More than a Basket
(BBC Documentary: Kenneth Clarke, Civilisations, Season 1, Episode 2, 2018)
... culture lives in us and survives when we are aware of it.
When we take things from granted, we believe they are always going to be here.
More than a Basket is a project that seeks to revalue birch bark, a long time used material in Finland. Birch bark goes back to the Sami people, who used this material from cooking with it, like baking bread, to making daily artifacts. Nowadays, it is still being used for making traditional crafts, like baskets, with the same weaving techniques it has always been done. We want to show the potential we had found in this material and how it can present new design opportunities.
Birch bark is easily found in Finland, since birch is an abundant tree here; bark is the outer layer of trees. But is a material that’s almost forgotten, which makes it hard to find information about it and people who know how to work with it, especially in the city and in the South area of the country.
The way to get this material, bark, is by reaping it from the trees, due to the hard winters, it is something that has to be done in the warmer days, around mid summer, so the tree can have the opportunity to grow a new layer of it when winter comes. It must be point out that the tree does not die or suffers any harm in the process, still the process must be done right and by a professional.
Head of Employment Services in Lahti, Finland.
This is none of our business.
Interviewing Marjatta Flander-Airola known as TuohiMuori
Marjatta Flander-Airola has work with birch bark for very long, she now has a blog where she shares her projects and experience.
Marjatta learnt from her father, Frans Flander and made her first birch bark work at the age of 9. She continued learning by watching her family and going to museums. It was important for her that she was able to make and fix her own tools, without help from men. Because in Finland the working tools have always been made of wood, differently from Russia, where they are made of metal.
She started teaching at some courses in the 90s but she felt she wasn’t skilled enough to be teaching, and continued learning more. Nowadays she visits schools in the Lahti region to teach kids about birch bark tradition in Finland. She gives workshops where kids have been able to do simple ring shapes out of bark.
"There are people teaching the skill, but they don’t teach the correct techniques", she pointed. They might teach, for example, that the bark should be oiled before weaving it, which makes the structure weaker and supposedly easier to work with.
I, Anni (the interviewer), asked if she ever tried finishing the bark by dyeing, painting or oiling but she thought it was unnecessary, because you can find so many colors from different kinds of birches naturally. Some barks are also really shiny and soft, and when a bark product is used for a long time, it gets darker, softer and shinier, so it starts looking and feeling almost like leather.
In the early 2000s she tried to set up a training program in which she could employed a few people for helping her in the production and teaching. She said that there are a lot of people interested, especially Japanese tourists, who love her work and want to buy her products but she can’t make enough pieces on her own. So she presented her business plan to the head of Employment Services in Lahti, but their response was "this is none of our business".
With the More than a Basket Project we have been experimenting on this rough, natural and interesting material, trying to find in the process new ways of approaching it, looking at it, feeling it and working with it. We have gone from weaving it to cotton fabrics to dying it with natural pigments. From creating new weaving techniques by bonding it with cotton strings to coating it with different substances. Every added material has created a new experience and a new way of looking at it, becoming a new opportunity for designing more objects than a basket.
With this project we want to give back the presence and importance birch bark has in culture and the options it can present to design.
Paola Antonelli (XXII Triennale di Milano’s presentation theme Broken Nature at Aalto University, 2018).
All the sudden it is too late and sometimes you don’t feel it.
Learning from the book
Since we had a hard time contacting and finding someone from whom we could learn the traditional way of weaving and about the material in general. We decided to learn from any book we could find and practice with paper.
Books: Tuohitöiden Käsikirja 1 & 2 by Eeva Rutanen and Jaana Öljymäki. 2017
These are some of the developed samples.
1. Weaved with cotton string
2. Weaved and bonded with cotton
3. Glued cotton fabric with cuts
4. Machine sewed cotton wadding
5. Dyed with natural pigment (berry)
6. Machine sewed to cotton fabric
7. White furniture water base paint
8. Vinegar coated
9. Oil coated
10. Calcium silicate coated
11. Water bended
12. Bark left overs casted with calcium silicate
Pop up exhibition
Friday, October 12, 2018 at Väre Lobby, Aalto University, Otaniemi, Espoo.