Kustaa Saksi

“My world is a graphic world,” explains the Amsterdam-based Finnish designer Kustaa Saksi of his approach to weaving. Treating the loom as a “magic printer” Saksi’s recent collection of jacquard weavings, Hypnopompic, created at the TextielLab of the Textiel Museum in Tilburg honestly doesn’t look like the work of a weaver.

The collection’s title refers to a state between sleeping and waking, when dreams are vivid but sleep has ended. Doctors are still unclear as to why this happens. Saksi cites a family member’s experience of the condition coupled with his own migraine headaches as responsible for an interest in the patterns that emerge from this in-between realm. “People love patterns,” he reflects, “something in the cortex of the brain copies patterns. Does this explain the history of fabric patterns, because you see the same patterns appear again and again.”

The Hypnopompic collection is packed with the stuff of both nightmares and dreams: a giant spider graces Arachne’s Web; grasshoppers sliced into various patterns sit amongst the stalks of Chirp Chirp, a marbled globe hanging above; chimpanzee’s – genetically our closest relative – swing from the branches of Blood Brother’s; Herbarium of Dreams lays out a world not of dried plant specimens but woven plant life gone awry: two stalks of wheat and bunches of thistle heads are recognisable, while more unfamiliar shapes seem reminiscent of toadstools and their uncanny speed of growth.

Saksi studied graphic design at the Institute of Design in Lahti University of Applied Sciences in Finland before moving to Paris, and then six years ago to Amsterdam. He concedes that Finnish designers tend to draw influence from their country's natural surroundings, which has the knock-on effect of prioritising natural materials in design. The clean Nordic design aesthetic that interior design magazines relish trades in these aesthetic priorities, but it is a design stereotype perhaps more fairly squared on Sweden and Denmark. Instead Finland is experiencing a resurgence of interest in both tapestry weaving and kalevala - a Finnish epic poem - amongst a younger generation familiar with heavily patterned family heirlooms but not necessarily trained in woven textile design.

When an exhibition opportunity arose at the Korjaamo Culture Factory in Helsinki several years ago Saksi decided that tapestry would be the right response for the space. After experimentation at the Textiel Lab in Tilburg, the Netherlands – a cornerstone for woven textile production in part because a technical team supports artists and designers both familiar and unfamiliar with the woven structure – he started to weave the eight part series.

His aspiration? “I wanted the weavings to be three dimensional.” The outcome frankly looks unlikely to have been created by a weaver largely because of the cacophony of extremes found in each work. Viscose, lurex, various metallic yarns, alpaca wool and mohair are packed densely in some areas, loosely woven in others, to create a surface that bulges and then flattens. “I start in a different world,” Saksi reflects when I ponder how much he has now learnt about woven structures. “I don’t know the limits.” This perspective presents a real but intriguing conundrum for design educators – the strange reality that a lack of knowledge has turned into a refreshing asset.

And what of paper and graphic design – the stuff of his early career? “At first I thought working with tapestry was limiting for me. I was trained to think about the resolution, treating the textile like a digital file. He acknowledges that his work with woven textiles in recent years has brought to his graphic design a more restrained palette, “maybe more sophisticated,” he observes after adjusting to the limitations imposed by the yarns and structures of weaving.

Saksi’s taste for psychedelic overload is partially tamed in his recent collection of printed textiles and ceramics for the celebrated Finnish textile design company Marimekko, this time inspired by a recent diving trip in Vietnam. But the layering of pattern and confident colour palette are unmistakable. And he has a new woven collection in mind. Tests have begun on new material experiments at the Textile Lab such as woven rubber and mohair to create an “organic moss-like” surface. The loom seems to be a far cry from the album covers he designed early in his career, but the textile looks set to remain a significant part of his portfolio. “Weaving is a slow process”, he acknowledges, but when a cloth appears pick by pick from the loom it is “magic to watch”.

Selvedge magazine spring 2015: 31-34.