On Tuesday May 5th the new design exhibition at Nationalmuseum opened. This time full focus is on phenomenon Snowcrash from Finland. It is a proper and good exhibition about something that happened 1997-2003.
Nationalmuseum is Sweden’s biggest museum and it might not necessarily do the largest design exhibitions but definately with a proper museum perspective. Everything is researched and put in context. So is this.
Snowcrash was a handful of Finnish designers in their 20s who went to Milan design week in 1997. They got loans from banks and put together a show. They got a lot of attention and was acquired by Swedish investors and finally put out of business 2003. It all happend in six years.
It is difficult and challenging to do a retrospective with something that is so close in time. Is the museum getting the right references? In what context does Snowcrash occur. Personally (yes, I was definately born in 1997…) this is the year when I opened my vintage store in Stockholm. My vintage store was focusing on the 60s and 70s design. 1997 was an era when very few knew what brands like Fritz Hansen was. Vitra was not yet re-producing the 60s icon chair in plastic by Verner Panton. Wallpaper magazine basically did not exist (founded 1996), the same year Acne was founded. Acne actually furnished their first office with pieces from my vintage store. The 60s was out and we could perhaps see a flirtation with the 50s.
1997 is a year without Scandinavian or Nordic popculture stars. Looking at the most played music at MTV I notice that we focus on US and UK music. This is the era of Spice Girls. Movies are about Men in Black, Jurassic Park and Titanic. Compasso d’oro is in 2001 given to Konstantin Grcic.
1997 is the year when IKEA launch their PS Collection and all of a sudden the design chain go from not showing the name of the designer to fully print the names of Tomas Sandell, Thomas Ericsson etc, etc. The designer slowly but surely became stars.
I write this because I think it is important to put a retrospective in context. Nationalmuseum has a wonderful exhibition about artist Zorn. And very much is explained. When did he get in contact with that lady? When did he go to Spain? It is all about storytelling. You can of course argue like Swedish Dagens Nyheter that we are not looking enough into the private life of Zorn. Why are they not talking about the venereal diseases of Zorn?
There is of course a thin line between over-sharing and not sharing enough. I not sure I want to know about the sexlife of Ulrika Mårtensson when she did textiles for Snowcrash… But I do want to know more about the relationship with US textile designer Shiela Hicks.
So, to be clear. The exhibition is a great introduction to Snowcrash. All the major pieces are there. I am sure this is a milestone and an important reference when talking about Nordic and Scandinavian design in the 90s.
The space for the design exhibition is limited but still ok. Are there 50 pieces in total? 15 designers.
The museum also brought graphical design from the launch in 1997.
The design aesthetics is typical of the era. Almost like pictogram. The rocking chair is of course also good for a new activity in these times – computer games. The brand PlayStation was introduced in 1991.
And this is the era of digital optimism. Again, a pop culture reference. 1997 is the year of Jamiroquai’s song Virtual Reality. The exhibition talks about Nokia and Ericsson. These phone brands are of course extremely important at this time. The Nordic region might not be important on the fashion scene, movie scene or music scene – but we had the technology. People in the mobile phone industry were stars and got the cover of many magazines.
So, of course Snowcrash is affected by these times and want to do savvy things for computers.
There are obvious talks about how the office would change and Snowcrash added design this area as well.
The group at Snowcrash had a curiosity for tech driven design. Here a lamp by Arik Levy. Originally for VHS (yes!!). Imagine putting a VHS in your room and a video starts playing a light. Kind of the VHS fireplace, but a light. Today it would be a USB stick or even an app…
At it’s best Snowcrash continues to use the curiosity for the tech driven evolution. Like this inflatable lamp. In the backgroud you can see the bag for Monica Förster’s inflatable conference room. Not errected unfortunately.
Finally. Total verdict. I absolutely give this a full score. Four or five out of five. It is a historical reference. And of course there are challanges to explain the zeitgeist, and of course you want more. There are talks about material experiments and you definately want to see more. But it is totally fine. Go see it.