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FIBRE

The first time I spotted Sara Martinsen – or, rather, her work – was during 3daysofdesign in 2019.
Sara was invited to exhibit in Kinfolk’s showroom on Amagertorv in Copenhagen alongside the Japanese furniture company Karimoku Case Study, which launched a furniture collection designed by Norm Architects.

Beautiful design, honest materials and exquisite craftsmanship. And presented in Kinfolk’s showroom, which is an aesthetic treat in itself. Still, what amazed and seduced me was what I saw on the walls: ‘woven’ pieces made of thin wood veneer, created by Sara Martinsen.

Since then, several private collectors have taken notice of Sara’s woven veneer work as well as other aspects of her work, similarly focused on wood and plant fibres. Her work certainly captured my attention too.

August 2023

From bookazine the plant-based issue – grab your copy here

This autumn, a press release announced, ‘Sara Martinsen exhibits at A. Petersen in Bygning A [Building A] under the title “PHYTOPHILIA” from 22 October to 20 December 2020.’ And, further: ‘The way we are raised and educated, we learn that we should leave an individual imprint on the world. But ideally, we should really leave the least imprint possible. This is where plant fibres come in. Because they are perishable. Degradable. “PHYTOPHILIA” is a beautiful and inspiring materials library of plant fibres. Here you can experience the fibres up close, handle them, see, smell, feel and observe. We need to rekindle our sense of responsibility, our critical sense and our senses overall. Because sensing improves our capacity for thinking and reasoning.’

The exhibition, which is long over by now, featured a series of material studies and some of Sara’s material-driven works of art, a preliminary result of her study of plant fibres and their potential uses, she explains. Preliminary, because we continually expand our understanding when we delve into and explore materials in depth.

 

MATERIAL-DRIVEN ART?

‘I’m really not that interested in how to label my work,’ says Sara. ‘I examine materials by burying my hands in them, because that’s the best way for me to learn. On a very basic level, I explore the fibres and their potential uses.
Sometimes, that results in new works of art. It seems quite magical that by taking a curious approach to the commonplace I can transform my own openness into works of art that are appreciated by others. That may sound precious, but that’s the way it is. The materials drive the process; the works are less a reflection of me and more about the materials. I simply serve them up in an accessible form. Basically, my goal is to convey the properties of the materials and their aesthetic expression.
The material studies are one aspect of my work; the works are another, derived aspect. The third component is the clients I work with on either product development or interior design.’

While Sara talks, I take in her jam-packed basement room in central Copenhagen.
Among other materials, I see reed, hemp, kenaf, ramie, sisal, banana, okra, pineapple, linen, rose bush and fibres made from soybeans and milk ca­sein.

IN RETROSPECT

Let us start from the beginning, I suggest. You grad­uated as a furniture designer in 2006. Was this sort of work always in the cards for you?

‘My father is an architect, and on the one hand, I was certain that I wasn’t going to follow in his footsteps. On the other hand, even from a young age, I was really into materials. I have always had a passion for materials in their raw, unprocessed form, ever since I was a child. I have always collected rocks and sticks; maybe all children do? My earliest specific recollection of this fascination with materials dates back to a family excursion to the Kon-Tiki Museum, Thor Heyerdahl’s research institute in Bygdøy out­side Oslo. I was 10 years old and was allowed to pick a souvenir from the museum shop. I chose a piece of balsa wood, and for a long time after, I got a real kick out of examining it in every possible way.’

So you were not going to be an architect, and instead you applied to The Danish Design School? ‘Yes, I had spent a couple of years in Paris, and without any preparation, I applied to the Line of Spatial Design. To my great surprise I was accepted on my first at­tempt.

The Line of Spatial Design turned out not to be a very tangible programme. There were few actual tools available to us, we had no 3D computer pro­grams, and the main emphasis was on intuiting and sensing. The students, most of whom were women, came in at 10.00 and went home at 14.30. After completing my basic training, I secured a trainee­ship with Gubi Design. Even though it’s not that many years ago, this was before the Internet, and we did not have access to the entire global design scene in a digital form. I was blown away by everything I encountered in terms of international furniture de­sign, which was far more expressive than what I was familiar with from my personal background and my studies. Gubi had the agency for Cappellini furni­ture, and around this time, the Bouroullec brothers were creating their wonderful universe of decorative elements.

