Anniina Koivu works both in Lausanne and Milan: in Lausanne at ECAL / the University of Art & Design as the Head of Master Theory, and then as a freelance writer (she was one of the coautors of the first monograph on the complete works of design studio Industrial Facility, for Phaidon), curator and consultant with international clients, designers and brands. She is also one of the three curators of the Fiskars Village Biennale that has just started in Southern Finland. Anniina, you do so many things, could you tell us a bit about yourself, I mean your story and how did you decide to become a design curator?
What is great about this diversity of projects is that I get the chance to see today’s design industry from different sides: inside the university I am discussing with future designers about ideas and preparing them for the design world, with the manufacturers we develop new projects and publishing gives the space for reflecting on design’s bigger picture. It is holistic.
How I got here is a chain of events and lucky coincidences.
I lived my first six years in Finland until my family moved to Germany. Later on, I came back to Helsinki for my studies. I wanted to study something design-related, but was uncertain whether it should be product, graphic design or architecture. Finally, I opted for architecture at the Aalto University, thanks to what my grandfather used to say, “Start big, you’ll be able to downsize but the other way will be more difficult.”
And as it happens, today I have downsized to the immaterial. I don’t create anything myself, but show, write and talk about others’ work.
From Helsinki I went for my final year to Venice and things took a new turn. After graduating I was offered a job in Milan as the Design Editor of Abitare magazine by Stefano Boeri, who had just taken over the direction of the magazine. In those years, 2007–2011, Abitare had a real momentum: we were reintroducing criticism into design journalism, experimenting with all kinds of different new formats. For example, we had new products by emerging designers reviewed by their design heroes in the SOS Design series, or we put design objects on public trial in The Design Trial series, where we invited experts and makers to discuss their own products critically and in public.
Then, in 2011, I got a job offer from Vitra to become the company’s Director of Research. So, that was the introduction onto the other side of the industry, which was a fantastic learning ground.
Many different kinds of projects have followed ever since. Books and essays, and a series of exhibitions, the latest ones being U-JOINTS or FACTORY.
What is your link to this place and venue of Fiskars Village Biennale? What is the link between past and present there?
The FACTORY exhibition for the Fiskars Village Biennale is the first project I’m doing in Finland, so for me personally it’s very exciting.
Founded in the 17th century, as Finland’s first manufacture of cast iron and forged products, the village of Fiskars and its history go back a long time. Today, Fiskars deserves attention more than ever.
The village is most known for the orange scissors, but still only few know about the story behind its art and design culture. When the last factories were closed down in the 1980s, the village was about to die out. In order to bring people back to the village, artists and craftsmen were given privileged access to ateliers and workshop spaces. Some of the original settlers, such as Karin Widnäs and Kari Virtanen, still live and work in Fiskars.
The new residents founded the Cooperative of Artisans, Designers and Artists (ONOMA), which today has about 120 members and the situation in the village has been reversed, so that there is now a waiting list to become a member and to find work and living space. The village was brought back to life through craftsmanship and art! This is not only a fascinating story, but also an example how other international realities and design districts could be revitalized. Of course, similar stories are already happening too. For example, the Arita area, which is the birthplace of Japanese porcelain, is being reinvigorated through international collaborations, such as the Arita 2016/ project. Or, on the other side of the globe, on the island of Fogo in Newfoundland, Canada, local furniture production is part of a project to bring sustainable life to a population whose livelihood in the fishing industry has been threatened. We also tell these stories in FACTORY.
Back to Fiskars, I think it is very important to be aware of the current as well as future steps. On one hand it is fantastic to see the attention that Fiskars is getting since tourism accelerates local life and indirectly also production. On the other side, one needs to remain determined not to give in to new market demands. The danger of producing basic souvenirs for the in-coming crowds can be tempting, but it should not happen at the cost of excellent quality work.
To your point of view, why is your exhibition, « Factory », separated from the exhibition called «Design» (curated by one of the most important living designers Jasper Morrison)? What kind of principle does it underline? Local manufacturing? Including the process of making within the creation of the object?
