Slow Art - Nationalmuseum



Slow Art - Nationalmuseum
Cilla Robach
Berndt Arell
Cilla Robach
11 Introduction
15 Time and the Artistic Process
25 Catalogue
145 A Design-Historical Perspective
165 References
167 Index
Berndt Arell Director General
The Nationalmuseum’s rich collection of applied arts and design has an extraordinary
range. The collection embraces the entire field: glass, ceramics, silver, textiles, furniture,
industrial design and graphic design. Every year, we make between 100 and 200 new
acquisitions for our collections, focusing mainly on contemporary objects.
Thanks to the unique expertise of our curators, the Nationalmuseum can offer the
public a variety of narratives and perspectives on the past, the present, and sometimes
even the future. Slow Art is an example of this. Based on a profound knowledge of history,
we present our interpretation of a contemporary phenomenon.
The Nationalmuseum is facing a period of extensive renovation of its premises. This
presents us with new possibilities, both in the form of alternative exhibition spaces in
Stockholm, with a modern and contemporary perspective, and in the form of a number
of collaborations with other institutions in Sweden and abroad. Slow Art is the first project
in the Nationalmuseum’s focus on crafts and design over the next few years. Our aim is
to highlight issues, participate actively in discussions on design in Sweden, and to maintain a position where we demonstrate that we have, and take, a national responsibility in
our field.
Cilla Robach
We are living in a time when short-term solutions are often preferred to long-term perspectives. But it wasn’t always like that. In the 16th century, for instance, King Gustav
Vasa of Sweden planted oak trees to provide future generations with material for the navy’s
warships. Oaks that would have to grow for several generations before they could be used
as timber. And in 1975, the head of the navy was informed that the oaks that had been
planted in the 1830s were now ready for shipbuilding.1
It is hard to imagine a similar scenario today. Although many of us feel that we are
over-exploiting the natural resources of our planet, we find it extremely hard to change
our lifestyle to provide for the needs of future generations. This is largely due to our
frequently short-term time perspective, a fact that has become apparent in recent years in
the political inability to take action on issues that are vital to the future of mankind, such
as global warming. Problems that require both sustainability and international consensus
in order to find a solution. How many people today are earnestly bothered about the livelihood and environment of future generations? What nation or corporation would want to
“plant oak trees” to cater for a need that may arise in several hundred years?
Slow Art is about the perspective on time and production processes. The term Slow Art
is hereby introduced as an analytical tool for a contemporary phenomenon in the field of
applied arts and design.2 The purpose is to define and analyse this phenomenon on the
basis of a number of objects from the past three decades in the Nationalmuseum collection
of applied arts and design.3
The objects that are presented here as Slow Art were hand-crafted in slow, often intricate
processes. The considerable time required to make these works has not always been a cause
of frustration for artists or craftspersons. On the contrary, they have valued time and
regarded slowness as a central element in their artistic process. Many practitioners have
put special emphasis on shaping certain details, without having to fear the mental boredom
or physical pain of repetition. Instead, the viewer suspects that they have found tranquility
in the monotonous and slow work stages that were required to create a specific piece.
Several of the practitioners have developed their own techniques to achieve the
particular expression they were after. Others have chosen to use the same methods and
tools as artisans and craftspersons have been using for centuries. Making things by hand
was the normal production method before industrialism evolved and became established
in the West during the second half of the 19th century. Thus, there is no technical difference between a tapestry or wrought silver jug made in the 17th century and one made
in the 2000s. The significant difference is that there are alternatives today to handcrafted goods. Alternative approaches in the form of mechanical production methods,
which the artist or craftsman working with traditional crafts today have chosen not to
use. They argue that the crafts process in itself adds value to the finished work that a
machine-produced object does not have. Values that have to do with human presence
and time.
Thus, in this context, the term Slow Art does not represent any specific aesthetic style.
It is a collective term for both relatively traditional styles and techniques and new expressions and innovative approaches to crafts techniques. Several of the objects that are associated here with Slow Art are somewhere in the borderland between crafts and fine art.
Others are rooted in a many-centuries-old crafts tradition. The common denominator, as
mentioned above, is that they all took a long time to make. It is worth noting that Slow
Art has parallels in the world of fine arts.4
In a society such as ours, driven as it is by short-term profitability, phenomena that
are described with the word slow indicate a conscious protest against prevailing values and
conditions. The concept is also found in several other contemporary movements, such as
Slow Food (as opposed to Fast Food), Slow Travel, Slow Craft, Slow Design, Slow Fashion,
Slow Media, Slow Consumption, Slow Education and Slow Parenting.5 One of the great
proponents of a life built on more contemplation and a less hectic pace is the Scottish
journalist and writer Carl Honoré. In his book In Praise of Slow. Challenging the Cult of Speed
from 2004, Honoré claims that our contemporary quest for speed and for time-saving is
inherent in the capitalist system, where natural resources are exploited faster than nature
can recreate them and the role of mankind is to serve the economy rather than the other
way around. Our need to slow down and create room for reflection was summed up by
Honoré in an overall concept he called the Slow Movement.6
A common feature for all factions of the Slow Movement is that their supporters
advocate for an existence that is not governed by a constant battle against the clock, by
profitability and short-term consumerism. Against this background, I have chosen the
term Slow Art to signify the objects presented in the Nationalmuseum’s eponymous
Profit has hardly been the incentive for the artists and craftspersons who produce their
works with slow methods. The hourly pay is usually, if they sell their work at all, far below
any level that most of us would find acceptable. Many of them have ordinary “day jobs”
alongside their artistic activities in order to make ends meet. I would say that the incentive
for their hard toil must be something other than money. Their driving force is the satisfaction
people can feel when they challenge themselves fundamentally, by putting their perseverance and
their technical skills to the test. A satisfaction that can not be bought for money.8
The result is a few works that reach a relatively small audience and even fewer buyers.
In this sense, Slow Art, has the same exclusive nature as that frequently seen in unique
works of art, that is, that only rich institutions of private individuals can afford to buy
them. Moreover, very few people choose to devote themselves to intricate artisanal production these days. Thus, the term Slow Art denotes a marginal phenomenon in the field
of applied arts and design. But it is nevertheless interesting, since it presents us with different perspectives. Perspectives that focus on doing things well instead of quickly, on
valuing quality instead of quantity. On handling materials, i.e. our common natural
resources, with care, and showing consideration for future generations. On seeing a value
in slowness. On allowing time to be a significant factor in the artistic process.
ekar.html. The internet source was found at this address
and copied by the author on 19 January, 2012.
The concept of Slow Art was launched by the artist Tim
Slowinski in 1978, as a critique against the way art was
consumed as fast as though it were any commodity or service. In the 21st century,
there has been a growing interest on the art scene in emphasising slowness. In 2004, the art critic Robert Hughes
delivered the following definition of Slow Art: “What we
need more of is slow art: art that holds time as a vase holds
water; art that grows out of modes of perception and making whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel;
art that isn’t merely sensational, that doesn’t get its message across in ten seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that
hooks onto something deep-running in our natures.” In 2005,
Atlanta Art Gallery published a manifesto for Slow Art
which stresses the importance of both slow production of
art and a generous allotment of time to viewing it. www. In 2009, the first Slow
Art Day was organised, on the initiative of Phil Terry at
MoMA in New York. At this annual event, museums and
galleries strive to raise their visitors’ awareness of how the
time aspect is vital to their experience of art. The motto
is: “Slow down, you look too fast”.
about.html Another critic of today’s fast consumption of
art is the art critic Michael Kimmelman, who noted in
2009 that hardly anyone stopped for a full minute to look
at any of the works in the Louvre. Michael Kimmelman,
“At Louvre, Many Stop to Snap but Few Stay to Focus”,
New York Times 2/8 2009. The internet sources were found
at these addresses and copied by the author on 19 January,
The Nationalmuseum’s collection of applied art and design
includes objects from the 14th century to today. It was
first created in 1885 and currently consists of some 30,000
objects. The orientation of the collection is primarily
Swedish material, secondly Nordic, and thirdly items
acquired from a West European context.
Swedish contemporary artists who apply slow processes
include Gunnel Wåhlstrand and Mats Bergsmeden, who
make large-format paintings and drawings in ink. These
works are extremely precise and there is no room for mistakes. One slip of the hand can mean that several months’
work has to be thrown away.
The Slow Food movement advocates carefully-prepared
meals made of organic, local produce. Slow Travel is a critique against modern society’s worship of speed and argues
for a greater sense of contentment through slow travel
and staying for longer periods in one place. Slow Craft
was the title of an exhibition of Swedish traditional crafts
at Engelska Magasinet in Reijmyre in Sweden in the summer of 2011. It is also the name of an online shop for traditional crafts. Slow Design and Slow Fashion disapprove
of short-lived mass production driven by rapidly changingfashions, and argue for environmentally friendly, smallscale production of goods with fine workmanship, and
respect for the earth’s limited natural resources. Slow
Media is a critique against the fast-growing and superficial
production and consumption of information through various media and calls for slowly-researched and well-considered analyses. Slow Consumption, also described as
Super Low Consumption, pleads for an environmentally
sustainable approach to the entire life cycle of products,
and shared ownership of goods (e.g. car pools). Slow
Education is about inspiring individuals to form their
own conclusions and knowledge, instead of feeding them
with ready-made solutions and models. Slow Parenting
advises parents not to plan their children’s lives in too
much detail, but to leave room for their kids’ spontaneity
and own initiatives. C.f., http://en.,,, www.webbhotell.
/Utstallningen-Slow-Craft,,, Tim Cooper, “Slower Consumption, Reflections
on Product Life Spans and the ‘Throwaway Society’”,
Journal of Industrial Ecology, vol 9, 1–2/2008. The internet
sources were found at these addresses and coped by the
author on 19 January, 2012.
6 Carl Honoré, In Praise of Slow. Challenging the Cult of Speed
(London 2004).
7 Many of the works presented in the exhibition are made
by artists and craftspersons with long experience in their
field. The age distribution is as follows: 1 were born in the
1930s, 4 in the 1940s, 9 in the 1950s, 9 in the 1960s, 3 in
the 1970s and 3 in the 1980s. Interestingly, most of the
works presented in this exhibition, or 24 out of 29, were
made by women. Whether this signifies that complicated
crafts processes are something that women are more
interested in than men, is something I cannot comment on.
Crafts are, however, a creative field that has traditionally
been associated with women, a fact that has contributed
to its low status and marginalisation in the hierarchy of
visual cultures. C.f. Cilla Robach, Formens frigörelse.
Konsthantverk och design under debatt i 1960-talets Sverige,
PhD thesis, (Stockholm 2010), 327 f.
8 “The reward of making is the opportunity to experience
an individual sense of freedom and control in the world.
Making is therefore not only a fulfillment of needs, but of
desires – a process whereby mind, body and imagination
are integrated in the practice of thought through action.”
Martina Margetts, “Action Not Words”, Power of Making.
The importande of being skilled, red Daniel Charney, V&A
(London 2011), 39. Discussing what factors promote
groundbreaking academic research, the sociologist Li
Bennich-Björkman used the Hungarian psychology
professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of “flow”.
“To experience ‘flow’ is a feeling of joy, a mental exhilaration that arises in situations when a person is intensely
absorbed by performing or solving a task, and the challenge of the task matches his or her abilities. The sensation of having ‘flow’ thus becomes an essential reward,
an optimum satisfaction. This reward comes from the
task itself, not from external acknowledgements.” Li
Bennich-Björkman, “Universiteten, kreativiteten och
politikens aningslöshet”, Educare 1(3) 2007, 39.
Time and
the artistic process
No one sees how long it took, only how well-done it looks!
Ellen Karlsson, my grandmother
Seeing crafts as a path towards a new quality of life is nothing new. Nor is it new to use
artisanal manufacturing as an argument in social commentary. As discussed in the chapter
on A Design-Historical Perspective, there are parallels between the British Arts and Crafts
Movement in the late 1800s and Slow Art. The Arts and Crafts Movement was critical of
the society that was evolving partly due to industrialised mass production, and the advocates of the Movement stressed the importance of craftsmanship on the life quality of the
individual. However, their criticism of industrial mass production fell on deaf ears. On
the contrary, many people have seen rational and time-saving processes as a desirable goal
for modern Western society. There was relatively little patience, in other words, with
artisanal production in general, and creative processes developed through craftsmanship
in particular. The fact that a few people have nevertheless chosen to develop their artistic
creativity by devoting themselves to one or more crafts could, therefore, be hard for the
world at large to understand, or even a bit frightening or provocative.
For what is it these slow artists accomplish with their relentless, slow and complicated
work, full of repetitive movements that frequently cause physical pain? What drives Helen
Dahlman to make her monumental embroideries in thin cotton thread, despite having to
wear double plasters to prevent the blood from her pricked fingertips from staining the
fabric? What does Renata Francescon get out of thumbing porcelain clay into rose petals
hour after hour, day after day? Why does Tore Svensson continue, year after year, to forge
bowls out of cold iron, when his body can’t take the immense strain for more than a couple
of hours a day? What does Lotta Åström achieve by winding wire into a tight spiral that
she then saws into tiny rings, which she links together to make jewellery resembling
chainmail? Why does Sebastian Schildt spend several weeks on shaping a flat silver plate
into a jug with a hammer, instead of using a machine to create the same object in a fraction
of the time? There are no simple answers to these questions – apart from the certainty that
the artists get a satisfaction from something other than profitability through rational
The difficulty of formulating what those engaged in Slow Art derive from their work
probably relates to the tacit knowledge that is characteristic of the field of crafts as a whole.
The term ‘tacit knowledge’ refers to skills that can be mastered only through practice and
experience.1 The textile artists Nina Bondeson and Marie Holmgren have claimed that
“tacit knowledge reveals itself in aspects such as experience, skill, judgement, memory,
insight, reflection, feeling, and so on.”2 Through repeated failures, artists or craftspersons
first become familiar with a material, its characteristics and potential, in order to subsequently challenge their own limits and those of the material.