Once back at the Design School, I realized that my temperament was not compatible with the energy in interior design studies, so I sneaked my desk into the lift and knocked on the door to Furniture Design, one floor up. Here, I was welcomed with open arms. The department of Furniture Design was a place of tremendous dedication. The students virtually lived at the school, and several of them kept mattresses underneath their desks. Few of them had the aca­demic training to write a theoretical paper, but they knew their craft and their materials, and I soaked it all up like a sponge. There were so many talented people.

I tried to convince the school that spatial and furni­ture design ought to be merged into one programme, and in fact that happened before my graduation – which, by the way, was delayed by a year due to ma­ternity leave and because I spent some time doing a semester assignment for Fritz Hansen.’

Both Sara’s ambitions and her pace were high, it seems, and shortly after graduation she established a joint design studio with her colleagues Morten Kjær Stovegaard and Bo Strange under the name FurnID. ‘We received an overwhelming amount of attention,’ says Sara, ‘but our business foundation was fragile. We were three co-owners with similar skill sets and a naive belief that creativity would en­able us to overcome any obstacle. None of us knew anything about sales, customer relations or econom­ics. With a powerful nudge from the crisis in 2008, I realized that I needed to move into the real world, where design assignments are defined by the clients’ needs.’

Sara was headhunted for a job as head of operations at Søren Rose. She speaks of six rewarding and challenging years, initially as head of operations here and subsequently at Johannes Torpe Studios. ‘I was completely absorbed by what I was doing and acted as the coordinator and translator between the clients and the creative team in interesting and in­ternational design commissions and projects. I also developed intense neck and shoulder injuries due to the many hours I spent working on the computer.

I loved every minute of that life and, not least, loved working with my talented colleagues, but eventu­ally, I realized that I had moved too far away from materials. When that happens, it’s easy to forget to ask critical questions. And of course, my passion for materials was the very reason why I trained as a de­signer in the first place.’

‘I resigned as head of operations and established my own firm, Studio SARA, based on a large reno­vation and interior design commission for Univer­sal Music. That was in 2016. I also rented a space of 5 x 5 m at Kunstfabrikken on Amager, where I moved in with all my gear. Whenever I wasn’t at a site meeting, that is where I was, and I was re­ally elated when I biked home from there. Return­ing home after a working day where I had worked hands-on with materials and tools, without prior analysis and without knowing where I was headed. Contrary to everything I had previously preached, and in fact still preach, about design and design processes. This was something entirely different.’

‘Three years ago, I moved to Nansensgade,’ says Sara, ‘and at the same time I put all my material experiments on hold, because I had taken on a big commission for the Chinese design firm O.C.E., which seeks to embrace the Scandinavian (life) style. I provided “creative direction” and was in­volved when they set up their Copenhagen office. I worked with 350 colleagues in China; 85 of them referred directly to me, and I visited China for the first time in my life. A truly mind-blowing adven­ture´.

I try to understand what Sara has seen, heard and learnt and conclude that part of it has to do with meet­ing an ancient culture with beautiful craft traditions. Traditions that few contemporary Chinese people ap­preciate, however. In modern China, an urban, West­ern lifestyle seems to hold more appeal. As a society, China clearly does not place the same emphasis on individuality as we do in Scandinavia. On the other hand, they move fast when they decide to change. China has put the green transition on the agenda, and they have begun to clean up the mess that our over­production has created. Hopefully,’ says Sara, ‘we will also begin to see a positive development in the area of human rights in coming years.’

I understand that you ended the collaboration in 2018? ‘Yes, the situation changed in a way where I no longer felt that my contribution made sense. It turned out the Chinese middle class is not as big as originally assumed. This undermined the business concept, which was about creating high-quality mid-market products. It became necessary to lower the prices and, thus, the quality. That was not a jour­ney I wanted to be a part of, and anyway, I dreamt of being back in my workshop.’