The Biennale’s distinction between “Art”, “Design” and “Crafts” was more a way to distinguish between three different projects and three different curators. Nevertheless, the idea to focus on crafts and the making of things makes much sense for the FACTORY exhibition. It both relates to Fiskars’ past and present as well as the international design scene. So, our idea is to invite people to step into a factory and see how objects are made and to show them the diversity of design manufacturing. Many people think of factories as dusty and noisy spaces, but not many know that there are all different kinds of factories. There are workshops, large plants but also more silent ones, and some even resemble laboratories. On the other hand, a craftsman’s workshop is often related to a rather romantic image, one who also fights the factory. In this scenario, it is the craftsmen who are the first to experiment with new tools and apply new technologies. After all, progress is about maintaining and improving the quality of work. The show also tries to reset some of the controversial discussion of “man versus machine”. Today, we are beyond such a simple polarization.
What is your point of view on industry in general? Is there a clear distinction between industry and crafts?
First, a quote by sociologist Richard Sennett comes into mind. In The Craftsman, he redefines the intellectual framework of craftsmanship and writes how it “may suggest a way of life that waned with the advent of industrial society, but this is misleading. Craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake.” So, craftsmanship speaks, first and foremost, to a desire for quality. It is a way of making things that is based on dedication, and thrives on a sense of pride in one’s own work. Craftsmanship is an attitude. I like to believe this exhibition is a good reminder what it actually takes to make things – the multiple ways, processes, places and people that are involved on the way and how quality is reached thanks to excellent craftsmanship.
Could you tell us a bit about the exhibited projects and the story behind this selection.
The exhibition showcases 45 different stories. These are the stories of 45 selected projects, each of which speak of the people who created them, the objects’ places of origin and just how many different ways there are of making things. The starting point is the factory, the place where design is being made. A factory is a place to create: typically, a workshop or large-scale plant, today’s design production can also be found in high-tech laboratories, bio-reactors or even outdoors, at the beach. Factories are as diverse as the roles that go into production. Here, craftsman, designer and producer are in constant dialogue. Sometimes their roles intertwine, overlap or even merge. There are tinkerers and makers, explorers and inventors, scientists and story-tellers, rationalists and functionalists. A factory combines history with progress. A guardian of memory and heritage, it is a place that preserves traditional manufacturing processes. But a factory is never stagnant. It is constantly evolving. An historical manufacturer reinvents itself as research center, and becomes a place of experimentation. A traditional carpentry workshop takes advantage of the most diverse modern tools. New technologies are not a threat to the craftsman’s livelihood. Rather, they are welcome tools for the craftsman who is constantly trying to improve his work. So, more precisely, we have examples of the work of Hella Jongerius, who often highlights how crafts and technology are both integral parts in design production. There are projects by the Self Assembly Lab of MIT, the ETH Zurich and the Korvaa research group, which all show how 3D printing and experimentation with new materials can generate new production methods and even open new kinds of production sites, such as laboratories or bio-reactors.
Then there are examples of more traditional design making, which are being preserved thanks to high-end luxury brands. But we also have those stories without a happy ending, such as the one told by design duo Com-pa-ny, in which a traditional leather maker goes out of business, cast out by its former client. It is a reminder to be on your toes about innovations and progress. To dodge extinction, makers from the Tajimi Custom Tiles project in Japan, enlarge their area of work from mainly architectural restauration to the manufacturer of new product lines.
Of course, the exhibition is rich in wood-making, being also an important area of production in Fiskars. Here we show the works of local cabinet makers such as Heikki Aska, who challenges lightness in wooden furniture. Kari Virtanen illustrates how a clever wooden joint can be the defining detail to move a table prototype into successful serialized production.
Another local cabinetmaker, Minja Kolehmainen, broke open the different steps in the making of a stool, indicating the time spent along the way to explain why a craftsman’s furniture piece has its costs – and value. Ironically, her project is called “I’m not a factory.”