Natural materials and a spare aesthetic are shown to advantage in some thoughtful work from some of Norway's most talented designers.
APRIL 21ST SHOULD have been the launch of Milan 2020. The Norwegian Presence would have hosted an exhibition of Norwegian design in Italy’s most stylish city. Instead the world is in lockdown. Like innumerable designers, artisans, curators and manufacturers, for whom Milan is their most important annual platform, the team behind Norwegian Presence has been labouring for months on their presentation. Fortunately, however, just before self-isolation made such things impossible, the organisers – the governmental body, Design and Architecture Norway (DOGA) – were able to put together a shoot in the atmospheric space of Edward Munch’s studio at Ekely, Oslo. Captured by photographer Lasse Fløde in slanting winter light, the pieces themselves are endowed with great presence: at the time when they should have been shown in Milan, we offer some sense of their impact.
The group of designers and manufacturers featured in the presentation include eleven of Norway’s top designers. They were selected early last autumn, from the 37 candidates who had submitted applications. The applicants were asked to use natural materials like wood, aluminium, stone and/or paper, and the contributions they sent in were evaluated on the basis of criteria such as aesthetics, function, innovation, sustainability and commercial potential. The curators have encouraged a frugal and spare aesthetic, but none the less elegant or intelligent for that.
One of them, Benedicte Sunde, explains “Norwegian Presence is a reaction against the glamour that has dominated the design field.” Her co-curator, Marit Justine Haugen, adds, “We are undergoing an economic and social change, the status quo is not enough. The party is over! We have enough things, and more things will not make us happier. The task is to create something meaningful with less – with few, local and recycled materials, with less CO2 emissions and with design that solves more challenges or promotes innovation.” By chance, their mood has coincided with the soul-searching and return to simplicity forced upon us all by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recycling is one theme. British-born, Oslo-based designer Poppy Lawman has collaborated with Hellefoss paper mill to create the cheerful ‘Papirstein’, a chair made from compressed spruce paper pulp and coloured with rosehip ink.
Energy-conservation, within a holistic accounting of production processes, is another theme, as Andreas Bergsaker offers us a striking wall shelf, ‘Korpus’, made from a single sheet of hammered aluminium, requiring no welding, ensuring the production process is energy efficient. The product itself is 100% recyclable.
Mobility too is a virtue celebrated here. German-born, Bergen-based carpenter Philipp von Hase’s ‘Aaltobelli’, originally made for a travelling theatre, is the epitome of elegant versatility. It is made up of six lightweight wooden stools, two trestles and a tabletop, all of which can easily be rolled up and stored in a leather case. Meanwhile, Tobias Berg Johannessen’s sleek, minimal ‘Kvitre’ chair can be used inside or out, the seat replaced as needed: the only chair you might ever need!
Norway’s abundant raw materials have also been a significant source of inspiration. The design pair Håvard Dybwad and Øyvind Wylle have created a luxurious coffee table out of three natural materials – oak, aluminium and the locally-sourced Norwegian stone, larvikite, which will acquire a complex patina as the table ages.
In quite another mood, the recipient of the DOGA Newcomer Award in 2020, Vilde Hagelund, has been experimenting with different methods of working with Norway’s abundant supplies of birch wood. ‘Remissus’, a tray, and ‘Pedestal’, a table, are among the results of her project, Objectum, to produce 60 objects in birch over 60 days. Her ambition sums up the spirit of the whole presentation – to dig deep into Norway’s own resources and come up with designs that reflect the nation’s contemporary needs and values. It is just a shame we will have to wait to see them in person!
Norwegian Presence – bringing the best of Norway’s creative talent to the world design stage.