? In what way could you be there, the coach? I think this is one thing that's really changed in the really short time. Do you believe in the traditional gallery? It's so important. The traditional gallery has has its place, and I hope
that I've been working with a lot of kind of basic, normal, old style galleries. I hope we find a way for them to kind of flourish in this age where I sell more than anywhere else in the Instagram DM's. You notice that a few of them also do hybrid solutions that have the physical gallery and then the online gallery. But this is such a difficult time because people can sell directly and then the contracts and everything it becomes to play. But all people who are artists know the value of the gallery and the work that they put in. And the value in the the brand home also. And the curators
choosing. And everything is so valuable. As an artist, I don't think that the galleries are kind of against me or taking my money, but they do such valuable work. There is a big shift the shift is difficult because things are changing so fast and people are buying. I couldn't believe, last week there was this guy from Poland, and he wanted to buy like a really expensive piece. He's never seen my pieces live and I thought "are you sure?"
I think the pandemic has put a booster on this because people are sitting at home. They cannot visit. They cannot travel. And are just like And it's crazy.
But I really oh, Margaret, we are trying to find ways to work and be of service to the artists. And we Finnish people are mostly introverted. Not me, but most of us are. And I love the introverts to bits. All of my closest people in my life are introverts, and I love you to bits. But Finnish people are really good sales people like swedes.
We're not good in marketing or selling ourselves. We're kind of like, sorry. Come back later. That's how we roll. But that's why we founded UU Market. So we get these introverts out to Stockholm,
Copenhagen and Paris and the places. We want to drag you out of your holes. That's one of the reasons. So we could lift up young people. There's so much potential kind of after graduation. There's so much potential, but not being good at marketing. And then it gets lost this amazing talent. That's one reason why we founded this.
When you curate exhibitions and you go abroad, for instance, like you're here now, it's Design week. What other kind of platforms do you think are important? Nina, when you exhibit your your work, how and where do you exhibit. You have a gallerist in New York. I have a gallerist in New York. It opened March 2020. So the
exhibition is going to happen this fall. He also sells my pieces from this new, Like Berg gallery has this, I think, They have like an archive, so they have things in the back and then one or two exhibit spaces like in the front. There are always ways to sort of sell, even though you don't have that. Now you go to a Design week or is it more of the art fairs that your gallerist would take? He has a gallery in Manhattan, so he has the archive. Then he takes us also to fairs. I don't think he went to those during COVID, but some others.
Because you work in in between. You're going to design fairs and sometimes you go to the art fairs, what is the difference? Because you also sell what you say Collectible design? I think collectible design kind of big change in design as well. There's change into unique pieces and small series. That's more fascinating. At the moment in in at least finish design. But I also follow a
lot of Swedish design. It's a similar phenomenon. There is a difference, of course. I think I don't know if we have like a strategy, but just getting excited with Hannakaisa about something and then we go there. Whatever serves that, that
the artists and designers that we work with. I want to mention that there's one gallery that I work with in Switzerland and they just did a rendered exhibition. So it was a 3D rendering and I thought, that's what we're going towards. Kind of fantasies. I think that the borders between art and craft that were so strong in the 70s and 80s, they are vanishing now.
And the gallery are important. The other day, I was at the gallery here in Stockholm, and they have art pieces. They have craft pieces and to my content, see that all the craft piece. They were sold to enormous prices.
Something has happened in evaluating the art. Your old trade is writing reviews, they're also important, for the artists, I mean, to be valued and put in a context? And and how is that now? Because there are not so many craft magazines left. No, but the internet is. I also have to emphasize the platform that we do have within craft. They are not so many, but we have the fantastic collectives. Blås & knåda, we have
Konsthantverk and also Kaolin. For instance, Blås & Knåda, which I am also a member, I think it's really important to be a cooperative and a collective person in this society. I think it's also a must. If you're going to be a craftsperson, you need your friends and colleagues. You need to come together.
But are are they coming back again? No, they've been there all the time and also having fantastic exhibitions. We don't get the publicity as much as the art galleries unfortunately. For instance, now I have Ahlin & Lehtonen. We have representatives here from that fantastic glass duo. They have a fantastic exhibition at Blås & Knåda that really deserves an article in a newspaper.
We talk about buyers. I think we live in the time of "nörd". I don't know the English word? Nerd. You know, you are so interested in that? If you are a glass collector, it's glass Ceramic? No, glass. So so we have this fantastic, division between interests in our society. And of course, you have a museum.
We don't have a craft museum or a design museum in Stockholm, which I think is a pitty. But I am really content when I think about those nerds because they keep up their collection and they. As you said, there are collectors that is Milla, you you were exhibiting at Design Museum 2018? I saw that exhibition. It was really lovely, but it was really a benefit for your career. So because I think museums make careers, and I think museums have like a responsibility also to uplift the young generation, I had a benefit of winning a competition where I got to have a solo exhibition in the in the downstairs gallery and, I was super pregnant and and after after I was almost going to give birth at the hospital, there's the collectors calling, asking can we buy the pieces and I was "I'm giving birth!". So it really made my career and I'm really grateful for. I think museums, you really need a design museum here.
It's museums are here not just to showcase what was, but also what is and also kind of give validation. I think it's very important. I've been lucky enough to have that benefit, and also we have like a Emma museum in Espoo that is doing valuable work now. Wonderful ceramic exhibition there. As museums should be even more part of the kind of scene at the moment. I think there is actually a lot of craft during this Design week, so you can go out and enjoy. Laura.
