SOL was eager to chat to Swedish Designer Jesper Eriksson after viewing his aesthetically alluring and thought-provoking exhibition Coal: Post-Fuel which was presented at Somerset House during the 2018 London Design Biennale.
Jesper spoke to us about his view on aesthetics, his design approach and how a well-designed cast iron pan perfectly sums him up!
Did you always know you would end up in the creative industry?
I don’t think so. Today, looking back it all comes together and makes sense – I can’t see how it could have gone any other way. I remember being sensitive to shapes and materials as a kid. Later I thought I didn’t have what takes to be a creative. It still a challenge every day – and I suppose that’s also part of the fun.
As an Artist aesthetics plays a vital role- what does it mean to you on both a professional and personal level?
To me aesthetics is mainly a means of communication. The aesthetics of the outcome of a project (be it visual, tactile etc) are a vehicle for the idea I’d like to communicate. I’m trained as a product designer, so the aesthetics I use often calls to known details of the surroundings of everyday life. In this way, the outcome has some elements of recognisability which I believe eases the process of communicating. These elements, become a gentle hand of some sort that guides the observer to new, unknown more exciting places. On a personal level, when confronted with aesthetics done right (from nature or man made), it carries / communicates emotions to me. Landscapes, a beautifully plated dish, architecture, contrasts, smells, a perfectly framed shot in a film etc.
What do you think is the relationship between aesthetics and design when creating? How does this play out in your own work?
Furthering my previous answer - To me, aesthetics are ultimately a means of communication. Being trained as a designer, aesthetics is relevant when designing everyday objects, interiors, tools etc. It’s closely related to semantics and helps the viewer/user/observer navigate and understand the surroundings.
Today I use aesthetics in a slightly different manner. The outcome of my project I put out operates on various levels, from the most simple visceral level (appearance, feel etc) to the more complex reflective level (novel ideas and concepts, self reflection, questioning a status etc). My work carries these more complex new ideas and concepts, provoking or disrupting a status. For me to communicate that to the viewer in an installation for instance I use aesthetics to ‘lure’ them in. Get them excited, and gradually take them deeper in more complex levels of my reasoning behind the work. To me that means to have a certain of boldness but also have elements of recognisability - shapes and functions people can easily relate to and understand. If you throw a complex question to someone without any background or introduction, they are most likely to dismiss it not knowing how to handle it or what to do with it. The true impact will hit the viewer when landing on that reflective level, having travelled these layers, and starting to grasp the relevance of the work, its ideas and concepts.
You have studied in Sweden and the Uk. What is the difference in Design approach and style between these two and how has this effected your work?
I think the BA I did in Sweden served very well in training to become a product designer. After those three years many of my fellow class mates started working in design studios. I actually got bored by product design after these three years! I wanted always to delve deeper and tacle subjects and themes where the outcome doesn’t necessarily have to be a functional, commercially viable product. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a challenge to achieve that but it was simply not my interest. The MA I did in London was challenging as it confronted me with myself and future self, taking a stand and starting to figure out where I want to head (i say starting because this will probably never be achieved!) It was kind of a hit reset button in terms of what I had previously learned. Start over and create your own processes and knowledge.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your recent exhibition Coal: Post-Fuel
Coal: Post-Fuel was the Swedish Pavilion at this year’s London Design Biennale at Somerset House. It explores a speculative future for coal as an organic material for architecture and interior design. It’s both a celebration and condemnation of the material that powered the industrial revolution. It’s a very emotionally loaded material, particularly in Britain; problematic, glorious, scandalous, essential—coal has many facets to it. Coal has sustained communities and enabled technological progress, all the while polluting and harming health of those who work it.
Coal is traditionally seen as a completely functional raw material; its value is derived solely from its own destruction. The project considers whether this cheap and dirty fossil fuel has an alternative future as a desirable material. In this way, its image is transformed from a fuel that releases carbon dioxide to a material that encloses it. The installation contained flooring, furniture and other objects in solid coal.
Some pieces are left in the material’s raw state, others are processed into a finish similar to black marble. By changing the material’s aesthetic, a debate opens up about our relationship to this utilitarian substance: If the idea of coal as a building material is accepted, how and why does a coal mine differ from a marble quarry? Can we not begin to call the mine a coal quarry? This future narrative is intentionally problematic.
Take us through your creative process when coming up with a body of work
For projects that are self-initiated, it usually starts with a dilemma, or a contradiction – something that isn’t quite right, something that would spark questions like “but why is this done/thought of/ created in this odd way? Often enough the ‘odd’ is man-made; and so I usually delve deep into researching the theme or question, from as many perspective as possible. I balance deep research with the blissful state of ‘not knowing’. In an early creation phase this enables me to come up with silly ideas that later on might just form the core idea of the project. Down the line, I always invite experts into the conversation to critically examine the work and bring it to new levels. Speaking to experts is so much fun – having the chance to ask questions relating to someone’s life’s work/study and you instantly see their eyes shimmer!
What do you think is the future role of the Artist/Designer?
To me, the role remains unchanged. Provoke, inspire, question, communicate, react, invite to debate on past, present and future issues in our society.
Are there any creatives you would like to work with one day?
Loads! But also not only creatives! Ideally I would like to collaborate with people from as many diverse backgrounds as possible. It is unexpected encounters that have the capacity to really spark fundamentally new ideas.
Are there any exciting new projects on the horizon you would like to mention?
I will be carrying on with the project Coal:Post-Fuel, but taking it to new places. Exciting new shows, commissions and collaborations are in the pipeline.
Where can one creep on your work?
Finally if you could be summed up in design piece- yours or someone else’s-what would it be and why?
Being a keen cook and seeing many similarities between cooking and my creative process, I will have to say a simple well designed cast iron pan! Sturdy, reliable, not fancy, needs caring for, long lasting, don’t need it every day, depending on what ingredients you put in the outcome will be different but there will always be an outcome in some form.