A NEW ERA

‘That was when I began to hang my material exper­iments on the wall. In that form, they sparked in­terest. Among others, Norm Architects noticed what I was doing. At the time, they were working on a furniture collection for Karimoku Case Study, and they introduced my works to their Japanese coun­terparts, which led to my 2019 exhibition at Kinfolk. After the exhibition I visited Karimoku’s factory, which is one of Japan’s oldest furniture factories. It was a profound experience. The Japanese have a proud tradition for craftsmanship, where a person might practise for 45 years to truly master a craft. They appreciate the value of experience and have both the desire and the determination to bring that experience with them into the future.’

Since their first encounter, Karimoku Case Study and Sara have continued to develop their collabora­tion, and on several occasions she has been commis­sioned to create exhibition pieces in connection with the presentation of their collections.

‘At some point I will be going back there. Karimoku has invited me to create works of art from their cut-offs, and I look forward to doing that some day. Right now, I can’t travel back and forth due to the pandemic – and, honestly, I haven’t missed travelling. I am not a globetrotter at heart, and I thrive where I am,’ she concludes. ‘Here and now, my focus is on the plant fibres.’

RESPONSIBILITY

‘I have taken a rather costly degree, and to me, that comes with a certain obligation. I don’t know if it is in fact my responsibility, but I do see communication as an important task,’ she points out and adds, ‘Many of the people I meet through my work don’t know the first thing about materials, but they are curious and keen to make the right choices based on a long list of parameters, including the desire to find more sustainable solutions.’

‘I think that it makes us sick and dispirited if we constantly have to hear about how dire the situation is,’ she says. ‘I love Olafur Eliasson’s art, but I feel despondent when I see his exhibition of melting ice blocks. Sad, distressed and overwhelmed. Personally, I believe that change springs from joy and fascination. If we are to shift our profession and our private consumption in a more sustainable direction, we must want to do something new and different. We have to be bold and give it a shot. Sometimes you’ll hit the bull’s eye the first time you try; most times, you learn something new and have to try again.’

Sara is continuing to expand her materials library with a focus on natural fibres and the study of their potential uses and individual expressions. She looks at a wide range of areas, from textile production, furniture stuffing and upholstery to building insulation and sound dampening, to mention just a few examples. She dreams of finding uses where the fibres not only have a ‘natural’ appearance but may also appear shiny, glossy and have bright colours.

In this endeavour, Sara combines the three aspects of her business: exploration, creativity and consultancy. Always driven by the notion that ‘sensing improves our understanding and thinking.’

#theplantbasedissue

Første gang jeg fik øje på Sara Martinsen, eller rettere fik øje på hendes arbejde, var under 3daysofdesign i 2019.
Sara var inviteret til at udstille i Kinfolks showroom på Amagertorv i København sammen med det japanske møbelfirma Karimoku Case Study, som lancerede en møbelkollektion tegnet af Norm Arkitekter.

Smukt design, ærlige materialer og udsøgt forarbejdning, og Kinfolks showroom er altid en æstetisk nydelse. Trods alt dette så var dét, som forundrede og forførte mig, det som hang på væggene: ‘vævede’ værker fremstillet af tynd træfiner og skabt af Sara Martinsen.

Siden har flere private kunstsamlere fået øjnene op for såvel Saras flettede finerarbejder som for andre af hendes værker med træ og plantefibre i fokus. Også mine øjne er vidt åbne.

I efteråret dukkede så en pressemeddelelse op: “Sara Martinsen udstiller hos A. Petersen i Bygning A under titlen ‘PHYTOPHILIA’ i perioden 22. oktober til 20. december 2020”. Og videre: “Vi er opdraget og uddannet til, at vi som individer skal efterlade et aftryk. Men allerhelst skal vi bestræbe os på at efterlade så lidt som muligt. Her kommer plantefibrene ind. De er nemlig forgængelige. Nedbrydelige. ‘PHYTOPHILIA’ (Phytophilia betyder frit oversat: kærlighed til planter) er et smukt og inspirerende materialebibliotek om plantefibre. Her får du mulighed for at opleve fibrene helt tæt på, tage dem i hænderne, se, dufte, mærke og iagttage. Vi skal vække vores ansvarsfølelse til live, vores kritiske sans og vores sanser generelt. Når vi sanser, så forstår og tænker vi bedre.”