There is a wide variety of tacit knowledge. We can check with a potato tester if the
potatoes are done, we learn to hear the difference between a violin and a cello, and smell
if the milk is off. But most of us don’t value to this kind of knowledge that highly, probably
because it is so ordinary. That does not mean that it is unimportant. On the contrary, it
can be crucial. But it is tacit! It is practical and wordless, hard to describe, explain, measure
and compare. It is gained by experience, and thus continues to grow and improve throughout life.
The opposite of tacit knowledge is theoretical knowledge, which is verbalised and can
be explained logically with theories and models. This, however, does not imply that it is
always easy to grasp. Theoretical knowledge can be noticeably esoteric and excluding to
the uninitiated. Most of us find advanced philosophical discussions and abstract mathematical theorema entirely abstruse. And yet, or for that very reason, theoretical knowledge
is traditionally revered in Western society.
Even in art, theoretical knowledge has been attributed a high status. In the Renaissance, a distinction was introduced between art and crafts, or between mind and hand.3
Until then, artists had been regarded as a kind of artisans. The separation of art from crafts
increased the value of the former, at the expense of the latter.4 Eventually, an artist role
evolved, where the artist was perceived as an elevated person with exceptional qualities, a
divine genius.
In the 18th century, a theoretically-based perception of art was established, where art
was exceedingly concerned with its very own occurrence. With the 20th century and the
birth of conceptualism, the idea – rather than the physical reality – of the work of art
became the focus of attention.5 The proponents of this movement saw little or no value in
the tacit knowledge of craftsmanship. Originality was what counted.6 Terry Smith, professor of art history at the University of Sydney, claimed in 1997 that modernism in the 20th
century had not only ignored crafts, but had also been an active enemy of craftsmanship.
Smith called this approach “anti-craft”.7 The result was that crafts – based, as they were,
on tacit knowledge – were defined as anti-modern and reactionary and as such could easily
be dismissed and marginalised in public debate.8
One way of improving the status of both tacit knowledge in general and craftsmanship
in particular has been, rather paradoxically, to increase the theoretical element in studies
of a practical nature. In Sweden, this has been implemented in recent decades in both
upper secondary education for car mechanics and in textile design studies at university
level.9 There has been a veritable explosion recently in the theorising of crafts practices.
In the academic world, a number of research projects have broadened and deepened theoretical knowledge vis-à-vis individual crafts, their terms and identities. Inspired by postmodern critique of the modernist canon in the art world, several scholars have attempted
to formulate other contexts and explanatory models for contemporary crafts. Common
to them all is that they have focused on types of objects in the field of crafts that are closely
related to fine art, and where the practitioners often have a conceptual, theoretically-based
approach to their artistic activities. “Ordinary” useful and hand-turned tea sets are conspicuously absent in their studies.
In the Swedish and Nordic debate on crafts, the book Craft in Transition (2005) has
had a seminal influence. It was written by Jorunn Veiteberg, professor of art and craft
theory at the Bergen National Academy of the Arts.10 Veiteberg discussed the dissolving
boundary between crafts and art, and what the implications were for contemporary crafts.
She also highlighted the prejudices about crafts, which may have contributed to their
marginalisation in the hierarchies of visual culture. The following year, Louise Mazanti
presented her thesis analysing contemporary objects in this very borderland between fine
art and applied arts.11 Mazanti called them “superobjects”. With this concept, she was
seeking to bridge the dichotomy, or separation, between art and life, by defining crafts as
a separate artistic practice, where the primary differentiating trait was their reference to
everyday life and the human body. I have also contributed to the discussion myself with a
PhD thesis on the subject.12
Alongside recent academic research, 21st century conceptual crafts have been discussed and analysed in numerous publications and exhibitions in Sweden. For instance,
Iaspis – the Swedish Arts Grants Committee’s International Programme – had a project,
Craft in Dialogue, in 2003–2006 that contributed towards highlighting this field.13 The
books Craft in Dialogue. Six views on a practice in change and Re:form. Svenskt samtida konsthantverk under debatt were published for the official Swedish Year of Design in 2005.14 The
Nationalmuseum exhibition Konceptdesign in 2005, which I curated, also identified and
formulated a conceptual approach to objects, society and artistic creation in contemporary
design.15 Meanwhile, Riksutställningar – Swedish Travelling Exhibitions – had sent its
exhibition 100 tankar om konsthantverk – 100 Thoughts on Crafts – on a four-year tour of
Sweden.16 In 2007, yet another concept was launched with the exhibition Formhantverk
(Crafted Form) at Liljevalchs Konsthall in Stockholm.17 That year, the gallery Gustavsbergs Konsthall also opened, with a series of exhibitions that expanded the crafts scene,
not least in relation to fine arts.18 This increased theoretical interest in publications and
exhibitions has undoubtedly contributed to radically strengthen the position of conceptual, theoretically based crafts, both in society and in academia, since the millennium shift
Parallel with this development, however, a counter-reaction has also emerged, emphasising non-theoretical values in crafts. Practices in the field of tacit knowledge, for instance,
are now a subject of academic research. In 1994, the British crafts specialist and theoretician Peter Dormer was already arguing for the need to apply other parameters than those
of the art world when studying this field. Unlike, for instance, conceptual art, which
Dormer claimed communicated more or less independently of its material, the material
itself conveyed meaning in crafts.
[…] the essence of the expression cannot be caught in words – what the
representation ‘means’ is in the craft, not what is said about it.19
Thus, according to Dormer, there are certain aspects and values in crafts that can be difficult, not to say impossible, to put in words, i.e. tacit communication routes. I would like
to underline that these tacit aspects obviously exist even in conceptual art and crafts, albeit
not to the same extent as in material-based crafts, to which the objects presented here as
Slow Art mainly belong.
One way of nevertheless finding words for this tacit knowledge has been to analyse
the actual making, the production process behind the works. In Sweden, this has been
carried out not least by artists and craftspersons who have engaged in academic research
based on their own practices.20 One of these, the ceramicist Mårten Medbo, has attempted
to describe his own artistic work and development of tacit knowledge.
The artistic process is similar in many ways to children’s play. […] You create
a kind of no-man’s-land or a private world where anything is possible, where
all the external rules collapse. In this world, my own experiences are shaken up
and adopt new meanings and structures. A world that helps me understand
and give meaning to existence. […] I call it play, others refer to it as a process.
[…] There’s a lot of fumbling, testing and rejecting. Testing again and again.
Slowly, my work becomes focused and structured. My entire craftsmanship, all
my intellectual and emotional capacities, are required. […] Much of what I do
fails. The fact that anything at all succeeds depends on my long experience with
the material. I have a kind of intuitive feel for how the clay should be handled.
When it is ready for each different stage. If the clay is drying too fast, or when
the objects should be turned. […] Often, I am working at the limit of my
ability. It is with great satisfaction and pride that I regard a successful result.21
Medbo has therefore formulated the artistic process as play based on a genuine knowledge
of the material. This description applies to many of the processes behind the works presented in the exhibition Slow Art. A factor shared by most of the objects is that the artists
and craftspersons work directly with the material, often without any preparatory sketches.
That does not mean to say that they haven’t visualised the end result, or have no definite
aim for their creativity. On the contrary. But in the artistic process it is essential to listen
to the material and reconsider the original idea as the work progresses. To open the senses
– emotions and intellect – to the power of chance and the potential of experimentation.
To dare, in the midst of a meticulous process, to surrender control.
Let us dwell on the concept of control. Being in control is something many people
strive for today. In Sweden, the term “life puzzle” was recently coined, to signify the
perpetual striving of a family with small kids to control their often chaotic everyday life.22
The feeling of failure in this context probably stems from the fact that parents do not dare
to surrender control and discover the creative potential of chaos. There are, after all,
obvious similarities between the artistic process Medbo describes above and becoming
a parent – the only thing you can be absolutely sure of is that it won’t turn out the way
you expected!
The deep frustration we often feel when the life puzzle doesn’t fit together is because
this control relates to what we believe to be our most precious asset, time. Many of us try,
with elaborate planning, to manage the unknown number of days that will turn out to
be the total of our lives. And who wants to waste valuable hours on inefficient activities
that don’t give results and dividends on our (time) investment? But to take control of our
lives is a comparatively new human striving. In her book Ten Thoughts About Time, the
physicist Bodil Jönsson, born in 1942, describes her grandmother who was short of money,
room, food, heating and lighting, but was never short of time. Jönsson notes that the
enormous improvement in living standards in the West in the second half of the 1900s
has contributed to a sense of un-peace and un-rhythm, caused by the illogical notion of
“saving” time.23
The widely accepted demand for a rational approach to time has presumably contributed to a certain lack of understanding, but also a fascination, for activities in the field of
applied art and design such as those described here as Slow Art. By choosing to immerse
themselves in a project, a technique or a material, artists and craftspersons have rejected
everything else that could have taken place in the long period they have devoted to their
artistic work. Not just the possibility of a regular job and better private economy, but other
possible works of art that they might have made instead. Thus, it requires not only courage
but also integrity to dare take the time and focus entirely on one single project for weeks,
months, or even years. The Swedish sculptor Britt Ignell has described this slowness as an
exceedingly positive factor in the artistic process.
[…] I experience a pleasure in lingering on a thought, stretching a project
over a longer period and filling my world with meaning. That aspect is entirely
decisive, since I believe that this is what eventually resides there in the work
and can move the viewer. Time and the presence invested in a work. The
ongoing creation of meaning. Thinking, being, doing, that can reach every
layer of our senses and perceptions.24
Yes, textile techniques take time. Thank goodness! This is not a problem but
a quality, regardless of whether we are talking of textile art or utility textiles.
Knitting, crocheting, sewing, weaving, spinning, twining, winding, tufting,
bobbin lace-making, embroidering, are all about the intentional combination
and transformation of fibres. They also say something about ourselves and our
approach to art, to life. What would be the point of producing unconsidered,
rushed works? That would be disrespectful, to ourselves and to those we regard
as the target group of our endeavours. And one more thing: There are so
many things on this planet already. If we nevertheless decide to transform yet
another material into yet another object, this should be done thoughtfully and
scrupulously. I have chosen to weave tapestries. Is this comparable to writing
a novel? Letter after letter, sentence after sentence. That takes time, which is
perfectly reasonable and understandable. Stitch is added to stitch, weft to weft,
piece to piece. Stories unfold, in real time and without keyboard shortcuts.
And time is revealed, it is fully visible. Anyone can see it and understand it.
And feel respected.25
Ekdahl points out, in other words, that by investing a great deal of time and effort in the
production of a work she shows respect for the person who chooses to take time from their
life to look at her woven images. This approach is shared by many of the artists and craftspersons who practice slow and often complicated craft processes. The term Slow Art
denotes works and objects in the field of applied art and design where time is a significant
factor – where slowness in the production of a work is attributed an artistic value in itself.
Ignell emphasises slowness as a meaningful element per se. This notion bears little
resemblance to what is normally regarded as meritorious in a society built on short-term
mass production and mass communication. A lifestyle, where people surround themselves with time-saving, but expensive, aids to get them through their stressful everyday
lives. Where satisfaction is attained by buying new (time-saving) goods and services that
deplete the resources of our planet. A consumer society, where time has become a veritable commodity. This is where Slow Art offers different perspectives. Perspectives that
focus on the positive impact of slowness on the creative process. On respect for others
and for future generations. The textile artist Annika Ekdahl stresses that meticulous,
time-consuming artistic work also includes special consideration to the external world
of the originator.
1 The term is derived from Michael Polanyi’s concept of
“tacit knowing”, which is founded on the observation
that “[…] we can know more than we can tell”. Michael
Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension, (Gloucester 1983), 4. The
American philosopher Allan Janik has defined tacit
knowledge as that which refers “… to those aspects of
human experience which are wholly knowable self-reflectively […] but by their very nature are incapable of
precise articulation.” Allan Janik, “Tacit Knowledge,
Working Life and Scientific Method”, Knowledge, Skill
and Artificial Intelligence, eds Bo Göranzon and Ingela
Josefson (Berlin/Heidelberg 1988), 54. See also Harry
Collins, Tacit and Explicit Knowledge (Chicago, London
Nina Bondeson, Marie Holmgren, Tiden som är för handen.
Om praktisk konsttillverkning (Gothenburg 2007), 19.
C.f. Edward Lucie-Smith, The Story of Craft. The Craftsman’s
Role in Society (Oxford 1981), 143–162. Other authors, however, have traced the division to the Enlightenment. Larry
Shiner dates the separation between art and crafts to the
Enlightenment in the 18th century, when the modern
concept of art supplanted an older, purpose-oriented perspective on art. Larry Shiner, The Invention of Art. A Cultural
History (Chicago 2001), xvi.
In 1751, Denis Diderot described the difference in status
between what he called the liberal and the mechanical arts.
He claimed there was a conviction that “[…] to practise
or even to study the mechanical arts was to stoop to things
the research of which is laborious, the meditation base, the
exposition difficult, the handling disgraceful, the number
inexhaustible, and the value trifling.” Denis Diderot, “Art”,
Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des science, des
arts et des Métiers, vol. 1 (Paris 1751), Eng. transl. Diderot
as a Disciple of English Thought, Robert Loyalty (Columbia
University Press, New York, 1913), 246.
Peter Dormer has claimed that the real rift between art and
the crafts arose with the advent of 1960s conceptual art.
“By the end of the 1960s craftsmanship was barely taught
at all, nor was it valued. […] Why is craft intellectually
inconvenient in modern and contemporary art? […] Why
does art need craft? Why make something when you can
find a ready-made and present it as art? It is your ability to
choose and select, not your ability to make, that marks you
as an artist, as a connoisseur. Why have the object at all?
And in the face of these questions craft in art collapsed.”
Peter Dormer, “The salon de refuse?”, The Culture of Craft,
ed Peter Dormer (Manchester 1997), 3.
In 1962, the influential American art theorist Clement
Greenberg established the significance of artistic intuition.
“Inspiration remains the only factor in the creation of a
successful work of art that cannot be copied or imitated.”
