A Decade of Danish Craft and Design - 2009
Over the past ten years, Danish craft has received a considerable number of international awards and recognition as the avant-garde of design. Contemporary Danish craftspeople often work within the cross-field of art, craft and design. They combine centuries-old traditional techniques with storytelling and modern high-tech approaches; a combination that leads to extraordinary and innovative products.
By Kirsten Sørrig
"I think up until about the year 2000 most people's perception of Danish design was that it was incredibly strict, incredibly edited," says Suzanne Trocmé, author, journalist, designer and a long-standing editor of Wallpaper.
"So, to rediscover what Denmark is really about and to see these different materials, the multifaceted nature of the country coming through an incredible ambassadorial experience (MINDCRAFT 09 exhibition in Milan, red.) is fantastic. Not just for Denmark but for the rest of the world as well."
Like many others, Suzanne Trocmé became fully aware of the qualities of modern Danish craft and design through Danish Crafts' collections in international trade fairs. In her case, at ICFF, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York in 2005.
"I was so incredibly impressed by it as one of the judges at the show that we nominated Danish Crafts for a prize - and in fact the Danes won a prize," she says. "It was so refreshing to see the use of colour, the use of
materials, the touch of the hand, yet without there being whimsy attached. It's very, very refreshing, and I think the rest of the world sees Danish craft as being very considered, very human, but not whimsical. It's a very interesting way forward, and I think it's the future of craft - and should be the future of design as well."
Craft has received considerable acknowledgement from leading design experts, and the modern, critical consumer has no doubts either: Danish craft is a hit on the international scene because it possesses a special dimension - an integrity and an authenticity that mass-produced design often lacks. It radiates with personality and appeals to our emotions because we can sense the person behind it, the combined effort of hand and mind.
The success of the past ten years also reflect a growing interest in the DNA of craft, the personal fingerprint and the entire intuitive and reflective work method that the proud craft traditions are based on. At the same time, craft matches the contemporary desire for everyday practical objects that tell a story and bring out reflections and a smile. Most of us do not really need more stuff, so the things we own should be special. They should tell a story and help tell the story about who we are as individuals.
Denmark has a proud design history, but the great masters of the past have also overshadowed their young successors. This is no longer the case. During the last few years a new generation of creative and skilled craftspeople and designers has demonstrated that they are capable of taking up the mantle, crafting a unique expression that resonates from Europe to the USA, Japan and Australia with a combination of classic, Nordic simplicity, a fantastic imagination and love of colour.
Gone are the heavy and traditional features from a time when craft might still mean stagnant notions of ceramics being all about teapots and cups. Today, craftspeople and designers experiment and play with
materials and shapes, but this playful approach springs from a high level of seriousness and a desire to create something new - often within the cross-field of art, craft and design.
The traditional aesthetics of craft has been reinterpreted, and now there is a conceptual approach where storytelling, reflection and critical comments have become increasingly prominent. This is also clearly reflected in Danish Crafts' collections, where each collection has an artistic point of departure. As design researcher Louise Mazanti points out, the growing international recognition has led to a growing professionalisation and a shift in focus in the craftspeople's and designers' self-perception. They have a
stronger sense of confidence and freedom. The fear of going commercial or turning craft into mass-produced industrial design is gone, and young, visionary design firms like Muuto, Normann Copenhagen and Hay have
emerged and developed along with the growing interest in craft and design.
This sense of freedom also involves a new sense of artistic freedom. Not too long ago, the world of craft was full of unwritten rules and requirements. Things should not only be pretty and functional, they should also
be stackable - and at least, they should know how to behave in a cupboard, as ceramist Martin Bodilsen Kaldahl, former curator for Danish Crafts, puts it.
But much of the new craft and design does not even fit in a cupboard. Designer and ceramist Ole Jensen's products want to be out in the open. They represent a new trend - they are high-quality craft, they are visual,
and they have a very different appeal compared to much modern design, as tangible evidence that contemporary craft belongs in many other places besides the consumer's cupboards or gallery podiums.
Craft is moving into new areas of development. This is the rise of New Craftsmanship, as long-standing curator for Danish Crafts, Karen Kjærgaard calls this new trend, which combines centuries-old traditional techniques with modern high-tech approaches; a combination that, springing from craft, has led to innovative products in industrial design.
"Craft has an additional layer compared with design and is capable of solving many problems because it is anchored in original traditions of craftsmanship," says architect Karen Kjærgaard. "This has given craft a
new level of meaning, a revival and a re-positioning, which reflects a new perception of the relationship between design and craft."