The interaction of objects, humans and natural forces captured by Kirsi Enkovaara
By Purva Chawla
What if concrete and its form could be softened by the actions of your body?
What if the movement of water could remain in your sight forever, through a three-dimensional printing technique applied to objects? And finally, what if a seat was a long piece of fabric, filled with grain, that you could wrap around, twist and lean on in any way you like?
Through her work, London-based Finnish designer Kirsi Enkovaara answers these questions with a definite yes. Yes, her work says, it is possible to capture the motions of natural forces and us humans, through design. Yes, it says, objects need not be tied to the conventions we associate them with– they can be fluid, and interactive.
I am watching videos of Kirsi's work: The flexing, softening and hardening of her 'Body-Seat' (seen above) by a user; the drip-drip of ink and water as they flow down, aided by gravity, along the sides of pure-white containers and tiles–her 'Landscape of Gravity' works. I stop for a moment to stare at images of 'RippleMarks', a collection of tableware which has been shaped and made knobby (and fossil-like) by the effect of water pressure.
Time is slowing down as I see these visuals and observe Kirsi's methods. Increasingly, I am becoming aware that the interactions we have with objects around us or the interactions of forces such as water or gravity with objects, can be made tangible, through work like Kirsi's.
Using a large, and growing palette of materials, Kirsi captures temporal, invisible forces, and interactions through her work. Frankly, It is hard to define or silo what she creates, primarily, because we can't possibly expect what will come next. We can only expect that it will captivate us, and force us to reflect on our own interactions with objects and materials.
Since 2014, Kirsi, a graduate of the Royal College of Art, has been associated with Form&Seek. She has a long-standing relationship with, and has contributed to, this talented and diverse group of designers.
A few weeks shy of the London Design Festival 2016, where she will exhibit her work as part of Form&Seek, we spoke with Kirsi and learnt more about her thoughtful and captivating work. Here is our conversation with her:
MD: Kirsi, in your work, we see that you are exploring and visualizing the interaction between people and natural forces, on one side, and objects and materials around us, on the other. How did this interest develop and become central to your work?
Kirsi: I have always had a tendency to look at people and observe how they behave.
When it comes to design, I was taught to understand people's needs first and create products accordingly; following the principles of form follows function.
When I was studying and working in Finland, in Helsinki and Lahti, the work I was producing was more functionally oriented, and less conceptual. Then, I went to the Royal College of Art in London, to study Design Products, and here I really found my own voice in design. My professors began to see recurring themes in my work at the RCA, and that I was always doing the 'same thing,' in a good way. I was trying, then, to understand the interaction of things, people, and the natural forces of the universe. Most of my work, even today, is about understanding the world myself, and sharing that with people through what I make.
MD: There are two collections of work by you –Landscape of Gravity and Water Tiles, which use printing techniques to visualize the movement of water and gravity. How were these unique processes and results arrived at?
Kirsi: My first ideas for these products had, visually, little do with the final output, but were instrumental in leading me there. I was intrigued by the reflections we see in the water and wondered how I could capture them, as they are so fleeting and disappear.
This led to me to begin experimenting with the surface of the water. I played with the technique of marbling. Using floating ink and other elements on water, the results of the marbling were naturally very two-dimensional in nature. But I wanted to create something far more three-dimensional.
Parallel to this, I discovered that there was another invisible phenomenon that I wanted to capture through my work–Gravity. This combination of interests and findings from my marbling experiments led me to the process of 'draining' from objects that I filled with liquid and ink. The phenomenon of gravity, pulling the water down, transmitted the movement of the water to the surface of the vessels.
MD: 'The Body-seat' is a very intriguing work of yours. In some ways, the technique is one that we are all familiar with–filling grains or beans into fabric– but yours is an intense magnification of an age-old technique. Tell us about how this work came about.
Kirsi: This product is the result of the longest development I have had in my work. So many different paths have led me here.
The first was the very primal need for such an object. In a Sofa or chair, we are always searching for shelter and comfort; something that is personal to us. The second, less visible origins lie in my quest for renewable material to build such an object, one that could disappear, or in this case, compost quickly. The rice filling and canvas can do just that.
I was also extremely interested in structures which employ natural beads and was aware of the Japanese technique of filling pillows with rice. These were the fundamental structures upon which I developed, and created this final product. The aim for the 'Body-Seat', was to explore 'What is a chair?' and what would happen if we were to take it out of its cultural norms and context, and break away.
MD: Kirsi, you were recently part of a workshop and exhibition for Scandinavian designers, in the context of the Bulgarian 'One Design Week'. The workshop and your work focussed on an approach to concrete. Tell us about that experience and your design.
Kirsi: Going to Bulgaria, to Plovdiv, where the workshop and exhibition were, was a very different cultural experience. We were a group of designers–one each from the Scandinavian countries–who were to explore the city and our work as it related to the city.
Walking through the city, we saw the cold architecture of the concrete buildings from the Soviet Era. I also saw something unusual–small pillows at the corners and stairs of buildings, throughout the city. This triggered my decision to create a softer, organic element for the city, while still using the language of concrete.
I began working with the concrete, as my fellow designers did as well. While it was setting, I placed it in a cloth bag. Next, I sat on it or impressed other parts of the body on it. The results were fluid looking forms that felt soft and comfortable.
It was incredibly rewarding, seeing something viewed as hard and harsh, transform to something comfortable and soft.
MD: You work and experiment with a diverse collection of materials– fabric, ceramics, concrete, etc. Is there a material you are drawn to the most?
Kirsi: I think my approach to materials is a little different. Most often, I let my ideas or concepts for a particular work lead me to the material. Sometimes, I feel that the material finds me. These thoughts and encounters come from exploring the city and observing and understanding the natural phenomenon. Following this, the process and final result is, of course, an outcome of the materiality.
MD: Kirsi, what will you be exhibiting at the London Design Festival this year, as part of the Form&Seek exhibits?
Kirsi: I will be launching a new collection of mirrors at the Form&Seek Exhibit at LDF this year. I like objects that we can interact with, and that is the sole purpose of a mirror, so naturally I am very drawn to it. I will be drawing attention to how mirrors affect our self-image and we take those reflections so seriously.
MD: You have been associated with Form&Seek for a long time now, almost since it began, and you have exhibited with the group very often. Tell us about the role Form&Seek has played in your development.
Kirsi: I think, as designers, collaboration with other designers is great and almost essential. We can be alone with our designs and ideas, or we can become a part of such a collective, and strong network, and gain enormously from it.
For me, personally, I have met so many like-minded people through the Form&Seek collective, and this has been an immense support and asset for me.
MD: What is next for you?
Kirsi: I would like to narrow down the focus of my work, and zoom in on the interactions of my work with people. Human behavior. On the other hand, I am eager to start expanding the scale and reach of my work, through larger installations.