Clement Greenberg, “After Abstract Expressionism”, Art
in Theory 1900–1990, eds Charles Harrison and Paul Wood
(Oxford 1992, 1995), 769. The article was originally published in October 8/1962.
Terry Smith claims that the modernists had defined the
crafts as an anti-modern phenomenon. “The overwhelming
success of mass production/consumption modernity in the
early and mid-twentieth century left craft as the obvious
signifier of modernity’s opposite: tradition.” Terry Smith,
“Craft, modernity and postmodernity”, Craft & Contemporary Theory, ed. Sue Rowley (St Leonards 1997), 18–19.
8 Peter Dormer has discussed the marginalisation of the
crafts. “Skills are regarded as technical constraints upon
self-expression and they are not recognized as being the
content as well as the means of expression. […] Within
the plastic arts, the status of craft knowledge or tacit knowledge has declined sharply because it is held to have no
intrinsic value.” Peter Dormer, The Art of the Maker. Skill
and its Meaning in Art, Craft and Design (London 1994), 7,
25. Grace Lees-Maffei and Linda Sandino have also commented on this: “For at least the last 150 years, craft has
been written about as an antidote to increasing industrialization.” Grace Lees-Maffei, Linda Sandino, “Dangerous
Liaisons. Relationships between Design, Craft and Art”,
Dangerous Liaisons. Relationships between Design, Craft
and Art, Special Issue, Journal of Design History, Vol. 17,
3/2004, 209. See also Robach (2010), 317 ff.
9 The element of theory in textile studies at the School of
Design and Crafts in Gothenburg has increased from 8%
of study time in 1978 to 50% in 2007. The greatest increase
took place over the last two decades. Bondeson, Holmgren
(2007), 48. See also Mats Alvesson, Tomhetens triumf. Om
grandiositet, illusionsnummer & nollsummespel (Stockholm
2006), 20 f.
10 Jorunn Veiteberg, Craft in Transition (Bergen 2005).
11 Louise Mazanti, Superobjekter. En teori for nutidigt,
konceptuelt kunsthåndværk, PHD thesis, (Copenhagen
2006). Tanya Harrod and Pamela Johnson have also criticised the traditional historiography of crafts and call for
new critically and theoretically based approaches to the
field. C.f. Obscure objects of desire. Reviewing the crafts in the
twentieth century, ed Tanya Harrod, Conference papers
University of East Anglia 10–12 January 1997, Craft
Council (London 1997). Journal of Design History, Special
Issue: Craft, Culture and Identity, ed Tanya Harrod,
Vol. 10, 4/1997. Ideas in the Making. Practice in Theory, ed
Pamela Johnson, Crafts Council (London 1998).
12 Robach (2010).
13 Craft in Dialogue 2003–2006. Craft is handmade communication, ed Christina Zetterlund (Stockholm 2006).
14 Craft in Dialogue. Six views on a practice in change, ed Love
Jönsson (Stockholm 2005). Re:form. Svenskt samtida konsthantverk under debatt, ed Hanna Ljungström, Ulf Beckman
(Stockholm 2005).
15 Konceptdesign, ed Cilla Robach, Nationalmuseum exh.
cat. 643 (Stockholm 2005).
16 100 tankar om konsthantverk, ed Marianne Sjöborg, Riksutställningar – Swedish Travelling Exhibitions (Stockholm 2005).
17 Crafted Form Continuation. Praxis and reflecion, eds Zandra
Ahl and Päivi Ernkvist (Stockholm 2008).
html. The source was found on the internet and copied
by the author on 20 January, 2012.
19 Dormer (1994), 35.
20 In 2006, three artists got a postgraduate degree in free art
at the Malmö Art Academy. They were Matts Leiderstam,
Miya Yoshida and Sopawan Boonnimitra. Pontus
Kyander, “Kvalificerade konstnärer utan doktorsexamen
chanslösa för lärartjänster”, Paletten 4/2006. Since 2010,
the craftspersons Mårten Medbo and Frida Hållander
are postgraduate students at the School of Design
and Crafts and the University College of Arts, Crafts
and Design respectively.
nyheter/2010/marten-medbo-forsta-doktorand-i-konsthantverk and
Doktorander/. The sources were found on the internet
and copied by the author on 20 January, 2012.
21 Mårten Medbo, “Texter om konstnärliga erfarenheter”,
Nina Bondeson, Marie Holmgren, Tiden som är för handen.
Om praktisk konsttillverkning (Gothenburg 2007), 54–56.
22 The Swedish concept of livspusslet, the “life puzzle”, was
launched by the trade union federation TCO prior to
the Swedish elections in 2002. TCO was referring to
“[…] the matter of how people manage in practice to
cope in everyday life with both work and family […]”.
Interestingly, and typically for our time, TCO also registered the word Livspusslet as a trademark. http://www. The internet
source was found at this address and copied by the author
on 20 January, 2012.
23 “In the past, time was sovereign in nature. Its rule was a
wonderful way of preventing disorderly events. Nowadays,
it is as though the ordering function of time has been
cancelled out by demands that almost everything should
happen simultaneously.” […] Time was nature’s wonderful way of stopping everything from happening at once.
Now it’s as though that feature of time has been cancelled
– (nearly) everything happens at once. [---] Many of our
environmental problems are by-products of our current
preoccupation with being short of time. […] Mankind’s
future status as a natural resource for good or evil will
depend on how our relationship with time develops.”
Bodil Jönsson, Ten thoughts about time. How to make more
of the time in your life (London 2003), 28, 75–76. Original
title: Tio tankar om tid (Stockholm 1999). The artist and
poet Emil Jensen has painted a devastating picture of
control-seeking contemporary Western man’s frequently
problematic relationship to time. “Children are known
to live in the present. Adults live in the Recently, in the
Later, in the Shortly, in the Soon. Adults live in the
‘could-have-been’ and the ‘should-have-been’. They live
in the ‘what-if’. Adults live in the ‘far-from-here-longago’. They live in the ‘wonder-what-he-looks-like-naked’
and the ‘shit-I-should-have-told-her-I-love-her’. And
they live in the ‘god-did-I-forget-to-turn-the-stove-off’.
Adults live in a fantasy world!” Emil Jensen, “Skaffa
vuxen”, Snacka om, Ordfront ljud (Malmö 2011). The
Swedish transcription of the quote, which has only been
published as a reading by Jensen, was approved in an
e-mail to Cilla Robach dated 3 December, 2011.
Translation here by Gabriella Berggren.
24 Britt Ignell, “Hand och tanke”, Nina Bondeson, Marie
Holmgren, Tiden som är för handen. Om praktisk konsttillverkning (Gothenburg 2007), 61.
25 E-mail message from Annika Ekdahl to Cilla Robach
dated 16 January, 2012.
Movement is the effect Petra Schou
strives for in her hard silver metal pieces.
Her method is to combine many
small parts into a unity. On a
chain of soldered links,
Petra Schou fastens tiny
conical bells shaped out of silver
discs. The bells vary in size, with larger
ones in the middle of the necklace and
smaller along the sides. The ring also has
dangling bells attached. As the wearer
moves, the metal bells swing and make
a tinkling sound as they dangle against
one another.
Ring and necklace Boa
Petra Schou (b 1968)
Necklace: Lengh 74 cm. Ring: Height 3 cm, diameter 7 cm
nmk 189–190/2000
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
builds her garments
like a sculptor. She creates
directly in the material. Her sketches
consist of fabrics that are shaped with seams,
wrinkles and pleats. In a perpetual experiment with
fabric details, textures and volumes, the shapes gradually emerge. Certain elements recur in several garments, but positioned to emphasise different parts
of the body. Repetition is a vital element. Hundreds
of leatherpieces of exactly the same shape are combined into cones of exactly the same dimensions to
achieve the desired effect. Hörstedt is a perfectionist. In her artistic process the garments are distinctly set
apart from the often ephemeral fashion scene. They are on the
boundary between art, crafts and haute couture. Slowly,
they find their form.
Dress Broken Shadow
Helena Hörstedt (b 1977)
Raw silk, leather
Height 110 cm, width 50 cm
nmk 110/2009
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
of embroidering with
a sewing machine has been
developed by Malin Lager over many decades.
Her tool is an ordinary sewing machine, but Lager has
disconnected the feeder and uses a darning foot. In this way, she can
guide the needle in any direction over the fabric and alternate the
length of the stitches. She starts by building the image as an application,
with thin pieces of silk or cotton on a sturdy cotton base material.
With the sewing machine she adds shades, shadows and nuances over
the image. Her method can be compared to meticulous painting, with
the sewing machine needle as her brush and the thread as paint.
Machine embroidery Shadows
Malin Lager (b 1946)
Cotton, satin, silk
Height 35.5 cm, width 52.5 cm
nmk 17/1995
Purchased by the Nationalmuseum
With inspiration from ancient
Egyptian collars, the goldsmith
Helena Edman made this collar
as her graduation piece at the Guldsmedehøjskolen in Copenhagen. The
titanium tubes were coloured through
electrolyte, where different nuances are
achieved by changing the amperage. The
titanium has to be clinically clean before
the process can start, so Helena Edman has
meticulously polished off the oxidised surface
before turning on the electricity. When the
tubes have gained the desired colour, they
are sawn into the final length, a task that
uses up countless saw blades. Finally,
Edman threads them onto silk. The collar weighs 335 grams and consists of
some 1 730 parts. This work took
four months to complete, from
sketch to finished collar.
Collar Egypten [Egypt]
Helena Edman (b 1952)
Titanium, gold 18k, silk
Height 0.5 cm, diameter 24 cm
nmk 27/2006
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
bowl was
made out of a
piece of 400-yearold oak. The process is
complex and consists of many
different stages. Since dry oak is
very hard, the wood has to be kept
constantly moist. Mats David Gahrn’s tools
include a chainsaw, an axe, an adze, woodcut tools, a
special violin maker’s plane and an angle grinder with a
serrated blade. When he is finished, the bowl is left to dry slowly
for six months or more. As it dries, the wood shrinks by 6–8 % in width,
a change that has to be taken into account before beginning work on
the bowl. After drying, this bowl was smoked with ammonia and then
treated with hot tar on the outside. The inside was carefully
sanded and treated with linseed oil.
Mats David Gahrn (b 1956)
Height 25 cm, diameter 45 cm
nmk 22/2005
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
The egg is possibly nature’s most perfect design. While filling its purpose of protecting the life growing inside, the egg is sufficiently delicate to allow the chick to peck its way out into the world. The fragility
of the material was the starting point for Helena Sandström’s necklace made of the shells from hens’ eggs. The eggs were broken
carefully, and many failed attempts were
made before achieving the optimum
floral shape and size. The eggshells were
attached to a thin wire of pure gold, meaning that the wire is very soft. The fragile necklace must be handled with the utmost care, like
life itself.
Helena Sandström (b 1970)
Eggshell, gold 24k, sweet water pearls
Height 2.5 cm, diameter 33 cm
nmk 105/1999
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
Working cold iron by hand is a heavy job.
With his hammer, Tore Svensson forges a
bowl from a 1 mm-thick iron plate. The outside is smoothed with a planing hammer.
The rims are filed and bent, that is, processed by beating them with a hammer
straight from above to make the rim thicker
than the wall of the bowl. To prevent the
iron from rusting, the surface is treated with
linseed oil that is burned in several times.
This process gives the material the deep
blackness Svensson desires. Gilding is
performed with electrolyte. Svensson
works directly on the material. He has
a notion of the size and proportions
of the bowl, but stresses the importance of constantly listening to the
material and following it in the
creative process. The effective
time spent for this bowl,
number 3 in a series of
220 that Svensson has
made so far, was
75 hours.
Tore Svensson (b 1948)
Iron, partially gilt
Height 8 cm, diameter 16 cm
nmk 15/1985
Gift from Föreningen Konsthantverkets Vänner
embroidery is made
of miniscule materials.
The pattern is drawn with
extremely small stitches, using thin, black
cotton thread on fine, white linen. Time was fundamental in the creation of this piece. Välimaa worked on it on
and off for a year. He emphasises that it was important not to feel
any pressure. The embroidery was allowed to grow at its own pace.
That is why he calls his process “luxury manufacturing”. The luxury
consists of the indulgence of allowing oneself to work on one single
object for so long. And, although his eyes were sore from focusing on the
minimal stitches, the labour itself was greatly enjoyable and satisfying.
Pasi Välimaa (b 1968)
Cotton, linen
Height 24 cm, width 24 cm
nmk 226/2001
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
This bowl is made of
a feather-like material,
inspired by the plumage
of the snow owl. By mixing
fibre glass in porcelain clay,
a technique Jane Reumert
developed herself, she can
extend the capacity of the
clay, making it extremely thin
and transparent, like a backlit
bird’s wing. Each element is
modelled by hand and shaped
into a bowl around a base.
Next, the exceedingly delicate
bowl is salt-glazed and fired at
a high temperature, 1,330
degrees centigrade, hanging
in a specially-designed frame.
The work can be read as a
poetic metaphor for nature’s
beauty, but also for the
fragility of nature and,
consequently, human
Bowl Snöuggla [Snow Owl]
Jane Reumert (b 1942)
Fibre porcelain, salt-glazed
Height 30 cm, diameter 23 cm
nmk 79/1996
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
This work was inspired by
several skeins of gold thread given
to Helen Dahlman by a colleague
with the instruction to make something beautiful. The golden thread
gradually morphed into the feet of a
bathtub and then into an entire
bathroom. The challenge was
to achieve a convincing plasticity in the textile. It all comes
down to how the threads
are placed, how they capture and reflect light. Small
warps, ridges and concavities
bring the embroidery to life.
And feint shifts in the dye
of the white cotton thread
adds further intensity. The
resulting expression is crucial to Dahlman, and she
does not hesitate to undo
several weeks of embroidery if the result is not
what she was aiming for.
