"When I saw the British Council Open Call for the Helsinki Design Residency early this year, it felt like the perfect opportunity that aligned with so many of my interests, passions and objectives."
Textile Designer, Laura Spring, is this year’s Designer in Residence with Helsinki International Artist Programme (HIAP).
Arranging Practice: Proximity, Distance, Instance: Laura Spring
Textile Designer, Laura Spring, is this year’s Designer in Residence with Helsinki International Artist Programme (HIAP), supported by British Council. Working alongside the Finnish fashion designer, Elina Laitinen, Laura presented and discussed her work at the 2018 Helsinki Design Week. The residency, which started in May under the title, "Arranging Practice: Proximity, Distance, Instance", allowed the British and Finnish designers to jointly consider how, as co-operators, the mediated and immediate contact of designers with spaces and materials can impact the process of creation, the artefact produced and, by extension, the idea of what design, the designer, and the object (product) of design means today.
British Council Finland caught up with Laura to hear why she wanted to travel to Finland, and what she learned during her stay.
Why did you want to apply for the Helsinki Design Residency?
I’ve travelled to Finland around six times over the last three years. The country has therefore become a very important part of my life. As a longstanding fan of Marimekko prints, Finland was always somewhere that I not only wanted to visit, but live and work in for an extended period. I’ve now had the chance to do that. The more I’ve visited, the more I’ve wanted to return. As a result, my connections have grown and my network has extended. Many of the people I’ve met along the way have been based around my research into täkänä weaving. This is a type of double-weave, which is no longer widely practiced in Finland. In short, it is a kind of woven textile in which two or more sets of warps, and one or more sets of weft or filling yarns, are interconnected to form a two-layered cloth. The movement of threads between the layers allows complex patterns and surface textures to be created. So – to answer the question - when I saw the British Council Open Call for the Helsinki Design Residency early this year, it felt like the perfect opportunity that aligned with so many of my interests, passions and objectives.
How has your time in Helsinki been so far as Helsinki Design Resident?
In many respects, it’s been very different to my usual trips to Finland. I have had the opportunity to live and work in Helsinki, which has been really eye-opening and exciting. The city is not only inspiring, but relaxing to work and think in. I’ve grown to love my studio at the Cable Factory, which will remain a very special place for me. If there are five words that summarise my experience, they’d be: surprising, colourful, busy, rewarding, and thought-provoking.
What work have you been developing during your residency in Helsinki?
Last year I started some small-scale projects around the täkänä weaving technique. The recent residency provided me with the opportunity to continue working on these. I began by resuming my examination of the technique itself, and researching its history. Over the past five weeks, however, I’ve concentrated on the progress of my own artworks as inspired by the process of designing and making täkänä. The result will be shown in the Design Museum on the 15th and 16th of September as a small-scale exhibition. This display will preview the procedure of weaving, but also show some screen prints I have created.
The idea behind the making of my prints was to produce designs that could be woven into täkänä but, due to the expensive nature of this technique, show that it wasn’t possible to follow the historic procedure from start to finish. The popularity of täkänä has declined rapidly over the last forty years. From what I’ve learnt, I believe that a reason for this has been the sheer expense, as well as the complicated nature, of the technique itself. With this in mind, my objective has been to find a way to bring täkänä back into people’s homes. As such, I have printed an edition of one hundred prints, and will be giving them away for free during the exhibition with some accompanying text.
How much exchange or collaboration has there been between Elina Laitinen, the other Designer in Residence, and you?
There’s been lots of exchange. We have met up regularly, one-on-one, but also with the HIAP design curator, Martin Born. The three of us have discussed a whole range of things over the seven-week residency, and certainly obtained a deeper understanding of each other’s practices through such regular interaction. Collaborating with Elina hasn’t been the way our work naturally advanced, but I think the exchanges we’ve had, and the knowledge we’ve shared, has been really significant.
Having a Finnish designer on the programme has helped make me feel much more welcome within the design community in Helsinki. It’s allowed me to get involved, on a professional level, but also helped me have the confidence to attend talks, seminars and exhibitions. Both Elina and Martin have been so generous with their time and interest in introducing me to Helsinki’s arts scene.
What are your objectives for the rest of your stay in Helsinki?
I’d like to take in as much of the Design Festival as possible, and just enjoy being in the city. I’ve had a few sauna recommendations, too – which, in order to really ‘know’ Finland, I must try before I leave.
Have there been any highlights from the residency?
What’s been immensely rewarding is having the time, and space, away from my usual studio to immerse myself in one particular project and set of ideas. It’s been such a golden opportunity to focus, especially given the way in which my current creative practice works back in the UK. As a designer, the time spent in Helsinki, with the staff and curators at HIAP and at the Design Week, has been invaluable. Being surrounded by so many exciting places to visit, such as the Alvar Aalto House, has been really stimulating. I’ve enjoyed visiting a variety of exhibitions, but also design shops and creative studios. I’ve become quite adjusted to Finnish life.
And finally, which Finnish designer should Scotland show next?
It would be especially interesting to coordinate a design exhibition that was based on an exchange between contemporary Finnish and Scottish designers who were working and creating in their respective countries. I think it could open up fascinating conversations and collaborations between the two places – perhaps at a time when it’s needed most.