Bukowski presents Claesson Koivisto Rune In Japan, an exhibition and auction of pieces from the famous Swedish architecture and design studio Claesson Koivisto Rune. Founded in 1995 by Mårten Claesson, Eero Koivisto and Ola Rune, the studio has established a long-standing collaboration and association with Japan. The exhibition highlights the considerable work produced through this unique Swedish-Japanese design collaboration, with over 100 lots at auction featuring Claesson Koivisto Rune items that have been designed or made in Japan over the past three decades. TLmag talks to Mårten Claesson about the similarities between Japanese and Scandinavian aesthetics, forging long-term creative partnerships and the concern for quality present in all aspects of Japanese culture.
TLmag: Eero Koivisto, Ola Rune and yourself founded your long-standing architecture and design firm in 1995. How did the partnership start?
Mårten Claesson (MC): We were in the same class at university and we became friends. We did some homework together and also won a few competitions together while we were studying. Long story short, we graduated during a recession, so there weren’t really any jobs to be found. But we did meet, so we thought we should just try to keep going. We registered a business together and now it’s 25 years later. A lot of people ask about these creative partnerships. I can’t really give any advice because I think it only works if you are really good friends. I strongly believe in personal relationships in such a collaboration because if it’s just a matter of convenience, or a way to make rent, it’s unlikely to work in the long run.
TLmag: How did you get such a long relationship with Japan? What made you come back?
MC: Well, to be very precise, Eero traveled to Japan alone in 1992, and Ola and I traveled together in 1993, but we had the same scholarship. I think we fell in love with the country, and we are still in love with it. Japan can be hard to understand because we have so many preconceptions about it. It is a very cultural society, but not only in terms of historical culture. It’s also extremely avant-garde, and these two things exist together at the same time, all the time. In the West, I think there is a kind of rivalry between people who want to preserve traditional cultures, and people who want to be creative and influence new cultures. In Japan, you don’t have this kind of conflict. They just have the right to exist side by side. They really take care of their traditions and all their craftsmanship, and at the same time, they are the most technologically advanced country on the planet. They refine everything to the highest quality, which is simply heaven for me as a designer and architect. Japanese society is also very gentle, with mild humor and a very humanistic outlook. The people are so caring and kind. It is my favorite place in the world.
TLmag: In your opinion, what links the Scandinavian and Japanese approaches to design?
MC: Besides design and quality being a kind of universal language, I think there is another link between Scandinavian and Japanese aesthetics. It’s a theory that we’ve built after all these years back in Japan, that there are so many similarities. The Japanese love a clean, minimalist aesthetic without ornamentation and with natural materials, and all of this is appreciated in Scandinavia as well. I believe that in Japan it is for historical religious philosophies, which cherish a reduction of expression, whereas in Scandinavia it was done in a completely different way. Until about a century ago, Sweden was a poor nation. We couldn’t afford the ornamentation, or the elaborate designs that were being made in Italy or France at the time. Nowadays we look at the Scandinavian version of rococo, for example, and we think it’s beautiful, because the lack of lavishness is seen as beautiful today. I think this aesthetic has stuck with us. So, to make a long story short, the Japanese expression and the Scandinavian expression ended up being very similar. I think that’s part of why we’ve been so well received in Japan, and maybe it’s also why we enjoy Japanese ourselves.
TLmag: Would you say that your own style or material sensibility was influenced by your time in Japan?
MC: A lot. Influence comes from all directions, of course, but if I had to think of one in particular, there is no stronger influence than the Japanese, in our case. We have bought so many household and craft items, and most of the items in my house and in my partner’s houses are Japanese, rather than anything else. So that must mean something.
TLmag: How did the exhibition and the auction come about?
MC: We were approached by Bukowskis, which is Sweden’s oldest and most distinguished auction house. They have several categories of objects that they work with, and the one we fall into is modern design. We were chatting with them and developed the idea of collecting as much as possible of everything we have done over the years in Japan, which has been mostly done with Japanese clients, and very little of which has ever been shown in Sweden. Likewise, all of these things have never been connected together in one show. It is unique in several ways; first of all because we ourselves have not seen these collected objects, because they were also made for different clients and projects. Second, Japan is a fairly isolated market, so a lot of these things are never seen outside of it. I also feel good helping to introduce the Japan we live in, which is different from what most people associate with Japan. It’s modern, but beautifully defined.
The Claesson Koivisto Rune In Japan the viewing takes place August 24-28, at Berzelii 1 Park, Stockholm. The online auction runs August 20-29.
Images courtesy of Claesson Koivisto Rune.