Udstillingen, som for længst er slut, var dels en række materialestudier, dels nogle af Saras materialebaserede kunstværker. Et delresultat af hendes undersøgelse af plantefibre og deres anvendelsesmuligheder, fortæller hun mig. Delresultat, fordi vi hele tiden bliver klogere, hvis vi tør forholde os undersøgende til materialet.

Fra bookazine no. 4 – køb det her

 

 

MATERIALEBASERET KUNST?

“Jeg er ikke så optaget af at sætte label på mit virke”, svarer Sara. “Jeg undersøger materialerne, det gør jeg med hænderne begravet i dem, for det er sådan, jeg lærer bedst. Helt grundlæggende udforsker jeg fibrene og deres anvendelsesmuligheder.

Det kommer der nogle gange værker ud af. Det er ret magisk, at jeg kan forholde mig nysgerrigt til det almindelige, og kan lykkes med at transformere min åbenhed til værker, som er til glæde for andre. Det lyder måske som violinspilleri – men det er sådan, det er. Materialerne, de er forudsætningen, det er ikke mig, som fylder i værkerne, men dem. Jeg serverer blot materialerne i en tilgængelig form. Min hensigt er helt basalt at formidle materialernes egenskaber og deres æstetiske udtryk.

Materialestudierne er en del af mit virke, værkerne et andet, men afledt. Mit tredje ben er mine kunder, som jeg hjælper, nogle med produktudvikling, andre med indretning.”

Mens Sara taler, vandrer mine øjne rundt i hendes tætpakkede kælderlokale i det indre København. Jeg ser tagrør, hamp, kenaf, ramie, sisal, banan, okra, ananas, hør, rosenbusk og fibre fra sojabønner og fra mælke-kasein, blandt andet.

 

TILBAGEBLIK

Lad os starte fra begyndelsen, beder jeg Sara – du er uddannet møbeldesigner i 2006. Har det altid ligget i kortene, at du skulle arbejde, som du gør nu?

“Min far er bygningsarkitekt, og jeg var på den ene side sikker på, at jeg ikke skulle gå i hans fodspor, og på den anden side var jeg meget tidligt nørdet interesseret i materialer. Glæden ved materialer i rå, uforarbejdet form har været en del af mig, siden jeg var barn. Jeg har altid samlet sten og pinde, det gør alle børn måske? Min første mere specifikke erindring om fascinationen af materialer stammer fra en familieudflugt til Kon-Tiki Museet, Thor Heyerdahls forskningsstiftelse i Bygdøy uden for Oslo.

Jeg var 10 år og fik lov til at vælge en souvenir fra museumsbutikken. Jeg valgte et stykke balsatræ, som jeg i lang, lang tid efter havde glæde af at undersøge på alle ledder og kanter.”

Du skulle ikke være arkitekt, men søgte i stedet ind på Danmarks Designskole? “Ja, jeg havde været i Paris i et par år, og uden at have forberedt mig søgte jeg ind på linjen for Rum, og til min store overraskelse kom jeg ind i første forsøg.

Linjen for Rum viste sig at være et meget lidt håndgribeligt studie. Der var ikke mange værktøjer til rådighed, vi havde ingen computerprogrammer, som kunne tegne 3D, og det blev meget noget med at synes og fornemme. De studerende, som for de flestes vedkommende var kvinder, mødte kl. 10.00 og gik hjem kl. 14.30. Efter grundforløbet fik jeg arrangeret et praktikophold hos Gubi Design.

Du skal huske, at selvom det ikke er så mange år siden, så var det før internettet, og vi havde ikke adgang til hele verdens designscene digitalt. Jeg var ‘blown away’ over alt det, jeg mødte i form af internationalt møbeldesign, som var langt mere ekspressivt end det, jeg kendte til fra min baggrund og fra mit studie. Gubi havde agenturet på Cappellini-møbler, og det var lige i de år, at brødrene Bouroullec kom frem med deres forunderlige univers af dekorative elementer.

