During these times of virtual communication, now symbol of a world pandemic, we had the pleasure to correspond by e-mail with Hannakaisa Pekkala, designer and CEO of UU Market, a collective of Finnish artists and designers providing a new type of online selling platform. Highlighting the importance of making the most out of these difficult times to ponder on our societies and consumption habits, Hannakaisa raises societal and environmental issues of international scale, issues embodied by our new online exhibition Nouvelle Saison in collaboration with UU Market.
UU Market was founded in 2017. How did it all begin?
UU Market was born out of a change and need in the field of industrial design. Being designers ourselves, we have become aware of the practical challenges in the industry; many amazing ideas never get to see the daylight or good products don’t find a manufacturer. Being in charge of the sales, creating a brand, reaching an audience, and marketing, while designing and manufacturing the product itself, is a lot to ask for one person, and resources for bigger production do not exist.
UU Market was created to offer a service that benefits the makers and customers alike. We gather together both for sale and exhibition purposes an extensive selection of Finnish industrial design. UU Market takes care of the sales and marketing of the products, while the makers can focus on the creative side. The creatives also benefit from one another: when a customer enters our store to have a closer look at products by a certain designer, they will discover a range of other designers at the same time.
Our activity is new and a ready-made model or example for this kind service does not exist. As we learn what works and what doesn’t, we can also shift the focus-point of our service. Now we have been developing practices that have a focus on artistic representation and sales: we organise a lot of exhibitions, fairs and events, where we advocate the participating designers.
UU Market gathers together professionals from different fields – from ceramicists to glassblowers, woodworkers, designers, photographers to graphic designers. The values of collectivity are vivid in what you do. How much do the artists of UU Market collaborate with each other? Would you even describe UU Market as a certain kind of collective?
UU Market could certainly be called a collective, because our concept is based on collaboration and joining forces. It has been delightful to notice that our makers have been collaborating independently – for example glassblower and glass artist Paula Pääkkönen has blown works designed by me, as well as by artist Viivi Lehto and furniture designer Aleksi Remsu. The contacts often spring up through UU Market or the makers themselves. I hope that in the future we will see even more collaboration between the creatives and on a larger scale.
All collaborations give birth to new ideas and strengthen the industrial art activities in Finland. The profession is small, but by working together we can achieve more than on our own. Our goal is to be building a revolution in the field of Finnish art industry.
Our goal is to be building a revolution in the field of Finnish art industry.
How do you find new makers?
Networks and events are our most important way to find new designers. Because we come from the creative field ourselves, we also know a lot of creatives personally. In the beginning, we started by asking people from our circle of acquaintances to join us. Marketing in social media and presence in different events has brought us so many amazing new contacts over time. It has been great to notice that many skilled designers have also found and contacted us.
Our founding member, Milla Vaahtera, has worked as a teacher in many schools in the design field, which has created a direct link with the students in the industry. We want the platform of UU Market to be open for both new makers, emerging names as well as for well-known artists and designers. This is how our selection stays timely: we want to bring forward especially the style of the new generation, which is experimental, brave and playful. There is so much more to Finnish design than Scandinavian minimalism – and new classics can be born only if given the chance to come to light.
The exhibition, Nouvelle Saison, is opening in May as an online exhibition on the institute’s website. The pandemic will in many ways impact the work and financial situation of artists and designers. Do you think that this will also create new ways to think and act in the artistic field, even after the pandemic? I thought especially of appreciation for local production chains and traditional skills and craftsmanship.
Along with the pandemic many events have been cancelled or postponed to a later date, which has created notable losses of income for many professionals in the creative field. However, it has been amazing to see how events, tied into a physical space, have taken new forms that are more suitable to the current situation, like in our collaboration. Instead of a physical exhibition, we are putting together an online exhibition, where we aim to bring the works and artists closer to the audiences in different ways. I hope that despite the difficult situation, those who have the opportunity to do things differently, learn and try something new, will take advantage of these times.
