So I am just back (well it's been a week now) from an incredible trip to Finland supported by a Creative Scotland Open Project Funding Grant to research and learn about the Finnish form of weaving known as Täkänä to inspire some new work and new thinking. The trip was an intense ten days of reading, talking, learning, travelling, listening and absorbing information and experiences to develop new things. An introduction to this project can be found here but the purpose of this series of blog posts I'm starting is to give a little more insight into my trip and the project I'm working on, so whilst I was away I kept a diary of my daily findings which I'm going to share over the next few weeks...
Flying over a few of the approx 60,000 lakes Finland has
Thursday 16th March
I arrived in Helsinki in the early evening to a beautiful chilly wintery scene. There were amazingly clear blue skies and a low sun to welcome me back to this great city. Helsinki was always on my 'wish-list' of cities to visit because of my deep love and respect for Marimekko, but having now been fortunate to visit several times over the past few years (this project has been brewing away in my mind for a while!), I feel like this is definitely one of my favourite cities not just because of the great design and designers you can find here (arabia, iittlala, Tove Jansson) but it's so easy to travel around and has always felt so welcoming to me.
Helsinki's historic old part of town
Piles of snow were still heaped on the pavements at various intervals when I arrived this time, but it was hard to imagine it snowing that evening. I stayed in the historic old town for the first time which on first impressions seemed incredibly quiet and of course, so clean. Everywhere always seems clean in Finland. The apartment I stayed in (just a find on air bnb) felt very Scandinavian - a mainly white interior with simple accessories and a minimal feel. It was actually a really impressive use of a small space...
Friday 17th March
I woke up to the sound of hard rain on the window, which felt very 'Glasgow'. Luckily I knew I was going to be inside most of the day in the Design Museum’s archives looking at slides, images and texts with the very generous help of Johanna Kiuru, their archivist.
Inside the archive room at the Design Museum
The Design Museum's archive space is located on the top floor of the museum and Johanna has an incredible space full of drawers, cabinets, papers, lightboxes and more - I can't tell you how much I love archives. I was shown first of all to the slide cabinet – a beautiful device that opens up and allows you to pull out displays of slides in front of a back light. I started looking through and pulling out any täkänäs I could see.
* I should probably add (incase you haven't read the earlier blog post) Täkänä literally translates as double-cloth. I'll explain more about the process in a later post, but it is a particular tricky weaving technique that generally uses two colours and due to the technique the negative image is shown on the reverse, so if the front had blue dots in a white frame, the other side would have white dots in a blue frame. As I am not a weaver, my explanations may seem very basic, but I'll do my best!
An example of one of Pirkko Hammarberg's Täkänäs
There must have been many hundreds of slides in the cabinet, all in alphabetical order but I quickly realised that there was one designer that kept catching my eye – Pirkko Hammarberg. She has a really appealing graphic style, a simple elegance to all her designs that I love. I started to notice the same designers names appearing and a familiarity was beginning with the works of Dora Jung, Laila Karrttunen, Maija Kolsi-Mäkelä*, Maija Lavonen and Maija-Liisa Forss-Heinonen.
(*Maija Kolsi-Mäkelä's work was already slightly familiar to me as it was her work that first caught my eye in the catalogues I found at the flea market whilst on my Finnish residency at Arteles in 2015 and subsequently planted the seed for this project)
One of the old Täkänä catalogues held by the archive
There were a few täkänä catalogues that Johanna had found in their archives that were interesting to look at too and I was beginning to piece together a bit of the history of täkänä. It seemed that a couple of larger companies used to produce täkänäs in the 60s and 70s and they had catalogues that customers could choose a design from. Some Täkänäs I saw on this trip date back from the 1850's but the one's I was mainly looking at in this archive were the more modern ones from the 60s and 70s.
One of Maija-Liisa Forss-Heinonen's täkänäs photographed in the archive
Once I was done with the slides, I moved onto looking through the digital archive on the computer and then through the filing cabinet drawers. Each designer had a folder with many (mainly) black and white photos in. There’s something about old photos that I love and seeing all these folders grabbed my attention for quite some time. It was really nice to actually sit and look through bigger, photos of things I’d been looking at on small slides or seeing pictures of the designers themselves. I particularly loved this portrait of Pirkko Hammarberg sat in front of what I'm told is maybe her most well-know print design...
Apple print for Finlayson, 1973 - she has also drawn dotted apples on her cheeks!
I realised at about 3pm that five hours had passed by and I was pretty exhausted, so after saying my goodbyes and thank yous to Johanna I headed out in to the rain for a wander around the streets of Helsinki. There was a shop I’d read about called Common that is run by a lovely Japanese couple so headed straight there as it was nearby. Being a huge stationery lover I wasn’t disappointed with their wares and had a really nice chat with one of the owners. It turns out they’d lived in Helsinki for 12 years selling carefully curated Japanese goods. I couldn't resist buying this Postalco notebook...
More to follow soon...
** this project has been made possible by the generous support of Creative Scotland