I just wanted to add that the museums that are very important also because they run the programs of cities, public art pieces and they create that those pieces they are, very valuable for us artists because for example, I get 50/50. 50 percent of my working is public art pieces and 50 percent is my like free artistic work and without museums and without the amanuens and people who are working in the museums, in the cities, for the institutions. We wouldn't have the possibility to work with public art pieces. You're doing a nice commission now. You told me on the telephone, do you want to share it? I'm starting on Friday, after I got back from Stockholm to my studio, I'm making a mural for Vaasa Hospital.
It's going to be in three different levels. It's inspired by the sea next to Vaasa hospital and and I got it through a competition. So it's also important to send your portfolios out there and show what you do. We'll be working with this public commission work for next month. It's a long project. And what is the nicest thing is that it's going to be forever in the building. So it's not just a few months for me, it's going to be there
But you have your full artistic freedom? Well, not super full because there's the architects and they have color plans on the different levels. And of course, there's the people who keep an eye of the safety issues. So it's not it's actually quite strict.
It's good to have a 50/50 business of doing your own work. that's a dream situation, I think, for many artist. I'm in a good place at the moment. I was thinking when this shift came, I think you said 2008. In Finland, the kind of maker movement was turning around and that people are Design school people are like more at the workshops. Even if they're studying Industrial design and and teachers being "No, we have to 3D render!" And students are only in the workshops and they only want to be in the workshop.
Some people that were really fascinated by Service design, and that's a whole other thing. But then there is the kind of workshop geeks and and those people are the people who have started the movement then and now. It's kind of matured into this blossoming of craft. Because I think the techniques are very traditional, but the way of expression or communicating is really changed. Do you agree with that? Is there the same shift? Glassblowing is, in a way, glass blowing. We have
the same benches that he've had for 200 years, the pipes, the newspaper and the wooden blocks. So so it's actually we teach the traditional glass blowing from knowing that you can take different steps and different way of using the glass and the mass. We teach all the techniques, in a traditional way. We have spectra of the learning to cast, to fuse and slump and blow. We do in eight
weeks, our student gets everything. it's the traditional way and from there, knowing that you can jump and play with it. What do you say, Kerstin? Back in the days, when you were an educated industrial designer, of course you did commissions, but what are the possibilities today? I'm sorry. I'm not educated as a designer. But you have been a lot at Konstfack? Yes, I have been at Konstfack, I've seen what has been happening. The commissions, they started at age 37.
But as an idea that one percentage of every building costs should go to art, so everybody should be able to see the art. That was the idea behind it . And today it's important. And for time, I was sitting in a group deciding what sort of art pieces should be in the hospital in Sweden. And we realized that the person who
were getting those jobs, they were craftspeople, ceramics, artists or glass artists because they know the whole scale. If we asked an artist to do this, they had to have 10 persons helping them to realize the piece. This knowledge, which you have through your education is really an advantage. We have this wonderful audience here and we would like to bring you in into this conversation. If you have a few questions, please ask them.
The art and the craft pieces, they grow bigger and bigger. If you compare to what is done in the 50s and early 40s, it was like that. Now they are enormous sometimes. It's an anecdote from my New York gallerist, things I sent so far was sort of this. And there was a middle segment that it's not that expensive, still expensive, but still like a lower expense. But now, he said no, it wasn't good.
So next batch that I'm sending needs to be big. I'm like, How big? Really big. I thought no. With glass is difficult. But it's interesting, and I'm kind of against that. It doesn't have to be good because we have this glass saying "If you can't make it good, make it big. If you can't make it big, make it blue". It's from the 90s. But the blue is coming back. I think it's interesting that you mentioned that-
Is it because homes are bigger now? Like, people have more space for art? Or money? More money and want to show what they have. Have any comments or anybody who wants to say a word? Some people can afford to havee big flats today. I can understand that you are very clever in your work. And I heard very much about this, but I want to know. What does colors mean to you? Color pink color red? What do you think about colors? Because I know that the world is very black and black is startling to me. So I want a lot of colors in the world and I hope that you can create something with these kind of colors.
What are your thoughts? I have a problem with pink because it's such a good color in ceramics. I would like to use it everywhere because, pink creates a beautiful contrast to darker colors and earthy colors. So my problem is actually that I would like to add too much pink to my works There is in downstairs, there is one pinkish sculpture where you can see how I use pink with other colors which I combine with brown or black. I truly try to reduce my pink mode at the moment because I cannot put it everywhere all the time. I'm also very aggressive with colors and also with pink, as you can probably see.
There's about half of our designers are more of the muted colors and half are like extra colors. Can we bring more color? And I was because I'm wearing two hats. I was asking Hannakaisa many times, can I bring one more color to the exhibition? Is one more color too much? So pink is fantastic and color is fantastic. And after this very bizarre time that we lived through, we need more colors in our life.
I work a lot with colors. My clothes today does not represent my work at all. I use strong colors. The objects I make are very strong pink, all the colors and opaque, monochrome colors. And looking at myself, thinking, this doesn't represent who I am on the inside. I was thinking, we kind of blend in in the background. I was at a boring meeting before, which was not so fun, so I had to dress in black.
But what is happening now, you are sitting here three fantastic glass artists and they are females. When I was looking at the history, I did see all this Finnish great heroes. And they were all men and they had the exhibition in Milan. Same in Sweden. But this has been happening during the last decade.
Is that the female designers, they have really went to the avant garde to the front. And how this will end, I hope there will be no end. I hope in some point it will end in equality! In the in the perfect equality of humans.