Embroidery Sanitära möbler [Sanitary Furniture]
Helen Dahlman (b 1958)
Mouliné yarn, gold thread, synthetic organza, acrylic glass
Height 100 cm, width 180 cm
Private collection
Eva Hild caringly
models her ceramic shapes by
hand. Hild starts by building a bowl shape
from which the sculpture slowly evolves. The object
is shaped by coiling fine-grained stoneware clay around the
edges of the bowl. The clay is smoothed with a metal scraper
to make the surface seamless and even. It is mainly the relationship between inside and outside, and the tension arising between
them, that fascinates Hild. Here, the modelling of the clay visualises
an emotional mood. Bit by bit, shapes begin to develop, like conches,
bristle, bones or shells. Her work takes time and requires the utmost attention and patience. The process gives ample time for reflection.
Sculpure Keramiska former Nr 2 [Ceramic Shapes No 2]
Eva Hild (b 1966)
Height 60 cm, width 90 cm, depth 95 cm
nmk 49/2000
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
Shells and membranes as protection and limits have been a
recurring theme in Annika
Liljedahl’s textile sculptures.
She stretches fine Japanese silk
on black-painted steel wire
frames. The fabric is
carefully fastened with
pins, which also have a
decorative effect on the
object. Liljedahl then
paints them over
with a varnish that
makes the satin
transparent and
stiff like grease
paper. The title,
Dog Rose, links
the thin, delicate
slippers with
roses, which are
fragile and
exquisite but can
also cause pain
with their sharp
Sculpture Törnrosa [Dog Rose]
Annika Liljedahl (b 1946)
Steel wire, satin, pins, varnish
Height 16.5 cm, width 15 cm, depth 21 cm
nmk 85/2005
Purchased by the Boberg Foundation
Anna Atterling developed her unique silver technique
in 2000, while still a student at Konstfack – University
College of Arts, Crafts and Design. She begins by
shaping a 0.3 mm silver plate into a bowl. She then
draws a pattern of circles on the bowl. The
plate is punched with a chiselling hammer on both sides, turning the circles
into small bumps. As the bump is
formed, it changes the shape and
size of the surrounding bumps.
In this way, the process remains
dynamic. It is determined by
the visual impression and feeling. Atterling then files and saws
off the bumps to form holes in the
plate, before whitening the metal. Her
method is arduous and time-consuming.
The result is specifically characteristic in style.
Coronet In my Rose garden
Anna Atterling (b 1968)
Height 24 cm, diameter 22 cm
nmk 36/2011
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
There is a tacit law saying that books must never be cut or torn up, but
the quintessence of Cecilia Levy’s work is to emphasise the rarely acknowledged aesthetic value of old books. She transforms the pages of the books
into small slips of paper and meticulously shapes them into threedimensional objects. One by one, she glues the small pieces of paper
onto an upturned bowl. The coloured edges and printed text of the
book pages become decorative elements. The process is only
partially controllable; what the bowl will look like on the
inside emerges only when it is done, and then it is too
late to make changes or corrections.
Bowl Red
Cecilia Levy (b 1963)
Paper, glue
Height 11 cm, diameter 17 cm
nmk 19/2012
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
The body of the jug is forged in one
piece. The original material was a sheet
of silver 4 mm thick and the size of a dinner plate. With a hammer, the plate was
shaped into a jug. After a certain number of
hammer blows, the metal must be heated or
it will crack. Part of the silversmith’s tacit
knowledge is to know how far the material
can be stretched before it cracks. Silver is
worked with various hammers, starting
with heavy ones and proceeding to lighter
ones. The final forging of the outside is
performed with light taps repeated in
an even rhythm as the object is
slowly moved on the anvil. Sebastian Schildt says that the monotonous hammering in the
final phase has a wonderfully meditative quality.
Schildt makes 100 beats
per minute, which is
6 000 beats per hour.
It takes him between
70 and 100 hours
to complete a jug.
Sebastian Schildt (b 1964)
Height 27 cm, width 20 cm, diameter 11 cm
nmk 97/2001
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
The ephemeral beauty of nature
has inspired artists over the centuries.
Many have tried to capture it
in paintings, photos or other media,
but few have attempted to preserve it as literally as
the textile designer Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg.
For years,
she has not only picked but shredded flowers.
The petals have been dried
and then combined into patterns,
in a new, two-dimensional version of nature.
No two petals are exactly alike,
not even two petals from the same blossom.
The process is experimental.
Which petals will keep their colour,
and which ones fade when they dry?
When is the best time to pick each particular kind?
The lessons learned must be remembered
until next year’s harvest.
Lagerhem Ullberg says she is obsessed,
with creating exquisite patterns,
but also with exploring nature’s possibilities
and limitations in this convoluted
and slow process.
Pictures Herbarium
Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg (b 1955)
Dried and pressed petals, glue, panel
Height 50, 40 or 30 cm, width 50 cm, 40 or 30 cm
Private collection
The carpet motif is based on a photo
Malou Andersson took in Fruängen,
a Stockholm suburb, in November 2007.
The photo shows tracks in dirty snow and
slush, with a typical greyish-purple colour
scheme. This hand-knotted pile carpet was
Andersson’s graduation piece at the HV Skola –
the School of the Association of Friends of Textile Art
– in Stockholm. She dyed the wool herself in ten colours
on white, unbleached and grey wool, giving 30 different
shades of grey, blue, purple and pink. For even more nuances,
she intentionally refrained from stirring the pots while dying.
The carpet is knotted and woven in a loom. It consists of 35,555
knots divided in 225 rows, a work that took more than 200 hours
to complete.
Carpet Spår [Tracks]
Malou Andersson (b 1980)
Wool, linen
Height 150 cm, width 105 cm
nmk 40/2011
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
The art of
repetition has a peculiar fascination for Renata Francescon. She never
uses tools. With her bare hands, she thumbs
out thin, individually shaped porcelain rose
petals. The process is repetitive; one petal after
another is made. Combined into roses and stacked on
each other, they form a spatiality where the contrast
between the thin, fragile petals and the actual
weight of the porcelain sculpture creates a
tension. Her method is significant. Francescon’s fingers leave their imprint on
the clay, a physical trace of
her presence.
Sculpture Sub Rosa
Renata Francescon (b 1962)
Height 30 cm, diameter 48.5 cm
nmk 7/2005
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
Paper has been a central material in art ever since it was invented in
China more than 2,000 years ago. The oldest examples of psaligraphy
– the art of drawing with scissors – are from the 6th century A.D. Karen
Bit Vejle cuts pictures, patterns and
ornaments out of large sheets of
paper. The images appear in the
interaction between paper and
holes. The process requires careful
planning, precision and patience.
One failed cut, and the whole work
is ruined. Therefore, Bit Vejle plans
the order of her incisions before
starting. Preparations sometimes
take almost as long as the actual
cutting process.
Object Associations to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No 1 Op 8
Karen Bit Vejle (b 1958)
Paper, cut
Height 120 cm, width 510 cm
Private collection
When two apparently incompatible
expressions meet, tension can arise.
Hard, fired ceramic clay normally
has very little in common with
soft, draped textile. Karolina K
Eriksson has developed a technique for making stoneware in
textile moulds. The result has
a specific style transcending the
material, where the soft malleability of textile lends its character to the
stoneware. The method is complicated. Eriksson devotes a great deal of
time to sewing the elaborate moulds. These
are filled with stoneware clay that is left to
dry for weeks. The transfer to the kiln is precarious, since the objects are fragile and the
unfired parts easily break. In the kiln the textile
moulds are incinerated. A new mould has to be sewn
for each new object.
Light Bearer
Karolina K Eriksson (b 1970)
Moulded, glazed stoneware. Slumped glass.
Height 47 cm, width 33 cm, depth 15 cm
nmk 207/2011
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
Over the past two
decades, Suzy Strindberg has
embroidered exceedingly small pictures
of lush, green landscapes. Her stitches are minute. The material is very thin silk.
The scenes are created with thread according to a sketch, which she only refers
to sporadically. In some sections the thread is multi-layered, creating a
three-dimensional effect. The process is slow and painstaking.
Strindberg embroiders in periods, letting the work rest before resuming it.
She often undoes parts that she is not entirely satisfied with and starts over.
The process includes an element of meditation.
Suzy Strindberg (b 1938)
Silk, linen
Height 12 cm, width 10 cm
nmk 26/2012
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
With her life-long fascination for animals, Margit Brundin wants her animal sculptures to be imbued with life
and personality. Her process is complicated, involving
many different work stages. In order to achieve the
dynamics she is after, Brundin builds her hare in
solid clay. She emphasises the importance of
deferring to the material and permitting
oneself to be surprised by the result. When
the hare is finished, she divides it into
smaller sections and hollows them out,
to prevent them from cracking when
fired. After hollowing them out, she
reassembles them and paints the fur
with slick. She then stamps each separate hair into the surface with a
thin, pliable rubber tool. Each stamp
is a 1 cm strand of hair. The sculpture
is finally fired, glazed and fired again.
The entire production time for this
hare was two months, and the effective working time approximately
two weeks.
Sculpture Lepus 3
Margit Brundin (b 1981)
Stoneware, clay slip, glaze
Height 65 cm, width 85 cm, depth 21 cm
nmk 24/2012
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
Weaving a picture takes time.
The effective weaving rate for Annika
Ekdahl is one square metre per month.
The different colours in one and the same
weft has to be woven in separately around
the warp. The image is built slowly from
one end to the other. There is no way of
going back and making changes without
unravelling everything and starting
over again. A tapestry requires careful
planning and adhering to the original
idea throughout the process, perhaps
for several years. Yet, Ekdahl stresses
the need for an “x factor”. Something
random, that cannot be controlled.
For her, this factor can be the colours.
Dyeing only a few ounces of wool at a
time, knowing that the exact shade can
never be achieved a second time. The
challenge of mixing different colours as
the work proceeds. This adds a human
touch, a certain imperfection. Life.
Tapestry Road Movie (verdure): Visiting Mom
Annika Ekdahl (b 1955)
Wool, linen
Height 227 cm, width 297 cm
nmk 214/2011
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
Linking small metal rings to create a fabric has a
long tradition in warfare. Even the Romans used
chainmail. Steel is a material that is often related to
strength and power, but in the form of chainmail the
metal is soft and adaptable, like textile. With infinite
patience, Lotta Åström builds the shape of her necklaces.
Ring is linked to ring is linked to ring, with repetitive
conformity, but not without the occasional manifestation
of an unexpected logic. Åström compares the process with
mathematics. When the steel collar settles on the body, new
three-dimensional geometric patterns appear, changing with the
collar’s movements.
Necklace Ur Anor [From Lineage]
Lotta Åström (b 1968)
Thickness 0.5 cm, width 18 cm, length 46 cm
nmk 15/2010
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
This technique is called double ikat.
Ikat weaving has a long tradition
and comes from Asia. The yarn in
the warp and weft is dyed in several
stages and layers, with the desired
pattern in mind from the start.
Thus one and the same thread can
have several different shades. The
pattern is then created in the loom,
without ever cutting off the weft
yarn. In order to achieve the desired
pattern, the artist must plan the
process in detail before dying.
Tapestry Binary
Irene Agbaje (b 1953)
Height 212 cm, width 144 cm
nmk 170/1999
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
Objects from the past
inspire Kennet Williamsson,
he sees himself as a tool for shapes that
already exist. Archaic shapes, that are truly timeless,
since they have existed for generations, but are so anonymous that they are impossible to date. His aim is to recreate
them, by hand, and to achieve perfection. Not once, but again and
again and again. To find the quality of the manual – not mechanical –
repetition. Accompanied by the human factor, which prevents anything from
ever being repeated exactly. Williamsson is well aware of the challenge in the process and the transience of the material.
Terrine from the service Den utmärkta svenska servisen
[The Excellent Swedish Service]
Kennet Williamsson (b 1951)
Faience, glazed
Height 13 cm, diameter 21 cm
nmk 102/2000
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
Mafune Gonjo bases her work on materials,
be they glass, ceramics, metal or tape. It is the
specific characteristics of the material that inspires her creativity. The process always begins
in a detail, a fragment. Small pieces are puzzled
together meticulously into a whole. She drills several holes in irregularly-shaped bits of transparent
sheet glass and joins them with wire. Thus, the design
evolves from the small shard. Her artistic process is
characterised by minute repetitions that require persistence and patience. For Gonjo, repetition is a meditative
act that gives her a sense of security, safety and control.
Sculpture Beauty has a Thorn
Mafune Gonjo (b 1984)
Sheet glass, metal, hanger, gauze
Height 95 cm, width 50 cm, depth 24 cm
nmk 29/2011
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
The material is slips of paper
cut from an encyclopaedia
and a steel wire to hold the
pieces together. Like pearls,
Janna Syvänoja tenderly threads
slip after slip onto the wire. The
time aspect is central, this is a slow
and monotonous procedure. Each
slip is positioned with a minute shift
in relation to the previous one. In
design, it resembles turned wood, the
original substance of paper. With time,
the paper will go yellow, altering the
appearance of the necklace. The process
illustrates a modesty found in Syvänoja’s
oeuvre, where the works are as transient as
nature itself.
Janna Syvänoja (b 1960)
Paper, steel wire
Height 4 cm, diameter 27 cm
nmk 23/2005
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
The dark, monochrome parts of this tapestry are
separated by a stripe where the weft itself changes colour.
Eva Stephenson Möller uses a dyeing method that makes the yarn shift in colour.
The yarn for the weft is wound onto a frame of the same width as the tapestry will have.
It is then dipped slowly into the dye to achieve shifts from dark to pale shades of the same
colour. Both dying and weaving require careful planning and must be
carried out with exceptional precision to obtain the
intended result.
Tapestry Kura [Crouching]
Eva Stephenson Möller (b 1950)
Wool, linen
Height 175.5 cm, width 54.5 cm
nmk 106/2009
Gift from The Friends of the Nationalmuseum, Bengt Julin Fund
A Design-Historical
Speed is the form of ecstasy the technical revolution has bestowed on man.
Milan Kundera, Långsamheten [Slowness], 1995
Slow Art is about perspectives on the present and the future. Our understanding of the
phenomenon is helped by looking back in history and viewing Slow Art from a design
historical perspective.
