"Being a Finnish designer and living in Finland certainly brings a very particular take on the whole process...‘charming’ comes to mind."
Award-winning British designer Jasper Morrison
Arts Exchange: Jasper Morrison – Curator of the Helsinki Design Biennale
Jasper Morrison is one of the UK’s most well respected and sought after designers of his generation. This year he will curate the first Helsinki Design Biennale, due to open on 19 May at the Fiskars Village. The British Council spoke to Jasper about his distinguished career.
Why did you become a designer?
In short, I saw a fantastic exhibition Of Eileen Gray’s work at the V&A in London, and that decided it for me. I had the feeling of understanding what she had designed, a bit like reading some text in a foreign language and discovering you could translate it.
What were the formative experiences as a young designer?
There are several. One was inheriting a Dieter Rams record player before I became a designer; another was visiting the Milan Fair from 1979 onwards. Over the years I have also been inspired through meetings with some of the greatest designers of all time, such as Achille Castiglione, Enzo Mari, Dieter Rams, Sori Yanagi over the years.
Tell us about your association with Finland over the years?
My first trip to Finland was for a seminar orientated around the work of Alvar Aalto (1898-1976), which was held in Jyväskyla. It was there that I met fellow designers Harri Koskinen, Simo Heikillä and Wille Kokkonen, with whom I have since become good friends. I was then invited to work on the design for a chair for Nikari, the Finnish design company, and for the last few years I’ve been working on a collection for the company Iittala.
If you could describe Finnish design in 5 words, what would they be?
Let’s start with Finnish, because whatever it is about being a Finnish designer and living in Finland certainly brings a very particular take on the whole process. Then I’d say that ‘charming’ comes to mind, followed by ‘practical’, ‘respectful’ and ‘homely’.
What are you most looking forward to when it comes to curating the Biennale?
I’m interested to see the results after a lot of hard work and thinking that has gone into the various stages of preparation. I’m also curious to see how our ideas fit into the context of Fiskars village. To be more specific, having asked about twenty designers to work on benches for display along the river paths, I’m wondering how it will all turn out!
How has Fiskars Village Art & Design Biennale broken new ground?
It is probably a bit too early to say, but I hope it will be seen as a refreshingly uncommercial venture and present an opportunity for design to be seen at its truest and as a service for improving the quality of daily life.
How do you envisage future European collaborations developing for up and coming UK designers?
That’s hard to say, it would really depend on UK designers providing the right kind of design to tempt the European producers and cultural institutions. An awareness of what’s going on in Europe would help. In ways, Brexit may not be especially helpful in this respect – I believe that there will inevitably be less interaction between Europe and Britain.
What did working for an Italian brand give you as a designer?
It gave me an international outlook which helped me to achieve a lot more than I would have if I’d worked only in the UK.
Should design be taught in all schools?
I think technical drawing, metal and woodwork should be taught instead of IT. I’ve noticed that many IT courses in schools are pushing design on kids at too young an age. It takes time to develop the cultural and practical awareness you need to design everyday things.