We had the opportunity to interview artists Aapo Nikkanen and Léa Domingues about their new project HAVE/NEED, as part of the Together Again program organised by the Finnish cultural and academic institutes around the world. In their multi-disciplinary project, Nikkanen and Domingues delve into the problems of the fashion industry through discussions, workshops, and artworks.
Could you tell us a little about your background?
Léa: I have a background in fashion design, I was always interested in the visual narrative around fashion and its social and theoretical aspects. After school I decided to move to London. There I started an internship with Faustine Steinmetz, who was my favourite designer at the time. We had a very good connection so she asked me to stay and work as her first assistant.
I worked with her for two years, it was extremely creative and I learnt a lot from her. Back in Paris, I joined the team of The Community Paris as an assistant. This was a mind-opening time for me, a place where I discovered that my skills could be used in many different ways.
The Community Paris’ first space closed and I applied for a design job with the fashion brand Marine Serre. During the interview, Marine Serre suggested that I work on their upcycling collection called Green Line instead. It was an exciting opportunity as the job was to be invented. Of course I said yes, and that’s how I started to work there on the autumn-winter 2019 collection. I focused full time on the proposals and sourcing for both the development and production of upcycled materials. It was a huge challenge, but little by little we built the team and the processes.
After two years I wanted to return to multidisciplinary practice and decided to go freelance. I kept the mission of creative sourcing and upcycling strategy at Marine Serre and started to work on personal projects. Soon after, I started giving lectures in fashion schools and working on a cultural project with children. I’ve been working in this way for a few years now, alternating between freelance work, personal practice, and educational processes.
Aapo: I have degrees in fine arts from Tampere University, HEAD in Geneva, and Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. I have been working as a professional visual artist for the past ten years. For most of that time, I’ve lived in Paris. My artistic practice deals with mostly multi-disciplinary, immersive work that mixes my intimate observations with research about various topics. I’m interested in how things such as consumption, fashion, art, psychology, online culture, and environmental crisis interconnect, and what kinds of different combinations they could possibly create. I think my profession as an artist is something that can expand greatly beyond working in the atelier and showing art objects in exhibitions. It can include producing participative pieces, creating organisations, teaching, writing, researching, collaborating, and being a facilitator.
How did you meet and start working together?
Léa: We met at The Community Paris when I was an assistant. The first time we worked together was for an exhibition in London. A few days after we had another one in Marseille, it was on the train back to Paris that Aapo suggested we work together on a series of T-shirts. It was called “Common Surgeries“.
“I think fashion is such an interesting subject and HAVE/NEED is a great opportunity to ask questions and talk about issues in the fashion environment.”
Can you tell us more about your project HAVE/NEED and what inspired you to create it?
Aapo: I had a grant from Institut finlandais during Covid lockdowns from the Together Alone program, during which I researched the ecological problems in the fashion and garment industry. Although it was a research grant with no specific need to produce something physical, I did in the end produce an exhibition, a publication, and a workshop for designers based on my findings. The workshop felt the most revelationary for me since it put my competencies as an artist in a different context and they turned out to be really useful! Léa was one of the participants in the workshop, and since then, I kept thinking that it would be amazing to devote time to dive into this topic much deeper. So when Institut finlandais approached me to develop a project under the Together Again program, I proposed that we’d team up with Léa and create something together.
Léa: The project is based on research. That’s what interested me the most when Aapo suggested we collaborate. When you work in fashion, the opportunities to spend time on research are quite rare. I think fashion is such an interesting subject and HAVE/NEED is a great opportunity to ask questions and talk about issues in the fashion environment.
Can you take us through the process of creating the project, from the initial idea to the final result?
Aapo: We started with the idea of developing workshops, but first, we had to research how, and what, and to whom, so research took very quickly the main focus, and remains to be it today. Our main tool is interviews, and it’s very exciting to exchange and develop ideas based on what we learn from different people. We have, and keep developing different parts of the project, such as workshops, research, publications, events, and artworks. Some of them culminate in certain moments such as the HAVE/NEED forum in Paris in June 2023, and some continue until further notice, like the research. It’s a process.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists who want to pursue a similar project?
Léa: One thing that works well is meeting people, asking questions. The social exchange is super rich. Of course you also need a lot of time to reflect on, digest, and understand all the discussions.
Aapo: Well I guess the first thing is to accept that your artwork will have to take the form that the research dictates. You might have to reconsider what is an artwork too. Personally I think that for example the event we are producing is an artwork, but someone might disagree, so it’s probably easier to try not to label things too much. In practical terms, it’s easy to approach people for interviews if you have defined your topic well beforehand as they will likely say yes! The whole process probably takes more time than you would have thought. Don’t have assumptions. Appreciate people for taking the time from their schedules to talk to you, and if you can find something to give something back to them, always do! And be prepared to send a lot of emails…