Tilbage på skolen indså jeg, at mit temperament ikke passede til energien på indretningsdesign, og jeg sneg mit skrivebord ind i elevatoren og bankede på på etagen ovenover, hvor møbeldesign holdt til.Jeg blev taget imod med åbne arme. På afdelingen var dedikationen enorm. De studerende boede på det nærmeste på skolen, flere havde madrasser under skrivebordet. De færreste havde akademisk niveau til at skrive en teoretisk opgave, men de kunne deres håndværk og deres materialer, og jeg sugede til mig. Der var så mange dygtige folk.

Over for skolen argumenterede jeg for, at rum- og møbeldesign skulle slås sammen, hvilket blev tilfældet, inden jeg tog min afgang, som jeg i øvrigt udskød et år, fordi der kom en barselsorlov på tværs, og fordi jeg brugte tid på at løse en semesteropgave for Fritz Hansen.”

Jeg fornemmer, at både ambitionsniveauet og tempoet var højt, og Sara fortæller, at hun umiddelbart efter sin afgang etablerede tegnestue under navnet FurnID sammen med kollegaerne Morten Kjær Stovegaard og Bo Strange.

“Vi fik overvældende meget opmærksomhed”, fortæller Sara, “men vores forretning hvilede på et sårbart grundlag. Vi var tre medejere med ens kompetencer og en naiv tro på, at kreativitet kunne overvinde alle forhindringer. Ingen af os vidste noget om salg, kundepleje og økonomi.

Godt hjulpet af krisen i 2008 indså jeg, at jeg måtte ud i den virkelige verden, hvor designopgaverne bliver defineret af kundernes behov.”

Sara blev headhuntet til en stilling som tegnestuechef hos Søren Rose, og hun fortæller om seks gode og udfordrende år, først som tegnestuechef her, siden hos Johannes Torpe Studios. “Jeg var totalt opslugt og var tovholder og oversætter mellem kunde og det kreative team på interessante og internationale designopgaver og projekter, og fik i tilgift de vildeste nakke- og skulderskader affødt af de mange timers arbejde ved computeren.

Jeg har elsket hvert minut af den tilværelse og ikke mindst elsket mine dygtige kollegaer, men måtte dog til sidst indse, at afstanden til materialerne var blevet for stor, og så glemmer man let at stille kritiske spørgsmål. Glæden ved materialerne var jo i øvrigt hele grunden til, at jeg i sin tid uddannede mig til designer.”

“Jeg sluttede som tegnestuechef og etablerede mig som Studio SARA med afsæt i en stor renoverings-og indretningsopgave for Universal Music. Året var 2016. Samtidig lejede jeg en plads på 5 x 5 m på Kunstfabrikken på Amager, hvor jeg flyttede ind med mit grej. Når jeg ikke havde byggemøder, var jeg der, og jeg var helt lykkelig, når jeg cyklede hjem derfra. Hjem efter en arbejdsdag, hvor jeg havde haft hænderne i materialer og værktøj, hvor jeg havde arbejdet uden forudgående analyse, uden at vide hvor jeg ville hen. Stik imod alt, hvad jeg tidligere havde prædiket og sådan set stadig prædiker omkring design og designprocesser. Det her var bare noget andet.”

“For tre år siden flyttede jeg til Nansensgade”, fortæller Sara, “og samtidig endte jeg med at sætte mine materialeeksperimenter på stand by, fordi jeg takkede ja til en stor opgave for den kinesiske designvirksomhed O.C.E., som har en ambition om at lægge sig op ad den skandinaviske (livs)stil. Jeg hjalp dem med ‘creative direction’ og var involveret, da de etablerede kontor i København. Jeg samarbejdede med 350 kollegaer i Kina, 85 af dem refererede direkte til mig, og jeg var for første gang i mit liv i Kina. Det kan sammenfattes som et ‘mind-blowing’ eventyr.”

Jeg forsøger at forstå, hvad Sara har set, hørt og lært, og udleder, at det handler om mødet med en gammel kultur, som blandt andet rummer fine håndværkstraditioner.
Traditioner, som de færreste nulevende kinesere værdsætter, tværtimod. I det moderne Kina synes det mest attraktivt at være urban og vestlig. Kina er et samfund, hvor individet åbenlyst ikke har samme prioritet som i Skandinavien. Til gengæld rykker de hurtigt, når de bestemmer sig for forandring. Kina har grøn omstilling på dagsordenen, og de er i gang med at rydde op i det svineri, vores overproduktion har efterladt. “Forhåbentlig”, siger Sara, “så vil der også på menneskerettighedsområdet ske en positiv udvikling i de kommende år.”

