Antorage in Chaotic World - Contemporary Norwegian Design
Norway has always been the junior partner in the Scandinavian designs club, and there are probably several explanations for this. Our design environment was smaller, our mass production less developed, less aggressive, and moreover it shied away from experiments. We have created no core areas that could serve as a matrix for a typically Norwegian school of design. In contrast to Denmark's furniture production in birch and teak, Sweden's glass industry, and Finland's architecture, we have lacked a focus. In addition, we have neither had sufficient resources to conduct international marketing campaigns nor sufficient critics proficient in foreign languages who could have presented our strengths to foreign observers. The production of consumer good played only a minor role in Norway's impressive economic and technological development in recent decades. Norway's current position in modern technology and process logistics is based on its petrochemical industry. Apparently nobody else is our equal when it comes to blowing up tunnels or building bridges. This one-sided orientation, however, has left other resources and creativity unused instead of being employed with a view to the strong international influence our designers had in the 1950's: the manufacturing of products for house and home.
In the twentieth century Norwegian design grew out of a mutual fertilization of craft-oriented studio production and industrial production in small lot sizes. Designers have remained conscious of the folklorist tradition and that has influenced the form and choice of materials and techniques. There was hardly a difference between the artist designing a piece of furniture and the people manufacturing its components and assembling them. As a result furniture design had an inner strength and purity.
These connections to folklore and applied art and their uneasy alliance with industrial methods of production have perhaps offered us a starting point for the creation of a characteristic national lexicon of design. In a wold that is evidently focused on the mass production of trivialities - with design and quality of materials replaced by surplus, semifinished items, and imitations - the Norwegian tradition of design will be able to offer a combination of innovative design and genuineness of materials.
It is still Norwegian designs special strength to be able to pour egalitarian and democratic ideals into forms suitable for production. Thus its unique characteristic is the combination of a design tradition with social ideals: it offers genuine materials, skilled craftsmanship, simplicity of details, a steady hand in the design, ecological awareness, and functional clarity; it meet the demands of ergonomics and is obviously user-friendly. This list of advantages may not yet grant Norwegian designers admission into international design heaven, but it can serve as a valuable anchorage in a chaotic world.
The strength of contemporary Norwegian design lies - even more so than in the 1950s and 1960s - in its willingness to break new ground. The old paths lead us to what is well known and familiar: one of them takes us to the elitist design world filled with imaginative fashions, phenomenal innovations, and functional deficits; the other path ends at a pile of mass-produced, disposable products. The middle ground between these two extremes raises ethical problems that must be taken seriously. Here ecological awareness calls designers to a new simplicity, a willingness to take responsibility in the context of production, and a renewed focus on economic usefulness and purity of the materials. The great challenge Norwegian design currently faces is to find an impressive technological and artistic solution that meets the requirements of this incontrovertible conviction. To meet this challenge, young Norwegian designers are developing an invigorating, fresh approach based on principles that will also increasingly apply in the world beyond our borders.