A historian can see that radical changes in society have nearly always encountered
resistance. Novelties are accompanied by critics warning against the negative consequences, whether the novelty was the spinning Jennie in 1764, the NASA moon landing
in 1969, or the cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1996.1 However, since the “victors” of the
debate define and, eventually, evaluate the course of history, their critics often get an
unflattering portrayal. They are defined as introverted regressionists who are averse to
change and unable to “accept reality that exists”.2
However, in the face of a future with growing environmental problems and accelerating economic fluctuations, it could be valuable to study the past centuries from a somewhat
different perspective than that of historical progress, traditionally perpetuated by the
“victors”. Would we discover a different picture? One of the primordial driving forces of
humankind is, after all, our curiosity. Let us therefore approach this essay as a journey
through history, with a few stops on the way from early industrialism to our own time
and the Slow Art phenomenon. Our focus is on the field of design, which, in this context,
includes the object categories applied arts and design. Objects that have been closely linked
to factors such as production and consumption, but also to political visions and social
relations. It should be remembered that debates in the field of design only constitute a
small share of more general discussions on, say, commodity production, production conditions or workers’ health and safety, but the understanding of design issues increases when
they are analysed in a broader context.
art, craftsmanship and the machine
Histories of 20th century crafts and design often start with the Arts and Crafts Movement
that evolved in the UK in the second half of the 19th century, based on ideas that eventually
spread to other countries. As a historian, it is essential to be wary of unreflecting repetitions
of the accepted history of development. Therefore, we should look more closely at this.
Britain was a pioneer of industrial progress. In the mid-1700s, the poet John Dyer was
already writing in praise of technological progress in the growing textile industry.3 There
was great faith in technology, which would further and unite humanity. Eventually, more
critical voices were raised, not least when machinery was set against craftsmanship – technology against humanity. The negative impact of technological development on British
culture, art and traditions was also becoming a topic of debate.
One of the most adamant critics of this tendency in society was Augustus Welby
Northmore Pugin. In theory and in practice – Pugin was a writer, an architect and a
designer – he opposed the general tendency of the time, claiming that art and architecture
were no longer created according to a vision that considered humanity and society as a
whole. Instead, artists and architects borrowed and copied elements from various historic
periods, which resulted in superficial art, buildings and objects. The vision Pugin advocated was the 15th century Gothic style.4 Pugin died in 1852, but his vision that art and
architecture could create the foundations for a better life inspired both the British artists
of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Arts and Crafts Movement in the latter half
of the 1800s.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed by a group of young artists in 1848.5 The
name “Pre-Raphaelite” declared their opinion that contemporary art had gone astray. Art
was still governed by the aesthetic norms established by the early 16th century High
Renaissance master painter Raphael, and which had been cemented by the ensuing tradition maintained in the European art academies. Three and a half centuries later, the PreRaphaelites claimed that Raphael’s idealised painting had become a superficial style that
was copied in empty mannerisms without either pure sentiment or true inspiration. The
Pre-Raphaelites simply wanted to start from scratch. They wanted to go back to the time
before Raphael, pre Raphael. Artists could achieve this by abandoning prevailing norms
on composition, colour treatment, subject matter and the accepted notions of beauty. The
British art historian Elizabeth Prettejohn emphasises that the Brotherhood envisioned a
new approach to art.6
The Pre-Raphaelites’ views on art, design and architecture were moral rather than
aesthetic. According to this moral standpoint, faithfulness to the material and naturalism
were fundamental.7 Their conviction of the moral correctness of accurate depictions of
nature prompted a veritably manic meticulousness in the portrayal of details in their
paintings. Each separate lock of hair, each embroidered stitch and each blade of grass in a
field was painted with the utmost care.8 Their work was intricate and their paintings took
long to complete. This explains why there are so few Pre-Raphaelite works. From a contemporary perspective, one could say that the Pre-Raphaelites promoted an idea that
saw itself as morally superior to the striving that has come to predominate in Western
secular society – economic gain through time-efficient production. In this sense, the PreRaphaelite standpoint resembles that of the artists and craftspersons within Slow Art.
The Pre-Raphaelite artists attracted the writer and art critic John Ruskin, and the
writer and designer William Morris. In 1849, Ruskin published his book Seven Lamps of
Architecture in which he formulated his ideological approach to architecture, art and
design.9 Like Pugin, Ruskin called for moral convictions and a spiritual dimension, relating to something far more fundamentally human than the superficial style elements and
short-lived preferences of taste that he found in contemporary art, architecture and design.
Ruskin subscribed to Pugin’s opinion that such a spiritual and holistic approach to objects
and environments had existed in mediaeval Gothic art.
In the mediaeval workshop, the artist or designer and the artisan collaborated intimately, or were combined in one individual. In the mediaeval guild system, the workshops
were led by a master who worked with a few journeymen and apprentices, who also studied
under the master. The number of journeymen and apprentices was often regulated, limiting the number of objects the workshop could produce. The master vouched for the artistic
quality and craftsmanship of the objects; it was he or she who signed the object, even if it
had been produced by someone else at the workshop. The same system was applied in
studios that produced what we today would call works of art. The Flemish artist Peter Paul
Rubens (1577–1640) and the Swedish artist David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl (1628–1698) both
had assistants who executed parts of the works that bear the signature of these masters.
The originality of an artist, and the authenticity of the work of art, where each brush stroke
must be performed by the hand of the artist in person, did not exist as concepts in the
mediaeval world. The mediaeval workshop did not distinguish between what we would
now call artists/designers and craftspersons/artisans. Even the artist was a craftsperson.
His or her craft consisted of designing pictures, sculptures, objects and buildings and, with
the aid of others, to produce them.
The production of objects in the mediaeval workshop was thus the result of a close
collaboration between several people, where each had experience and knowledge about
the work process as a whole. This appeared to Ruskin to be more humane than 19th century industrial production, where each worker only performed one small task in the
production line under stressful conditions and in a deplorable work environment, without
any sense of involvement in the process.
William Morris, who was inspired by Ruskin’s ideas, founded Morris, Marshall,
Faulkner & Co in 1861, often referred to as The Firm. Manufacturing at this company was
modelled on the mediaeval workshop. The mission was twofold: to reintroduce craftsmanship and to reform art and its purpose in society by promoting the new, naturalistic ideals
of beauty to the public. This new beauty was, in fact, exceedingly political, with pronounced social ambitions. It was to be harnessed to fight squalor, ugliness and the social
injustices of the emerging industrial society. Morris claimed that the factories of the capitalists forced workers into monotonous, soul-destroying labour, robbing them not only
of the joy of working but also lowering their quality of life. By reviving the mediaeval
workshop and its artisanal production methods, workers would again experience the satisfaction of creating beautiful objects. Morris called for an “[…] art made by the people
and for the people, as a happiness for the maker and the user.”10
Let us dwell on the above quote. What does it actually imply? Art, or objects, manufactured for the happiness of the maker and the user. A process where the worker has
experienced both personal satisfaction and involvement. Naturally, it would be impossible
to ascertain to what extent the people working within the manufacturing industry over
the past century have derived a sense of happiness from the tasks they performed, or
whether they felt any involvement in the manufacturing of products. Personally, however,
I found assembling electrodes onto circuit boards for remote controls at Philips in the
Swedish city of Norrköping in the late 1980s rather depressing. The monotonous work
soon made my wrists and shoulders ache, and I cannot recall ever seeing a finished remote
control of the kind I helped to make. It is in the light of such experiences we should regard
the Arts and Crafts Movement, of which Morris was one of the trailblazers.
The advocates of the Arts and Crafts Movement were convinced that a society built
on industrial production lacked any deeper meaning for the people who had to live and
work in it. New technologies enabled the work process to be divided into simple tasks that
could be performed by unqualified, underpaid workers, often women and children. The
persons behind the Arts and Crafts Movement saw how machines led to privation and
poverty, how the slums were spreading in the cities and how the countryside was being
depopulated. Their involvement was based on social commitment with a purpose to
improve the lives of broad demographic groups.
Their ambition, they soon realised, was impossible to achieve. Both Ruskin and Morris therefore concluded their life projects deeply frustrated that their social commitment,
with craft-like production as its cornerstone, had mainly resulted in the manufacturing
of luxury objects for the upper class. This realisation eventually modified the Arts and
Crafts Movement’s attitudes to mechanical production. Perhaps, the new technologies
were not necessarily socially destructive, since industrial production, unlike the small
number of objects a craftsperson could make, meant that a larger portion of the population
could actually enjoy the mass-produced commodities.11
The fact that the advocates of the Arts and Crafts Movement were gradually forced
to tone down their own critique of industrial production, and consequently downgrade
the importance of craftsmanship in the work process, was an encouragement to the proponents of historical progress, the “victors” in design history. This appeared to justify
them in ridiculing the early critics of industrial production. Soon, their mockery was
enhanced with comical myths, for instance that the champions of the movement, in their
zealous resistance to contemporary technology, had delivered their hand-made goods by
horse and cart, riding alongside the railroad they hated so intensely.12
One of the first authors of a history of early modernist design was Nikolaus Pevsner.
In 1936, he criticised William Morris for only looking backwards – never ahead – in his
discussions on crafts and industry. In that way, Pevsner helped to cement the image of the
advocates of the Arts and Crafts Movement as backward-looking. This was augmented
by Pevsner’s sharp attack on Morris for not being able to present a viable vision of a future
society. Instead, Morris had despondently wished for a “barbarism”, that could tumble
the present society so that it could start from the beginning.13 Pevsner’s interpretation of
this destructive view of the future was, consequently, that the only way to achieve a society
where production was based on crafts, was to revert to mediaeval conditions in every way,
a regression that was hardly possible, nor desirable to most people.14
Let us nevertheless explore the ideologies of the “losers”. Of course, they failed capitally. Despite their social ambitions, they had primarily made luxury objects for the
wealthy. Nor had they managed to formulate a plausible vision of a future society based
on artisanal manufacturing. Nevertheless, there are other elements that are worth highlighting and discussing, elements that have been considerably played down by industrialism and its focus on mass production and mass consumerism. The British design historian
Gillian Naylor emphasises that the Arts and Crafts Movement was not primarily con-
cerned with the appearance and quality of the end product, but the society that shaped it,
the persons who had designed it, the workers who made it, and those who consumed it.15
I would like to expand on Naylor’s analysis by claiming that the core of the Arts and Crafts
Movement’s social vision was the quality of life that citizens could achieve through their
work. In this respect, their views on labour and quality of life differ radically from those
of the “victors” – the advocates of industrial production.
For when the design world eventually accepted the machines and saw the positive
potential in industrial mass production, the focus of the issue of what creates quality of
life began to shift. Instead of seeking to achieve happiness through labour, workers had
to find satisfaction in consumption. Thus, frustration and dissatisfaction created by heavy,
monotonous and mentally tiring tasks, had to be accepted and dulled with the consumption of goods and services after the end of the working day – a view, I would claim, that
permeates our contemporary society to a high degree.
Admittedly, many organisations and political parties have been committed to the
workers’ situation throughout the 20th century, mobilising for better work environment,
co-determination, regulated working hours, sickness benefits and holidays. However, the
notion that the individual worker should be entitled to job satisfaction has hardly informed
the collective bargaining in recent years, while the unions’ and politicians’ demands for
higher wages – to enable increased consumption after work – have been as cyclically recurrent as the seasons. But how often do we speak of the individual’s entitlement to feel satisfaction from their work? Did anyone ever demand job satisfaction? That is, factors such
as those that are the strong driving forces for artists and craftspersons within Slow Art.
One of the crucial criteria for true job satisfaction, according to Morris, was that the
worker had the possibility to make beautiful objects. In 1889, he had already noted that
utility objects throughout history had always been decorated as artfully as possible, even
though these decoration served no practical purpose. Why had ancient potters and feudal
peasant wives devoted time, resources and energy to this element that was entirely unnecessary for survival. The answer was twofold, according to Morris: “to add beauty to the
results of the work of man, which would otherwise be ugly”, and “to add pleasure to the
work itself, which would otherwise be painful and disgustful”.16 The purpose of art was
thus to make work, and ultimately life, not just bearable but a source of pleasure. This
attitude is shared by those who are engaged in what is called Slow Art.
Morris himself felt that he was living in a time that lacked both beauty and pleasure.
His society was developing without any conscious striving for aesthetic quality in the
design of everyday objects. A world, in other words, that was filled with base, ugly, pointless goods produced by under-stimulated, frustrated workers under bad working condi-
tions. Without the essential realisation of mankind’s need for aesthetic values and experiences, Morris predicted “the intellectual death of the human race.”17 This would happen
when the market was inundated with mass-produced goods, fashioned without care by
“a miserable set of helots for the benefit of a few lofty intellects […]”.18 This text was delivered more than a century ago but continues to be distinctly poignant. For do not we in the
West live in a society overflowing with products manufactured under what are sometimes
deplorable conditions by people in low-income countries on the other side of the planet?19
the cultural value of the object – a matter of style
The Arts and Crafts Movement had, in effect, failed to spread its art manifested in the
form of hand-crafted objects, to a wider group of consumers. In the ensuing Western
design debate, this became one of the essential goals, that is, to raise the material standard
of living for people of small resources and low incomes. The means was industrial technology. Mass production could lower the price of goods and increase their availability.
The squalor and poverty that the Arts and Crafts Movement claimed was caused by the
emerging industrialism, could, in fact, be remedied by industrial technology. Thus, the
aim was still to improve the quality of life for the general population. However, in this
context, crafts techniques in general, and applied arts specifically, came to be defined as
unworldly, reactionary and even disloyal activities, since they usually resulted in a small
number of exclusive items for the upper class or a wealthy middle class.20
One of the problems for the advocates of mass production was that the industrialists
were considered to lack aesthetic vision, since their interests were assumed to rest on the
ambition to make fast profits. In the years around the turn of the 19th–20th century, serious concern arose among certain groups – architects, artists, designers, writers, intellectuals – that society would be flooded with goods of inferior aesthetic quality. Products that
were ugly, that made the world ugly and the people miserable.21
Against this backdrop, I would claim that ever since the Arts and Crafts Movement
had foundered, discussions on design and how it could contribute to a positive social
change, have primarily centred on style, or on aesthetic standpoints. Style is a concept that
has gained rather negative connotations in recent decades, in the history of both design
and art.22 It seems to imply that design relates to something superficial, a manner, a surface
or an appearance.