Du afsluttede samarbejdet i 2018, forstår jeg? “Ja, forudsætningerne ændrede sig på en måde, hvor jeg ikke længere kunne se, at mit bidrag gav mening.

Det viste sig, at middelklassen i Kina ikke er så stor, som hidtil antaget. Det betød, at forretningsideen, som gik ud på at skabe mid-market-produkter i god kvalitet, var svækket. Priserne måtte sænkes og dermed også kvaliteten. Den rejse skulle jeg ikke være med på, og i øvrigt ønskede jeg mig tilbage på mit værksted.”

NY EPOKE

“Det var da, at jeg begyndte at hænge mine materialeeksperimenter op på væggen. I den form vakte de interesse, blandt andet så Norm Arkitekter, hvad jeg gik og lavede. De var i gang med deres møbelkollektion til Karimoku Case Study og introducerede mine arbejder for japanerne, og udstillingen hos Kinfolk i 2019 blev en realitet. Efter udstillingen besøgte jeg Karimokus fabrik, som er en af de ældste møbelfabrikker i Japan. Jeg blev virkelig betaget. Japanerne har en stolt tradition for håndværk, hvor man gerne øver sig i 45 år for at blive rigtig god. De forstår værdien af erfaring og har både ønske og vilje til at tage erfaringen med sig ind i fremtiden.”

Karimoku Case Study og Sara har siden videreudviklet deres samarbejde, og hun har ved flere anledninger været bestilt til at fremstille værker til udstilling i sammenhæng med deres kollektioner.

“Jeg skal på et tidspunkt tilbage, Karimoku har opfordret mig til at lave værker ud af deres afskæringer, og det ser jeg frem til at gøre på et tidspunkt.

Lige nu kan jeg ikke flyve frem og tilbage på grund af corona-situationen – og helt ærligt, jeg har ikke savnet at rejse. Jeg er ikke sådan en globetrotter, og jeg trives, hvor jeg er”,afslutter hun snakken om det samarbejde. “Her og nu er det plantefibrene, som er i fokus.”

 

ANSVARET

“Jeg har jo fået en ret dyr uddannelse og tænker, at det forpligter. Jeg ved ikke, om det ligefrem er mit ansvar, men der ligger da en opgave i formidling”, konstaterer hun og fortsætter: “Mange af de mennesker, jeg møder igennem mit arbejde, er totalt uvidende omkring materialer, men de er nysgerrige, og de vil gerne vælge rigtigt ud fra en lang række parametre, herunder træffe mere bæredygtige valg.”

“Jeg tror”, siger hun, “at vi bliver syge og kede af det, hvis vi hele tiden skal høre om, hvor galt det står til. Selv er jeg vild med Olafur Eliassons kunst, men jeg bliver altså modløs, når jeg ser hans udstillede isblokke, som står og smelter. Trist, ked af det og lamslået. Jeg tror på, at forandring vokser ud af glæde og fascination.
Hvis vi skal rykke branchen og vores private forbrug i en mere bæredygtig retning, så handler det om at få lyst til noget nyt og noget andet. Om at vove og turde prøve. Nogle gange rammer man plet første gang, oftest bliver man klogere og må prøve igen.”

Sara fortsætter med at udbygge sit materialebibliotek med fokus på naturlige fibre og på at undersøge fibrenes anvendelsesmuligheder og individuelle udtryk. Her tænker hun bredt: tekstilproduktion, møbelfyld og polstring af møbler, isolering af huse, lyddæmpning, blot for at nævne nogle områder. Hun drømmer om at finde muligheder, som gør, at fibrene ikke kun kan fremstå ‘naturagtige’, men også kan optræde blanke, glinsende og i stærke farver.

I det virke forener Sara sin virksomheds tre ben, det udforskende, det skabende og det rådgivende. Alt ud fra devisen “Når vi sanser, så forstår og tænker vi bedre.”

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