In Helsinki, the world capital of design 2012.
Helsinki is somehow not at the top of priorities on the list of an average individual who during his lifetime wants to see world capitals. Compared to European capitals such as Paris, Rome, Berlin or London, it probably comes as a choice only after that same individual visited all of those a lot better known cities, or if s/he has a really good reason to travel beyond the Baltic Sea.
And this is really unfair, because Helsinki represents the center of a lively cultural scene, impressive architecture and design, excellent cuisine, surrounded by an incredible natural beauty. And although the Finns are often portrayed as somewhat strange, introverted, even manic-depressive hosts (perhaps because Helsinki has an average of 169 days per year with temperatures below zero), it is actually a very loving, caring and intelligent nation whose culture, simplicity, openness and innovation should serve as an example to many.
And exactly in that freezing environment something incredibly intimate and warm is created: Finnish design. It is entirely a reflection of their way of life: primarily very functional and aesthetically minimalistic and straightforward, and most distinctive in the use of natural materials. Design that they are justified to be proud of and that represents one of their core identities.
No wonder that in 2009 Helsinki was properly assigned the honor to represent the World Design Capital 2012, the initiative initiated by ICSID (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design) as a pilot project in 2008 in Turin as the first city that hosted this event. Their goal is, given their assumption that design is a key tool that makes cities more efficient, more attractive, more competitive and more pleasant to live in, to promote with this project urban centers which have recognized this assumption and use design to improve their social, cultural and economic daily life.
Indeed, it seems that Helsinki, due to its long and respected history of concern about national design which made it not only an inseparable part of their lifestyle, but also globally recognizable and recognized, was an excellent choice. Finns had prepared for three years, from nomination in 2009, up to the opening ceremony on September 5th 2012, in order to summarize and present during this ten-days event what they had been doing already over the centuries, ever since 1875, when the Finnish Society of Crafts and Design was founded with the aim of strengthening local industry and production of goods.
In parallel with the nomination of Helsinki for the WDC, but independently from that, in Croatia in mid-2009, the idea of a traveling exhibition of contemporary Croatian design was born. It would present to the world the best of Croatian product, graphic and fashion design. The exhibition In a Nutshell is another laudable project of Croatian Designers Association that was supported by the Ministry of Culture. Curator and editor of the catalogue is Koraljka Vlajo, curator of fashion design Ante Tonci Vladislavić, authors of visual identity of the catalogue, of the exhibition and of website Ivana Borovnjak, Robert Bratović, Andro Giunio, Tina Ivezić and Maša Poljanec.
As it was foreseen that the exhibition travels around the world, a very practical concept of exhibiting on wooden boxes was designed and within frameworks that primarily serve to transport the exhibits, while at the same the exhibition does not lose its attractiveness and visibility thanks to strong visual elements inspired by materials that serve to facilitate the work during transport. This greatly visually communicated practicality is accompanied by a complete catalogue whose range may change its format in order to be able to allow the exhibition to fit the size and to adapt to areas where it is hosted, while the catalogue pages are used as a legend of the exhibits.
So this is how, on the 5th of September, as part of the most important events on WDC – the exhibition Everyday Discoveries, in the pavilion number five, right between the United States, that presented the modular children playgrounds, and Estonia with exhibits inspired by their folklore, the best Croatian works of contemporary design were presented to the world’s designers elite.
It should be immediately clarified that the Croatian design has unfortunately not yet been recognized at the worldwide level nor the world of international design events wants desperately to host it. And although this condition is improving thanks to the commitment of the HDD, which uses every opportunity in order to promote local design scene, something that could be an important and an significant generator of economic success in Croatia is still not respected and reinforced by any established programs such as, for instance, a National strategy of design would be.
In such an environment, where the design exceeds national boundaries only thanks to efforts, working and lobbying of individuals, Croatia managed to find its place among twenty-three countries of the world that had presented, from 6th to 16th of September, within the Helsinki World Design Capital event, hundreds of works, design solutions used in their daily lives. Sort of a short journey of Croatian design around the world.
The curator of the Croatian exhibition, Koraljka Vlajo, being the vice president of the HDD (Croatian Designers Association) and the curator of the Museum of Arts and Crafts, speaking of Croatian performance, expressed satisfaction about what had been done, but still alerted to the issue of Croatian design in the international waters:
“As far as the Croatian performance is concerned, it was realized only thanks to strong lobbying. It is probably the most important design event of the year and it was terribly important for me to show Nutshell there. I had lived for six years in Helsinki and I know how important and attended all design events are and particularly those that are considered the culmination of the whole designers’ year. It was not easy to get an invitation, we still are not considered for having a powerful design, and generally we are completely unknown in the field of product design. Our performance was beyond my expectations, and I think we very pleasantly surprised the foreigners. I knew we had a good exhibition and I’m very glad to have it confirmed by many visitors and other exhibitors. Croatia has certainly had one of the most deliberated and most complete exhibitions of all participating countries – from selecting items to the exhibition set up and the complete visual identity, and that was at the end overtly acknowledged by many Finns and other visitors.”