Even Pugin in the mid-1800s had developed a critique of style, but the focus on style
in the debate on design did not really gain momentum until the 1890s. In 1892, the
American architect Louis Sullivan published the essay Ornament in Architecture, in which
he, like many of his contemporaries, criticised stylistic elements and decorative ornaments
while claiming that the true beauty of a building lay in its nude construction.23 A few years
later, the Dutch architect Henri van de Velde praised the beauty of the machine, and
elevated the engineer as the architect of the modern era.24 In 1895, the Austrian architect
and designer Otto Wagner formulated yet another parameter for design – namely that
beauty depends on function.25 Moreover, around 1900, the Austrian architect Adolf Loos
insisted that the use of ornament and decoration was a false attempt to create beauty. Loos
advocated the importance of separating art from design. Only then could utility items be
designed rationally, with their practical purpose – not the artist’s individual creativity – as
their primary goal. In 1908, Loos formulated these ideas in his book Ornament and Crime.26
Thus, these early critics of ornament, the pioneers of modernism, wanted to liberate
design and architecture from the ornamentation of style history. They wanted to peel away
ornamentation for the benefit of a genuine design based on the underlying structure and
the beauty of volumes. Eventually, this new, modern, terse, undecorated design was presented as being so true that it was independent of any particular style and, in effect, not a
style as such. The argument in support of this was in line with the modernists’ strong
commitment to improving society. Recent research has concluded, however, that modernism is obviously a style, just as the Gothic or the Baroque were styles.27
One of the first to define the fundamental concepts of modernism was the German
architect and writer Hermann Muthesius, who gave the name Sachlichkeit – objectivity – to
the new, machine-inspired, unornamented style. Muthesius had no qualms with regard
to the positive potential of industrial technology; this was a natural part of the new era.
Instead of admiring old churches and palaces, he took his inspiration from railway stations,
bridges, exhibition halls and steamboats.
Muthesius criticised the German manufacturers for making objects that were banal
copies of designs and styles of the past. His criticism prompted a group of 24 artists, architects, writers and companies to form the Deutscher Werkbund in Munich in 1907, with
the intention of improving the aesthetic quality of industrially manufactured products.28
This was to be achieved through collaborations between manufacturers and architects,
artists and designers, resulting in an objective style based on the rationality of machines
and technology. The materials were to be modern, and the main rationale was the practical
purpose of the building or object. Thanks to industrial mass production and affordable
prices, these goods could be enjoyed by the lower classes of society, facilitating everyday
life; an ambition the Arts and Crafts Movement had failed to live up to.
The German art historian Frederic J. Schwartz stresses the broader context for the
Deutscher Werkbund’s striving to improve the quality of industrially manufactured
goods.29 Germany was the country that had seen the most rapid and radical change in
Europe around 1900. Factories were being built at a furious pace and the towns and cities
were growing, along with the proletariat and the wealthy bourgeoisie. The conflicting
interests of the social classes soon became obvious. Schwartz has emphasised that this
conflict was defined according to two theoretical standpoints. One was based on an analysis of labour, as pioneered by Karl Marx, who argued that the problem lay in the unjust
ownership of the means of production. The other standpoint concerned the “cultural
crisis” of the commodities.30 It was the latter of these two theories that engaged the members of the Deutscher Werkbund.
This cultural crisis , they claimed, was caused by the fact that industrial production
had alienated people, as anticipated by the Arts and Crafts Movement. Now, in the early
20th century, machines had been allowed to dominate social development. One reason
for this was that leading industrialists had been blinded by the lure of fast profits and had
forgotten the objective to serve society and its people by manufacturing high-quality
products.31 The solution, however, was not to revert to Morris’ “barbarism” and mediaeval
hand-crafting. Instead, the commodities should be “culturally” based. In this way, the
cultural crisis could be kept at bay, even if it could not be entirely resolved.32 The industrial
commodity attained cultural value if it was designed by artists or designers.
The Deutscher Werkbund inspired several design organisations in Europe, including
the Swedish crafts society – Svenska Slöjdföreningen – which started an agency in 1914 to
facilitate contacts between artists, designers and the industry.33 In the UK, Austria and
Switzerland, organisations were also modelled on the Werkbund, all with a favourable
approach to industrial technology.
By 1911, however, an ideological polarisation had begun to emerge within the
Deutscher Werkbund. The issue was fundamentally of an aesthetic nature. The difference
was between those who, like Hermann Muthesius, desired an increased standardisation
of design in the service of the machine and society, and those who, like Henry van de
Velde, wanted to protect individual artistic creativity.34
Industrial mass production was also central to the German art and the Bauhaus
school, founded in 1919, when the art college and the crafts college in the city of Weimar
were merged. The head of the school, architect Walter Gropius, had a vision that rested
on three pillars: crafts skills, industrial production and the concept of the total work of
art, das Gesamtkunstwerk. Craftsmanship was, according to Gropius, the basis of all creation.35 At Bauhaus, however, the focus on the importance of craftsmanship was not accompanied by animosity against machine manufacturing as in the Arts and Crafts Movement.
On the contrary, rational mass production was encouraged. Crafts skills, along with the
school’s ambitious theories on colour and design, were regarded as the foundation on
which architects, artists and designers could develop a style that was congenial with the
machine era and contemporary production requirements.36 The goal was the total work
of art, the Gesamtkunstwerk, where every part contributed to the whole. This vision was
embraced by the concept of a house of construction – Bau Haus. The Gesamtkunstwerk was
to comprise the entire individual and all of society. Thus, there were parallels with the
mindsets of Pugin and Ruskin, although these forerunners claimed to have found this
total art in the mediaeval Gothic style and not in the evolving industrialism.
At the inauguration of Bauhaus’ first student exhibition in 1923, Gropius held a lecture, “Art and Technology – A New Unity”, in which he posited that designers must adapt
to economically viable mass production, if their products were to be available to broader
consumer groups.37 Like Muthesius, Gropius put greater stock in rational, standardised
forms of mass production than in individual aesthetic expression, that is, artistic creativity
primarily in the service of mass production.
Standardisation was also a vital issue to the Swedish architect and designer Uno
Åhrén. After visiting the international Paris Expo in 1925, where he himself exhibited an
award-winning interior for a women’s parlour in a Swedish Art Deco style, Åhrén maintained that artists and designers must harness their creativity in order to create buildings
and objects that served society.38 This idea was hardly new in Sweden, where Gregor Paulsson’s publication Vackrare vardagsvara (Better Things for Everyday Life) from 1919 had
promoted a vision for industrial mass production with distinct social ambitions. Paulsson
advised artists and designers to develop products with a design that was equally appropriate for everyday use and special occasions, and which were affordable to all social groups
thanks to industrial mass production.39
In the USA during the 1930s depression, the close link between design and style was
especially poignant in the new field of industrial design. To counteract the decline in
demand for new products, artists and designers were commissioned to design new, trendy
and attractive casings for old technology. This phenomenon was called styling or redesign.40
The cultural value that the Deutscher Werkbund’s pioneers had sought through professional design of industrially produced commodities was being reduced to a symbol of the
consumers’ social prestige, a fact that was further enhanced by advertising and the media.
As mentioned above, the change concerned differences in the notion of what constituted
quality of life, but also, as we shall soon see, the relationship between consumption and
ethics. The objects in Slow Art offer new perspectives on this relationship.
the triumph of emptyness
Not only did the development and establishment of industrial technology lead to a separation between hand-crafting and machine-production, but it also radically changed the ideas
on what constituted quality of life. The representatives of the Arts and Crafts Movement
had argued that quality of life developed symbiotically with meaningful work. For proponents of industrialism it was necessary to play down this connection and instead focus
increasingly on equating quality of life with consumption of goods and services at the end
of the working day. In this way, poverty and squalor were to be avoided. Naturally, the
products and services produced by industries and companies en masse needed to be consumed by the citizens, or else the wheels would grind to a halt resulting in a recession, with
unemployment, class war and social turbulence. Hence, ceaseless economic growth became
the brightest guiding principle in Western politics throughout the 20th century.
One strategy for safeguarding economic growth has been to make products and services desirable. The consumer is expected to feel desire for the product if it is imbued with
the cultural values the Deutscher Werkbund had promoted. These values, of a symbolic,
immaterial or imaginary nature, are created to a high extent by design and advertising.41
Perhaps it has now got to the point where the product itself is of less interest to both producers and consumers? Mats Alvesson, a Swedish psychologist and professor of business
economics, fears that this is the case:
We are no longer concerned with production of commodities and services but
with ‘value-adding processes’.42
In his book Tomhetens triumf [The Triumph of Emptyness, 2006], Alvesson writes that
consumption in a welfare state such as Sweden depends largely on “mimetic rivalry”. In
essence, the individual desires what others want, i.e., commodities and services that are
attractive to the people or social group they themselves identify with. A person who owns
a bicycle in a village where no one else has a vehicle probably feels wealthy. But if everyone
else in the village has a car, the cyclist feels poor. This very fact – that the individual’s sense
of satisfaction is related to his or her surroundings – is a fundamental problem in contemporary Western consumer society, according to Alvesson.43 This is what makes us constantly dissatisfied, no matter how much we consume.
Looking back, history reveals that the economy rocketed during the development of
industrialism. The Swedish economist Lennart Schön has calculated that consumption in
Sweden has multiplied several times over since 1800.44 And throughout the 20th century,
consumption has doubled every 35 years. This means that every new generation during the
past century has had twice the living standard of their parents and four times as high as their
grandparents.45 Against this background, Mats Alvesson makes the following reflection:
One could perhaps expect that this strong growth in consumption would
also a critique of consumerism. In other words, it is not just about how the objects around
us are made – slowly and by hand, or fast and by machine – but also how they are consumed
in a particular economic system. And the way I read 20th century design history, a significant part of the explanation to how we could end up here is found in the changed attitude
to the relationship between morality and consumption.
lead to a strong sense of satisfaction and that the need and desire for material
objects would be fulfilled, or even over-filled. […] In the past, it was commonly
assumed that economic growth would eventually mean that most people
moralising morality
would be contented with their material standard of living and pay more
attention to spiritual and cultural development. Many expected that life would
be peaceful and harmonious, with more time for art, literature, outdoor
recreation, socialising and contemplation.46
Today, in 2012, few would claim that life in Western welfare societies is characterised by
living in harmony with nature. Instead, many people feel that they are living in disharmony and discontent, according to the mimetic rivalry. In the Swedish radio programme
Vinter i P1 in 2011, the linguist Fredrik Lindström predicted that future generations would
regard the present generation as “growth-worshippers”, living according to a “commercial
religion where one of the holy sacraments is to spend money”.47
The question presents itself: how did we end up here? In a world where the production
of goods and services, and the way they are designed, is less and less geared towards facilitating everyday life and creating the potential for a life with room for reflection, a life of
the kind that the craftspersons and artists in Slow Art strive for in their work. Instead, the
design world in general is increasingly instrumental in creating the immaterial values that
imbue brands with appeal and arouse the consumer’s desire for the product. A world where
design has gradually come to be all about style, surface and appearance.
I must stress, however, that this is not the “fault” of the designers! They are just as
trapped in economic growth as everyone else who wants higher incomes and more consumption. An entrapment that the Slow Art phenomenon has attempted, at least partially,
to escape from by operating on the fringes of the economic system. The artists and craftspersons in Slow Art could have used their creative skills to serve society. They could have
contributed actively to increase the GDP if they had worked on adding immaterial value
to brands and products. Instead, they have chosen to devote their artistic creativity, for
long periods and with the utmost care, to producing a small number of works that, in the
event that they were sold, would hardly influence economic growth noticeably. Therefore,
the phenomenon of Slow Art can be interpreted not merely as a critique of production, but
The concept of morality relates to ideas of right and wrong, good and evil. Until the mid1900s, it was more or less unproblematic to make ethical distinctions in the field of design.
The important thing was to explain to others – consumers, producers, designers, architects, builders, decision-makers – what was good and what was bad. It was good for everyone to have sanitary living conditions. It was good for children to be allowed to dwell
in all the rooms. It was good that people of small means did not buy things on instalment
plans, binding up their future income. Industrial mass production was good, since it meant
that more people could consume more affordable products. The intentions of consumption
were good, in other words: higher living standards – especially for the less well off.
One way of looking closer at this changing approach to consumption is to study Lena
Larsson’s article “Köp-slit-släng, några funderingar kring ett slitstarkt ämne” (Buy-WearThrow Away, some thoughts on a long-lasting subject, 1960).48 In this essay, Larsson, who
was a Swedish interior designer, promotes a new approach to quality, where neither practicality nor durability are the basic criteria. The new notion of quality was to harmonise
with contemporary industrialism, where quality – and quality of life – were synonymous
with freedom and variety. The freedom to buy, wear, throw away and buy something new.
For whereas things in the past had lasted longer than the human body, the more short-lived
goods were respectful to humans. In this way, Larsson insisted, consumerism in itself
entailed a new concept of quality. Buying was a right that generated human dignity.