I am sure that the pandemic will leave a mark to our society and hopefully incite some positive changes as well. I believe that stagnation makes many people think of their consumer habits and what they value in life. Locally made, close services and human contacts will be emphasized. When sheltering and snuggling up inside, the importance of home and its objects will be highlighted more than before. On a larger scale, this change of direction has been visible for a long time – people want to make more individual choices. They long for real materials and handmade objects instead of single-use culture. Maybe now is the time when these things start to concretise.
The exhibition Nouvelle Saison brings together 8 Finnish makers, who all represent modern craftsmanship in their own way. Could you tell more about this characterisation? How would you describe the change that has happened in the design field during the past few years?
With globalisation, the industry has significantly decreased in Finland, thus influencing employment and education in the creative field. In the light of the changing situation many designers, artists and makers have taken the role of a manufacturer upon themselves, producing their own product series. The majority of creative people would rather concentrate on doing what they love: creating something with their hands.
Craftsmanship and traditional professions require a very precise and fine kind of special know-how, which is possible to learn only in practice, as in glassblowing or ceramics. To keep all this know-how alive, we need new ways to act in the creative field.
The change has created an international, new kind of “maker movement”, where craftsmanship and small scale production has revived after a long-lasting era of mass production. Social media has offered the makers a new type of sales and marketing platform. The modern artisan of today is employing traditional skills bravely and in their own way.
What is your personal source of inspiration as a designer?
I often get inspired by materials, different manufacturing processes, experiments and learning something new. Often inspiration occurs in the surrounding environment: the colours, shapes and patterns seen in nature or in cities find their way into my works in different forms. Usually, it is easy to find the connections between my own works and inspiring phenomena later on, when looking back to my working process.
In the Nouvelle Saison exhibition, you will find my newest product series, called Imprint. In the Imprint glass sculptures, I am exploring different patterns in a freely blown glass. The process is often formed of experimenting, mistakes and failures. Glass is a challenging and amazing material, which is why the end result is often very different from the original idea. The material is full of surprises, making the process very intriguing. The pieces were blown in a playful way, experimenting with different moulds, with the final form concretising later during the process. The idea of a wall bracket and elevation of light was born when I tested how the colours react to light. It is exciting to see how much the colour of the glass changes, making the object completely different.
The production chain is short and transparent.
The Nouvelle Saison exhibition showcases both unique art objects as well as small product series. In the materials especially glass and ceramics flourish, finding their contrast in darker materials, such as wood and glossy metal. The delicious boxes by Laura Itkonen, the playful mobiles by Milla Vaahtera and the organic sculptures by Laura Pehkonen serve as great examples of having fun with materials and colours. Ethicality and ecological aspects are important values for UU Market. How do these values concretise in your activities?
In addition to the exhibition, the same values apply to the whole selection of UU Market: our products are an alternative to mass production. Through us, besides small scale series, the makers can sell unique pieces, which don’t have room in industrial production. The imprint of a hand can be seen in the final work, and we want to offer a selection that is new in style as well. We want the diversity of Finnish design to be seen to the grand public.
In UU Market’s products, one passionate maker is often behind the design, manufacturing as well as of the delivery to the client. A part of our products, like some of the pieces in Nouvelle Saison, has been created in collaboration between different artists. The production chain is short and transparent.
The handmade details and finishing touches make the piece unique. They affect how the product is handled and taken care of and, first and foremost, how dear it becomes to its owner. Loved objects are cherished and often travel with their owner throughout life until passed on to next generations. I think we should aim for that with everything we buy.
What does the future hold for UU Market?
I hope that UU Market will grow further and become more international. I believe that our activities are going to change and develop through experiences. It would be amazing to be creating completely new operation models, to help promote the art industry and know-how in Finland. So far, the journey has been challenging but positive signs are in the air, among which is this collaboration with Institut finlandais. It has been amazing making the new artists and know-how of Finnish arts and design known in the world. In the future, I would love for UU Market to be a significant actor in the field of Finnish arts and design.