Beauty in all things

Underfull tablecloth. Photo: Kristine Bjaadal

Underfull tablecloth. Photo: Kristine Bjaadal

“The Exceptional Everyday” exhibit in Washington, D.C., highlights Norwegian artists and designers

By Carla Danziger

McClean, Va.

Imagine spilling a glass of red wine on a white floral damask tablecloth—and instead of staining it, watching the color bring out a beautiful hidden design.  Or traveling, reaching your destination, and pulling out from your suitcase a collapsible/stand-up wardrobe that has all your packed clothes visible and available.

These ingenious creations and others by young Norwegian industrial designers were part of a recent exhibition called “The Exceptional Everyday: Design Post-Process” at the Corcoran College of Art & Design—the educational wing of the renowned Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The exhibition – a joint project of the College and the Royal Norwegian Embassy – was the initiative of Pia Ulrikke Dahl, Cultural and Information Officer at the Embassy, who found a willing partner in Provost Catherine Armour, Chief Academic Officer of the Corcoran College.

“Our international partnerships are incredibly important at the Corcoran and provide opportunities for students and faculty to engage in a global dialogue about issues in art and design,” Armour says. “We have been hoping to work with the Norwegian Embassy for several years and were so fortunate to have found the perfect cultural counterparts.”

Dahl said she told Armour that an exhibition would be an opportunity for Norway – better known for its natural resources and spectacular landscapes – to be recognized also as an incubator for the arts and design. Her hope was that Norway could take its place in these fields alongside its other Scandinavian neighbors.

Provost Armour was delighted with “the idea of spotlighting young innovative designers from Norway and focusing on the future of product design,” and in September dispatched Corcoran faculty member Carmel Greer, herself a designer, to Norway, courtesy of the Norwegian government, to select the pieces and to curate the exhibition. “We thought it was important for the Corcoran to select the pieces,” Dahl says.

Greer appreciates “the leeway” given to her by her Norwegian sponsors.  She recalls arriving in Oslo on a sunny day in September and being warmly received by Benedicte Sunde, curator at DogA – the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture, who introduced her to a number of designers in their studios. Tasked with choosing a few representative pieces, Greer said she was looking for objects “distinctly Norwegian.”  She was drawn to designs that were “playful,” that “gave consideration to how the product would interact with the user.”  She appreciated the hospitality of the designers, thrilled to have their pieces considered for a show in the U.S.

The exhibition opened to enthusiastic reviews (and afterwards many complimentary emails) in mid-December and closed Jan. 22. In that short time, hundreds of visitors (including students) to the exhibit saw “the dynamic and witty work of contemporary Norwegian designers,” says Greer. Her explanation written on the wall of the exhibition further explained the Norwegian character of the works she chose. “Each object in the show tweaks a seemingly mundane object or process and, in doing so, creates an exceptional experience. While the objects in the show exemplify the rigor and attention to detail typically associated with Scandinavian design, they also embody creative collaboration with the user.”

In addition to Kristine Bjaadal’s “Underfull” (described as “the tablecloth that turns spilling into poetry” and Kim Thome’s aluminum and linen “Wardrobe in a Suitcase,” Greer selected Froystad & Klock’s “Paperplane Rug”— an optical tease inspired by a paper airplane; “Fofo,” a cupcake-shaped purple hassock that resembles a honeycomb made of “Between” – a fabric developed by She, one of several women-owned design businesses.

Stokke Austad’s innovative “Day Calendar” is based on the idea that a “year goes by characterized by highly personal and subjective events” and the user need not be constrained by the traditional linear format.  You can design your personal calendar based on colors of the season with 365 colored magnetic plates, each of which contains a date.

Blanke Ark (Clean Sheet), a sleek white and orange ballot box with black text, symbolizes a revolutionary change in making voting booths accessible to all, designed by Blueroom, Innovativoli and Kadabra.  The process was explained with visuals. From the moment the voter enters the polling station the voter’s ease of use is addressed—orange tape along the floor to lead to the booths, two table heights to accommodate standing and sitting voters and are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, special paper for ballots.

If watching the numbers on a clock bothers you, there’s another SHE design, the “Myk” – a clock that let’s you “see time in a peaceful way” – with only the outline of the minute hand and hour hand visible.

Greer reflected on the impact of the exhibition on Corcoran’s students, “It’s helpful for them to see their contemporaries out there building prototypes, making successful items.”

Dahl couldn’t be more pleased with the exhibition and the collaboration with the “incredibly professional” Corcoran.” It provided “fresh Norwegian designers, some of whom have won awards, visibility beyond Norway and educated students and the public about Norwegian design.”  She also notes how in a town as political as Washington, “the arts allows everyone to meet in a mutual arena.” This small but important exhibition allowed visitors to learn that Norway has more to offer than oil, fish and fjords.

Readers may explore the work of several of Norway’s designers via the following web links:  (tablecloth)  (wardrobe) (Blanke Ark)  (“Fofo” hassock and “Myk” clock)  (calendar)

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 3, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.