Let us examine this notion more closely, that buying a product or service can be
defined as a right, an act that creates human dignity. Perhaps, some form of dignity is what
we are searching for when we consume? A form of recognition that we are human. That we
belong to the species that stands above all others, not least due to our ability to produce
things and tools, with the purpose of simplifying and improving everyday life. In 1987,
the American artist Barbara Kruger captured the existential dimension of consumerism
for contemporary man in her sociocritical statement: “I shop therefore I am”.49
Lena Larsson would hardly have agreed, however that shopping was the meaning of
life. Instead, her argument should be interpreted as a defence of the potential of consumption as a human right, against the prevailing moralising over the individual’s choices and
actions, a moralising that Swedish design history has termed aesthetic education or education of taste, and which endeavoured, basically, to induce industry to make products of
high functional and aesthetic quality, i.e. products imbued with cultural values, and
encourage citizens to consume these products.50
The zeal of these taste educators rested on the moral conviction of the importance of
beauty and aesthetic values that comprise the entire society and all its citizens. There were
parallels here, in other words, with Ruskin’s and Morris’ socially rooted belief that architecture and design of high aesthetic quality could contribute to creating a better society
and help people in their striving for quality of life. One obstacle, however, was that many
consumers were driven by mimetic rivalry, a problem that had been acknowledged in 1931:
The final and most common category comprises the bulk of household goods
that, forced on us by industrialism, are bought because they are cheap or to
upstage Mrs. Andersson. […] As it constitutes nine-tenths of the market, at the
moment most homes are pretentious and vulgar. It is against household goods
of this kind that our struggle is mainly directed.51
Through ethically responsible consumption, the taste educators intended to teach people
to choose products that filled their genuine individual needs.52 The vulgar consumption
described in the above quote was attributed to the consumers’ lack of education. Therefore,
several organisations and associations ran ambitious educational programmes in the first
half of the 1900s. One of these was Svenska Slöjdföreningen, founded in 1845. As mentioned above, this organisation was inspired by the Deutscher Werkbund and had been
campaigning since 1914 for industry to commission artists, architects and designers in
their product development, in order to raise the cultural – or immaterial – value of commodities. One person who actively informed the public of which products had the “right”
cultural or aesthetic value was, actually, Lena Larsson. In articles, books and courses
throughout the 1940s and 1950s, she explained the difference between good and bad
taste.53 In the early 1960s “buy-wear-throw out” debate, however, she revealed a much
more liberal attitude to private consumption.
Larsson’s change of heart with regard to consumer education was related to the Swedish
economic boom after the Second World War. As people had more money to spend, it became
harder to justify moralising attitudes to their consumption and lifestyle. If someone could
afford to indulge in a few luxuries and wanted to show them off to their friends, that was
their own business. Thus, Larsson no longer aimed her criticism at uneducated consumers,
but at the moralising guardians of good taste! It is in this light her description of consumption as a human right should be read – it was fundamentally about the individual’s right to
make free choices, a right that would be hard to deny in Western democratic society.
Half a century later, we note that ever since consumerism was discussed in the 1960s,
the idea of trying to influence the lifestyles and shopping habits of others has been problematic in Swedish design debate. After all, everyone knows best what they want or like.
Arguments based on moral considerations, such as the importance of reducing our own
consumption to save natural resources for future generations, are still raised, of course.
But how many of us can say that we have changed our lifestyle more radically than to
switch to low-energy light bulbs and organic milk?
An interesting parallel is that since consumption became a private concern, morality
has also become increasingly private. In 2008, the American sociologist Christian Smith
conducted in-depth interviews with 230 American teenagers. He discovered that many of
them considered ethical standpoints to be a personal matter that had nothing to do with
duty to one’s fellow humans or society.54
This privatisation of ethics has also meant that it is harder to present ethical standpoints in debates on design today, since morally-based arguments concerning production
and consumption can be equated with the now almost taboo notion of good taste. The
reason would appear to be that morality is often confused with moralising, in our
“growth–democratic–freedom of choice–rational–individualist” era.55
For freedom is the virtue that is extolled in postmodern Western society. Freedom of
the individual is increasingly often given priority over the morality of the collective. The
freedom of secular society is preferred to a conscience governed by religious dictates. But
freedom separated from morality comes at a price. Criticism against environmentally
hazardous production and poor working conditions has occurred regularly in debates over
the past decades. Back in 1962, the American writer Rachel Carson claimed that the birds
had gone silent due to the use of toxic substances.56 And in 2012, we know that affordable
prices in the West come at the expense of people in other parts of the world working and
living in conditions we would find unacceptable. Often, however, we are blinded by the
dazzling display of everything we want to buy, do and experience in our short lives on
earth. And the market itself is immoral.
The scanty relationship between consumption and morality becomes clear when we
apply a more long-term perspective on our consumption. To start “planting oak trees”,
like Gustav Vasa, with a perspective on humanity that stretches many centuries into the
future is probably far from the top of most people’s list of priorities. To fell oaks that are
several hundred years old for our current use is more in line with the short-term thinking
that often characterises our current existence.
1 The Spinning Jennie was the spinning machine invented
the counterforce of crafts
Like the Arts and Crafts Movement, Slow Art can be seen as a phenomenon on the fringes
of industrial society. As we have noted above, crafts and slow processes have not enjoyed a
high status in our growth-oriented economic system. On the contrary, those who advocate
the importance of crafts have often been dismissed as singular romantics. Those who claim
that quality of life could perhaps be founded on other than material values, have found it
hard to make their voices heard. Perhaps now, however, the time is ripe for a change of perspective? It is hardly a coincidence that, alongside the Slow Movement, there is more talk of
mindfulness, relaxing on acupressure mats, and perhaps having a shopping-free day.57
And, if we for a moment take off our freedom-idolising, morality-criticising glasses,
we might, like Ruskin and Morris, even see that there is an ethical aspect to work itself.
In 1958, the German-American philosopher Hannah Arendt introduced a hierarchical
distinction between homo faber and animal laborans. Homo faber refers to man’s exclusive
ability to create meaningful, lasting objects by hand. Animal laborans is characterised by
never-ending manual labour, necessary to the survival of the species, labour that begins
over again as soon as it ends (like an animal’s hunt for food, or human household chores).
Animal laborans can be interpreted as industrialised man, who does not experience labour
to be meaningful in itself, and thus measures and values time in monetary terms, according to the adage that ‘time is money’.58
The artists and craftspersons in Slow Art work mainly as homo faber. Their most important tools are their hands, and the results of their endeavours are long-lasting and durable.
They value quality over quantity, slowness over transience. Their ideas and visions are
materialised in their works, by processing the materials with care and sensitivity, based
on the tacit knowledge of their hands. All these objects signal time. Behind their existence
lies slow, often meticulous and sometimes physically painful manufacturing methods.
One vital aspect characterising Slow Art is its exclusiveness. The rare circumstance
nowadays of taking one’s time to work slowly, but also the realisation that these few objects
are unlikely to reach any broader group of consumers. And yet, the very exclusiveness that
emanates from these objects demonstrates a moral stand – against mass production and
mass consumption. That is why Slow Art constitutes a counterforce to our lifestyle and
offers a perspective on our existence.
by James Hargreaves in 1764. The development of the
machine provoked protests from hand-spinners , since
it threatened their livelihood. Some even stormed
Hargreaves’ home and destroyed the Spinning Jenny. On
20 July, 1969, NASA put a man on the moon for the first
time, and as Neil Armstrong took his first steps on its
surface, he uttered the words, “That’s one small step for
man, one giant leap for mankind.” Dolly the sheep was
the first mammal to be cloned from the cell of a grown
sheep. Dolly was born on 5 July, 1996, in Scotland.
Gunnar Asplund, Wolter Gahn, Sven Markelius, Eskil
Sundahl, Uno Åhrén and Gregor Paulsson, acceptera
(Stockholm 1931/1980), 198. English translation:
Modern Swedish Design, Three Founding Texts, eds Lucy
Creagh, Helena Kåberg and Barbara Miller Lane,
MoMA (New York 2008), 338.
John Dyer wrote the poem “The Fleece” in 1757: “[…]
Beneath the chisel, beauteous shapes assume, Of frieze
and column. Some, with even line, New streets are
marking in the neighb’ring fields, And sacred domes of
worship. Industry, which dignifies the artist, lifts the
swain, And the straw cottage to a palace turns […]”
Gillian Naylor, The Arts and Crafts Movement (London
1971/1980), 11.
C.f. Julian Treuherz, “The Pre-Raphaelites and the
Decorative Arts”, The Pre-Raphaelites, ed Mikael
Ahlund, Nationalmuseum 657 (Stockholm
2009), 119. In 20th century design histories, Pugin’s
critique against his contemporary eclecticism was the
“victor”. The losers were those who claimed that style
mixing was both innovative and modern. In their view,
eclecticism proved that development had reached its
climax. Society had, consequently, developed to a level
where the aesthetic legacy from older times was so rich
and varied that artists and architects were truly modern
and creative when they combined designs and styles
from different historic periods. Mikael Ahlund highlights the Swedish writer Hjalmar Bergman’s fictional
character, the architect Grundström in Farmor och vår
herre (1921). In the novel, Grundström explains that the
modern style is supreme, since it chooses freely from
the previous styles in history. Mikael Ahlund, “Sinan
och Suleyman-moskén i Istanbul – om problem vid tolkandet av islamisk arkitektur”, Valör 5/1992, 34. This view
enjoyed very little support among 20th century modernists, however. C.f. Förfärligt Härligt, ed Helena Kåberg,
Narionalmuseum exh. cat. 651 (Stockholm 2007).
The leading artists were Dante Gabriel Rosetti, William
Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, but the original mmbers of the Brother hood also included James
Collinson, Fredric George Stephens, Thomas Woolner
and William Michael Rossetti.
“To be ‘Pre-Raphaelite’, then, might imply something
more precise than a generalised opposition to outmoded academic tradition; it might signify the rejection
of beauty as the central aim for art.” Elizabeth Prettejohn,
“Pre-Raphaelite Beauty”, The Pre-Raphaelites, ed Mikael
Ahlund, Nationalmuseum 657 (Stockholm
2009), 53.
7 The Brotherhood’s representation of people gives the
impression that they actually looked like they did in
the pictures, without idealised or beautified features.
In landscapes and townscapes, they aimed to depict
reality as they perceived it, without beautifying it in
harmonious compositions. This does not mean that the
people or landscapes portrayed by the Pre-Raphaelites
were supposed to be ugly, but that their appearance did
not always match the prevailing idealised norm. The
result was that the notion of beauty was eventually
expanded in British art, design and architecture.
8 In his book Modern Painters (1843) Ruskin advises artists to “go to Nature in all singleness of heart, and walk
with her laboriously and trustingly, having no other
thoughts but how best to penetrate her meaning, and
remember her instructions; rejecting nothing, selecting
nothing, and scorning nothing […]”. Christopher
Newall, “Truth to Nature: John Ruskin and the PreRaphaelite Landscape”, The Pre-Raphaelites, ed Mikael
Ahlund, Nationalmuseum exh. cat. 657 (Stockholm
2009), 93.
9 Ruskin defined seven ‘lamps’ of architecture, art and
decorative arts. These were: Sacrifice – dedication of
man’s craft to God, as visible proof of man’s love and
obedience, Truth – truth to materials and honest display
of construction, Power – the design of buildings should
be thought in terms of their massing and reach towards
the sublimity of nature, Beauty – aspiration towards
God expressed in ornamentation drawn from nature,
his creation, Life – where the joy of masons and stonecarvers is associated with the expressive freedom given
them, Memory – buildings should respect the culture
from which they have developed, Obedience – no originality for its own sake, in favour of the Gothic style.
The sublime, to Ruskin, represented beauty, power and
space. John Ruskin, Seven lamps of Architecture (Kent
1880/New York 1989).
10 Prettejohn (2009), 60. The quote was originally published in William Morris, “The Beauty of Life” (1880)
and later in Hopes and Fears for Art & Signs of Change
(Bristol 1994), 76.
11 Naylor (1971/1980), 8–9.
12 According to Gillian Naylor, László Moholy-Nagy was
the originator of this particular myth. ibid., 9–10.
13 Morris desired: “[…] to think of barbarism once more
flooding the world […] that it may once again become
beautiful and dramatic withal.” Nikolaus Pevsner,
Pioneers of Modern Design. From William Morris to Walter
Gropius (Harmondsworth 1936/1960), 24.
14 “Pleading for handicraft alone means pleading for conditions of mediaeval primitiveness, and first of all for
the destruction of all the devices of civilization which
were introduced during the Renaissance.” ibid., 24.
15 “The Arts and Crafts movement was inspired by a crisis of conscience. Its motivations were social and moral,
and its aesthetic values derived from the conviction that
society produces the art and architecture it deserves.
[…] Their concern, therefore, was not focused exclusively on end-products but on the society that shaped
them, the men who designed and made them and on
the people who bought them.” Naylor (1971/1980), 7.
16 William Morris, “The Arts and Crafts of To-day”, The
Theory of Decorative Art. An Anthology of European &
American Writings 1750–1940, ed. Isabelle Frank (New
Haven, London 2000), 61.
17 ibid., 62.
18 ibid., 62.
19 According to UNICEF it is not unusual that children,
often no older than four, are forced to work for many
hours a day. In
20 Robach (2010), 317 ff.
21 One of the pioneers who championed the need for
aesthetic education in Sweden was the Swedish writer
Ellen Key. In 1897, she claimed that beauty is characterised by truth and utility. By truth she meant that the
design of an object should be congenial with the material out of which it was made. By utility she referred to
the practical usefulness of the object. Things that were
merely attractive could never be beautiful. The purpose
should not be obscured by unnecessary decoration.
“Good taste” was equated with simplicity, and “bad
taste” was characterised by its false gaudiness. Ellen Key,
“Skönhet i hemmen. Små utläggningar af Ehrensvärds
text”, Idun 10/1897. This article was also published in a
revised version a few years later. Ellen Key, Skönhet för
alla. Fyra uppsatser, (Stockholm 1899). English translation: Modern Swedish Design, Three Founding Texts, eds
Lucy Creagh, Helena Kåberg and Barbara Miller Lane,
MoMA (New York 2008). In 2006, Claudia Lindén
pointed out just how radical Key’s ideas were. Lindén
interpreted Key’s vision of the home as a setting for the
relationship between man and woman, their respective
economic and political independences, the children’s
upbringing and education. “What is ultimately at stake
for Key is not primarily the edification of the working
class, but what kind of modernity is to prevail.”
Claudia Lindén, “Förord”, Ellen Key, Skönhet för alla,
Moderniserad och tolkad av Hedda Jansson (Ödeshög
2006), 9. (Quote translated by Gabriella Berggren).
