Company of Aamu Song and Johan Olin
Company is a design duo established by Aamu Song and Johan Olin in 2000. Covering a wide spectrum of art and design, Company designs clothes, shoes and various functional articles, as well as spaces, public furniture and interiors. Company will fill Kiasma's Studio K with the project Top Secrets of Finland. It will display products that were created by Song and Olin in co-operation with various producers around Finland. The shop that Company has constructed in Studio K reveals these "top secrets" as one possible approach to design.
It started from tango and sausage
Johan Olin (s. 1974): We first met at Kipsari, the student-run café at the University of Art and Design Helsinki. Initially, we entered some competitions and realised that it was fun to work together and that we wanted also to work with other great people. That's why we took the name Company for our two-person design team. We have worked together for about seven years now.
Aamu Song (s. 1974): When I first came to Finland from South Korea to study in Taik in 1998, I was introduced to the music of Olavi Virta. Johan asked me if I wanted to learn Finnish tango and I said "Why not!", and so we went to Åke Blomqvist's very tough and effective dance school.
Our first joint project was initiated at our friend's summer cottage where Juuso said: "Why don't we cook sausage inside a hollowed log; it could be sold as a Finnish souvenir!" I thought it was an inspirational idea and sketched it out. When I later was working on a competition "Office on the Move", creating new tools for busy working people who have to bring their food with them, I remembered Juuso's brilliant idea and asked if he would like to work with me for this competition (which we then won). That encouraged us to join forces.
JO: In a way we both found a fresh start in co-operation. My background is in graphic design. At that time I was not familiar with product design and was very impressed by Aamu's "work. And maybe for Aamu everything Finnish was fresh.
AS: The attraction of Scandinavian Design made me come to Finland in the first place. Now I live here, so design has really changed my life. Vuokko Nurmesniemi's Iloinen mekko (Happy dress) is my favourite. I like that I can afford it and wear it and see it worn by others, like some old ladies in Kallio.
Add water to fire and make steam
AS: With us, each of us is more aware of the brilliance of the ideas of the other. From the beginning we have supported and inspired each other. When I see Johan working, I want to work too. To hear Johan say: "This is great", is all I need to forget my doubts.
JO: We really play ping-pong with each other's ideas and get excited about them. Our work is intertwined, there is no clear division of labour even though we usually solve the practical solutions individually. We share the same kind of world and values, but as individuals and in our working methods we are quite different. Aamu is the boiling and I am the cooling.
AS: Johan is like water and I am like fire, so together we can make coffee.
For use, for everybody
JS: We are very traditional designers in the sense that we really want to make practical things, not just things to be admired or looked at. It is important for us that objects really suggest a use, that they make the users' lives better, happier, funnier, more enjoyable...
AS: I can't hold all my ideas in my own head; it will explode unless I take the ideas and realise them into prototypes, drawings or products. I would like to design things that have not yet been done; to introduce new ideas, to make the world bigger with them.
JO: I want to design meaningful things. Or things that make sense to me - especially if I can participate in the designing of the meaning itself.
AS: My idea of beauty - the thing I see as the aim of my work - is to have my products displayed tidily on a shop shelf: multiple, usable, wearable, buyable products for affordable price in shops like K-Rauta, S-Market, Alepa, price tags and all. Design is the tool that makes this multiplicity possible. Even though my ideas do not always immediately sell and may be too weird, too new...
JO: All our designs are meant to be repeatedly reproduced. If there is only one example of something it is because it is still a prototype. So far you cannot buy our designs anywhere, but soon... we are little by little preparing a mass production.
Bring out the child in everyone
JO: Many of our projects are trying to cure loneliness. They are connecting people to each other. But for me one important thing is also to build something by myself, to have it close to my body, to test and try things.
AS: Johan is a typical boy: if he has an idea he has to make it, to break it, to see how it functions. He's not afraid of any kind of challenges or practical obstacles.
JO: Maybe I also try to solve the problem during the making, not thinking about it beforehand (which would sometimes be good).
JO: Playfulness is very important to us. Playfulness equals action. It allows for maximum amount of use: playful is usable. And if the design process itself is fun and challenging it shows in the result. But just making fun or ironic comments is not what we do. That's a dead end.
AS: Design is often so serious and money-oriented. I respect seriousness, but there is much to explore on the other side of that. Take the example of children: they make playful things, are free in spirit and filter the world in their own way. Why does the world stop encouraging the playfulness of children at a certain age? I was educated in the Korean school system which is very strict and competitive, and maybe I reacted in the opposite way: I'm sometimes really childish mentally.
Revealing the Top Secrets of Finland
JO: The project "Top Secrets of Finland" was initiated during a trip to the "mökki" (summer cottage) in the end of last year. Finnish summer cottage life is so functional and inspiring. Everything in the cottages is really well designed: the heating system, effective use of space, nature-made door handles and hangers - there is nothing extra in the interior or the daily life. We wanted to bring some of this into our everyday life. Finland has these great traditional products, and there must be great manufacturers still producing them. So we started looking.
AS: We also had the idea of collecting secrets and finding what is secret in the Finnish design field. What are the secret luxuries of Finland? Things you know but don't tell others.
JO: We wrote to a selection of these manufacturers, and almost every one we contacted answered. Some answered even though they were just closing down or moving their production to China. Many were very pleased, open and excited and welcomed us to come and see their production lines. We usually spent one day with each company. So far we have visited 17 companies around Finland and presented our designs to them based on the spirit of their products. The process is still going on.
AS: These companies are the true reality in design. The companies we visited are all different and make very good quality.
JO: We have had great experiences meeting people in these proud and no-compromise family businesses. One common thing with all these factories was that the people running them were real characters, very charismatic people. Some of these people are so uncompromising that they are prepared to stop production if their children are not going to continue running the factory after them.
AS: It was really a total lifestyle for these people. They are similar to their products, very honest and genuine and uncompromising in their vision. One of them said, "I could triple my production but I prefer to have time to play my guitar instead". The managing directors of these family companies played in the factories as children and now their children are playing in them. To me it seemed such a beautiful way of making a living and living your life - to have your own machines and produce your own designs... I feel a temptation to do that myself, when some of the companies are looking for a buyer...
JO: Earlier we have worked with individual specialised hand workers but only in very few cases with manufacturing companies. This is the first time that we have the opportunity to manufacture on a bigger scale for our designs, and what's more - this is not a commission, but a true co-operation.
AS: This is a pilot project for us and definitely the direction we are going to develop in the future.