The exhibition In a Nutshell, as expected according to the proportions of the design activity in the country, provides as much as possible an overview of contemporary graphic design, posters, leaflets and publications, mainly related to culture. There were the distinctive posters of Vanja Cuculić, provocative posters of Dejan Dragosavac Ruta, those of Boris Ljubičić with the eternal issue of questioning national identity, as well as a poster designed by Studio Sonda, awarded in the 2010 with the Grand Prix of the Croatian Designers Association, which deals with the value of the multiple exploitation of materials … Followed by various legendary publications such as magazines Frakcija (Cavarpayer later Laboratorium), Orisa (Cuculić Bralić), Nova Galerry (Kršić …). It would be inappropriate to list the names in this segment, because every single one of them is an essential part of the Croatian contemporary design reality.
The product design was presented with the most important Croatian hopes in the area, furniture and illuminations of Studio Numen, Grupa or those of Filip Gordon Frank, but also brilliant innovations such as the toy Oblo designed by Marko Pavlović or crayons (Boya) of Maja Mesić. Packaging is, as expected, reduced to the presentation of Croatian wines, olive oil and home-made food products mainly designed by Bruketa&Žinić, Laboratorium, Studio Tridvajedan, Cuculić Payer while fashion design, although the least represented, completes the story with creations of Studio I-gla, Igor Galaš, Dalibor Šakić, complemented by jewelry by Nenad Roban and Tomislav Zidar and revived Startas sneakers by Mauro Massarotto.
In addition to the fact that each of the selected countries was given the opportunity to present itself with a complete exhibition, the authors from these countries had the opportunity to participate in group presentations on six different topics: Icon, Invisible, Imagination, Innovation and Re-interpretation, and in the midst of the hall Kattilahalli a huge table was set with the topic: Get together, where each country had its place, with its own chair. If we are to believe that “you’ve made your bed, now you have to lie in it”, we are on a right track because in these segments Croatia was noticeably presented as well. This was proven by a constant crowd in front of the Set for the online dinner by Lina Kovačević, paired together with Numen’s chair. Other Croatian projects such as the Croatian legendary Startas sneakers in the category of Invisible, Richter’s chairs (Category Icon) Oblo (Innovation), “Slash” purses that reinterprets the basket (Re-interpretation) or picture book How Antun Tun lives (Imagination) were very noticeable as exhibits.
“As far as thematic sections are concerned, the organizers asked the curators of satellite exhibitions to choose some items. Some items were very easy for me to choose – eg. Online romantic dinner set by Lina Kovačević, that proved to be a real hit, or the picture book by Tomislav Torjanac How Antun Tun lives which was immediately grabbed and scrolled by all Finnish kids. I needed to think a little bit more about some others to find something that will leave the strongest impression in comparison to others – such as the design icon – V. Richter’s chair or the classic Startas sneakers in the category of “eternal and invisible design”. They attracted quite some attention because of their good stories”, said Koraljka Vlajo, explaining that the Croatian products found themselves alongside the classics like the Italian Fiat 500, the Hungarian Rubik’s Cube, the French LC4 chair Corbusier/ Perriand/Jeanneret … Or modern innovations such as South-african Hippo Water Roller – a barrel that rolls thus facilitating the transport of water or the Slovenian Sitty by Studio Gigodesign, urban folding chair to sit on in waiting rooms and other areas with restricted space.
Beside the exhibition Everyday Discoveries, Helsinki World Capital offered to the designers elite another 200 events at the centers of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Kauniainen and Lahti. This is how already a traditional Helsinki Design week was held, followed by Habitare – furniture, interior decoration and design fair, Above – an international exhibition of furniture in the picturesque old warehouse of Katanajoka peninsula, a series of exhibitions and design points around the city, lectures, workshops, parties and a design market in the old factory, whose overcrowdedness only confirmed the great love of Finns towards design. The center of the WDC was the Palvilionki, an outdoor pavilion located between Helsinki museums of design and architecture, designed by the students of the famous Aalto University as an example of Finnish architecture that takes into account the sustainability of wooden resources, a lively place where various events on architecture and design took place.
The year 2012 started for the Finns with a magnificent New Year’s celebration in honor of the WDC events, accompanied by a countdown, lighting program, the opening of a number of exhibitions and New Year’s resolutions of key people who stood behind the project. But the years of wearing the title of world capital of design for them is not only fireworks lasting 365 days because they consider the role of sustainable design crucial for the future of their country and the world. As they conclude: design can make life better, easier and more functional. Design exists for people.
At one of the events during the WDC Eero Hinstaten, half of the duo Chao & Eero from Laahti, who successfully designs jewelry for a living and exports it around the world, told us: “Finns are special, but very simple. They never lie and when a Finn tells you something you can be sure that it really is so.” Indeed, after being for at least a short period part of their daily routine, it is impossible not to believe them.
(This txt was written for daily Glas Istre)