22 Research into the history of style has been criticised for
excluding objects that could have complicated the perception of a distinct, distilled style. Rudolf Zeitler has
emphasised that the problem originates in the confused
linking of art history’s style analysis with Darwinist
evolutionary concepts, where simpler designs were
regarded as preliminary stages for greater refinement,
and materials could thus be arranged both chronologically and hierarchically. This view was abandoned to a
large extent in the 1900s, largely due to the introduction
of sociological and psychological perspectives on art
history. Rudolf Zeitler, “Om stilforskningen i konsthistorien: Särskilt om utvecklingstankens inflytande på
stilteorierna”, Om stilforskning. Föredrag och diskussionsinlägg vid Vitterhetsakademiens symposium 16–18 november
1982 (Stockholm 1983). Susann Vihma has later given
the style concept a broader and more positive definition:
“Style represents more than the sum of its recognisable
concrete details.” It represents “[…] in a broader sense,
people’s lifestyle in the culture and the society where it
arises.” Susann Vihma, Designhistoria – en introduktion
(Stockholm 2003), 14. (Quote translated
by Gabriella Berggren)
23 “[…] it would be greatly for our aesthetic good, if we
should refrain entirely from the use of ornament for
a period of years, in order that our thought might concentrate acutely upon the production of buildings well
formed and comely in the nude. […] ornament is mentally a luxury, not a necessary”. Louis H Sullivan,
“Ornament in Architecture”, Kindergarten Chats and
other writings (New York 1947), 187.
24 In 1901, van de Velde wrote apropos modern architecture: “The powerful play of their iron arms will create
beauty, as soon as beauty guides them.” Pevsner
(1936/1960), 29.
25 In 1895, Wagner published the book Vår tids byggnadskonst – in German Die Baukunst unserer Zeit. Wagner
claimed that the architect must “[…] use new designs
or such designs that can most easily be adapted to our
modern constructions and needs and are thus, already
in this respect, the most truthful.” Otto Wagner, Vår
tids byggnadskonst. Introduktion och översättning Karin
Lindegren (Stockholm 2000), 87–88. (Quote translated
by Gabriella Berggren).
26 Adolf Loos’ criticism was initially aimed at the Vienna
Secession and, from 1903, at the Wiener Werkstätte
group of artists, designers and manufacturers. Loos
claimed that the more civilised a human being or a culture became, the more ornamentation and decoration
represented cultural degeneration. “I made the following discovery, which I passed on to the world: the evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornamentation from objects of everyday use. […] Lack of ornamentation
is a sign of intellectual strength.” Adolf Loos, Ornament
and Crime. Selected Essays (Riverside 1998), 167, 175.
Original title: Ornament und Verbrechen (1908).
27 The British art and cultural critic Reyner Banham proffered in 1960 that the functionalist historiography had
given the impression of objectivity, of being based on
function and technology, while actually giving priority
to aesthetic style and rejecting phenomena that did not
fit in with the narrative they wished to convey. Reyner
Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age
(London 1960). Helena Mattsson posits that Banham
“[…] could be seen as the starting point for an analysis
of history that, instead of defending or criticising
various eras, styles or individuals, asks how modernist
historiography was constructed.” Helena Mattsson,
Arkitektur och konsumtion. Reyner Banham och utbytbarhetens estetik, PhD thesis, (Stockholm 2003), 40. (Quote
translated by Gabriella Berggren)
28 The members included Hermann Muthesius, Henry
van de Velde and Peter Behrens. The organisations that
belonged to Deutscher Werkbund also included the
Wiener Werkstätte, founded in 1903 by Josef Hoffmann
and Koloman Moser. The Wiener Werkstätte had a vision
of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the total work of art, which
embraced everything from architecture and ornament
to clothing and jewellery.
In order to create a Gesamtkunstwerk, even the most
commonplace objects must be designed with great
attention to detail. Machines were part of contemporary life and should be used to create the Gesamtkunstwerk. The Wiener Werkstätte’s products soon
became rather exclusive, however, and were mainly
acquired by the wealthy. Its critics included the architect Adolf Loos. C.f. Werner J. Schweiger, Wiener
Werkstätte. Design in Vienna 1903–1932 (London 1984).
29 Frederic J. Schwartz, The Werkbund. Design Theory &
Mass Culture before the First World War (New Haven/
London 1996).
30 The core of this cultural crisis was defined by the sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies in the book Gemeinschaft und
Gesellschaft (1887). With the term Gemeinschaft – community – Tönnies was referring to pre-capitalist life in
small towns or rural villages, where objects were hand
crafted. Gesellschaft – society – referred to life in the
industrialised towns, governed by short-sighted capitalist gain. Tönnies’ concepts defined a clear contradiction, a dichotomy, between Culture (Gemeinschaft)
on the one hand, and Civilisation (Gesellschaft) on
the other. The latter was assumed to have a negative
influence on the development of humanity. ibid., 15.
31 Theodor Fischer, architect and urban planner, and a member of the Deutscher Werkbund, wrote in 1932: “There
is no fixed boundary line between tool and machine.
[… it is] not mass production and subdivision of labour
that is fatal, but the fact that industry has lost sight of
its aim of producing work of the highest quality and
does not feel itself to be a serving member of our community but the ruler of the age.” Pevsner (1936/1960),
32 “Commodity production was to be redirected: from the
cause of social chaos and alienation, it would function
to recreate Culture as it was believed to have existed in
the precapitalist eras, but within the social parameters
determined by industrial production as it had developed in imperial Germany.” Schwartz (1996) 17.
33 Hermann Muthesius had visited Sweden in 1911 and
lectured at Slöjdföreningen on the Deutscher Werkbund’s efforts to mediate contacts between artists and
industry. Gunilla Frick, Konstnär i industrin (Stockholm
1986), 12. See also Gunnela Ivanov, Vackrare vardagsvara – design för alla? Gregor Paulsson och Svenska Slöjdföreningen 1915–1925, PhD thesis, (Umeå 2004).
34 The conflict was especially noticeable at the Werkbund’s
exhibition in Cologne in 1914, where Muthesius presented his ten theses on product types – Typisierung.
As an example of design types, Muthesius mentioned
the violin and the sailing boat, whose shapes had been
developed in harmony with their purpose. Nikolaus
Pevsner stresses that these ideas on types for industrial
production were typical of the time. Back in 1898, the
cabinet maker Karl Schmidt had started a furniture
workshop, the Deutsche Werkstätten, in Dresden, where
he collaborated with architects and artists who designed
furniture for mechanical production. The aim was to
develop a design style that was compatible with the
machine era. Standardisation was a key factor, and in
1910, the Deutsche Werkstätten presented its first
Typenmöbel. Moreover, in 1909, the German architect
Walter Gropius developed a never-published plan for
the standardisation and mass production of small
houses and proposals for how they could be financed.
Pevsner (1936/1960), 34, 38.
35 Gropius further claimed that art was also a craft. The perception of the artist as an artisan was characteristic of
the mediaeval workshop. Gropius, however, embraced
the Renaissance hierarchy of values, stating that art
was a higher, exalted version of crafts. “The artist is an
exalted craftsman.” Walter Gropius, “Bauhaus manifesto”, quoted in Swedish from Design och konst – texter
om gränser och överskridanden, del 1, ed Torsten Weimarck
(Stockholm 2003), 145. The Manifesto was first published as a leaflet, “Der programm des Staatliches
Bauhaus in Weimar” in 1919.
36 Christopher Frayling, “We must all turn to the crafts”,
Power of Making. The importance of being skilled, red.
Daniel Charney, V&A (London 2011), 29
37 Schwartz (1996), 1. In 1925, the Bauhaus school moved
to Dessau, and in 1932 it moved to Berlin, where it was
closed by the Nazis in 1933.
38 Uno Åhrén, “Brytningar”, Svenska Slöjdföreningens
Årsbok 1925.
39 Gregor Paulsson, Vackrare vardagsvara (Stockholm
1919). Helena Kåberg has emphasised that Paulsson’s
goal was the social development of society. Helena
Kåberg, “An Introduction of Gregor Paulsson’s Better
Things for Everyday Life”, Modern Swedish Design,
Three Founding Texts, eds Lucy Creagh, Helena Kåberg
and Barbara Miller Lane, MoMA (New York 2008).
40 Vihma (2003), 136–138. (Quote translated by Gabriella
41 C.f. Ivar Björkman, Sven Duchamp – expert på auraproduktion. Om entreprenörskap, visioner, konst och företag, PhD
thesis, (Stockholm 1998). Christina Zetterlund, Design
i informationsåldern. Om strategisk design, historia och praktik Diss., (Stockholm 2003).
42 Alvesson (2006), 21.
43 ibid., 39.
44 Lennart Schön, En modern svensk ekonomisk historia. Tillväxt och omvandling under två sekel (Stockholm 2000), 14.
45 Alvesson (2006), 206. Alvesson is referring here to
J. Jespersen, “Hvornår er nok – nok?”, Djöfbladet 16 August,
46 ibid., 207.
47 Fredrik Lindström, Vinter i P1, 25/12 2011. Transcribed
in Swedish by the author.
48 Lena Larsson, “Köp, slit, släng, några funderingar kring
ett slitstarkt ämne”, Form 7–8/1960. The two camps
in the debate were headed by Willy Maria Lundberg,
a journalist specialising in consumer issues, and Lena
Larsson. The discussion was launched by Larsson criticising Lundberg’s recently published book Ting och
tycken (Things and Likes, Stockholm 1960) in which
Lundberg gives a tender and loving account of her personal relationship to objects from the past, while propounding that industrial mass production has led to a
general deterioration in quality. Things with a consid-
ered design that had developed slowly, through the
users’ experiences for generations, were now produced
sloppily due to the industries’ short–sighted quest for
increased sales figures. Larsson was critical of Lundberg’s romantic glorification of objects from the past
and claimed that modern society needed to redefine
the concept of quality.
49 The internet source was
found at this address and coped by the author on 19
January, 2012.
50 Cilla Robach, “Den goda smaken”, Signums svenska konsthistoria. Konsten 1915–1950 (Lund 2002).
51 Asplund et al. (1931/1980), 44. English translation:
Modern Swedish Design, Three Founding Texts, eds Lucy
Creagh, Helena Kåberg and Barbara Miller Lane,
MoMA (New York 2008), 184.
52 C.f. Gotthard Johansson, “Hur bo vårt folk? Bostadsvanorna utforskas”, Form 1/1945. Lena Larsson, “Hur
bo vårt folk? På visit hos 100 familjer”, Form 1/1945.
Gregor Paulsson and Nils Paulsson, Tingens bruk och
prägel, (Stockholm 1956).
53 C.f. Elias Svedberg and Lena Larsson, Heminredning
(Stockholm 1948). Mårten J. Larsson and Lena Larsson,
Bo i eget hus (Stockholm 1950). Lena Larsson, Barnens
vrå (Stockholm 1956). Lena Larsson, Bo i dag (Stockholm 1957).
54 David Brooks, “Fritt kringflytande individer”, Dagens
Nyheter, 26 September, 2011
55 Lindström (2011).
56 “Over increasingly large areas of the United States,
spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds,
and the early mornings are strangely silent where once
they were filled with the beauty of bird song.” Rachel
Carson, Silent spring (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1962/
London 1963), 84.
57 The Swedish Christmas present of the year has been
chosen since 1988 by Handelns Utredningsinstitut (now
HUI Research), and reflects consumer and lifestyle
trends. In 2009, the Christmas present of the year was
an acupressure mat, and in 2011 a bag of foodstuffs and
recipes for home delivery to hard-working subscribers. The internet source was
found at this address and copied by the author on 26
January, 2012.
58 “The ideals of homo faber, the fabricator of the world,
which are permanence, stability, and durability, have
been sacrificed to abundance, the ideal of the animal
laborans.” Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition
(Chicago 1958), 126. Joachim Israel points out that
Arendt’s distinction between labour and work is hard
to convey in Swedish, whereas a difference in meaning
still exists in English, where the former relates to
endless toil and the latter refers to production that
requires advanced skills and is also a process with a
definite beginning and a foreseeable end. Joachim
Israel, “Förord, några biografiska notiser”, Hannah
Arendt, Människans villkor, Vita activa (Göteborg 1998),
unpublished references
Annika Ekdahl, e-mail to Cilla Robach 16 January 2012.
Emil Jensen, “Skaffa vuxen”, Snacka om, Ordfront ljud
(Malmö 2011).
Fredrik Lindström, Vinter i P1, broadcast on Swedish Radio
25 December, 2011.
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PhD Cilla Robach is a curator at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm.
In 2005 she curated Konceptdesign [Conceptual Design], an exhibition
and publication that, just like Slow Art, was analyzing a contemporary
movement within the Swedish field of Design and Applied Art. In 2010
she published the PhD thesis Formens frigörelse. Konsthantverk och design
under debatt i 1960-talets Sverige [The liberation of the form. Applied
Arts and design subject to debate in 1960s Sweden].
Exhibition curator: Cilla Robach
Exhibition administrator: Erik Järmens
Exhibition designer: Joakim Ericson
Lighting designer: Gert Ove Wågstam
Conservators: Maria Franzon, Anne-Grethe Slettemoen
Educational officer: Marika Bogren
Published on the occasion of the exhibition
Slow Art, 10 May 2012–3 February 2013, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm
Author: Cilla Robach
Editorial committee: Cilla Robach, Ingrid Lindell
Graphic design: BankerWessel/Ida Wessel, Emilie Lindquist
Translation: Gabriella Berggren (Swedish to English)
Publications: Ingrid Lindell (Publications manager), Janna Herder
Photo: Hans Thorwid
Paper: Lessebo Linné 100 g, Galerie Art Matt 150 g
Typface: Indigo
© Nationalmuseum, the author, holders of photographic rights and BUS
Nationalmusei utställningskatalog nr 666
isbn 978-91-7100-838-1 [Swedish edition isbn 978-91-7100-835-0]
Printed by: Göteborgstryckeriet 2012
Distribution: Nationalmuseum,
Nationalmuseum collaborates with
Grand Hôtel, Svenska Dagbladet and Fältman & Malmén

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