CrossRoads - an exhibition of the work of Vibeke Rohland

Superobjekt Gallery from Borgergade

Vibeke Rohland talking to a visiting art group on the day after the opening



An exhibition has opened at the Superobjekt gallery in Borgergade in Copenhagen showing recent works by the artist and designer Vibeke Rohland. 

Normally, I do not post about artists or about art gallery exhibitions on this site - trying to keep up with design and architecture is enough of a struggle for me without getting distracted, however pleasant or interesting that would be - but the meeting point of art, design and craftsmanship is incredibly important. And that is exactly what you can see in the Crossroads exhibition.

Marketing men and accountants, I am sure, see the different ‘disciplines’ in different boxes but one of the huge strengths for Nordic design in general and for Danish design in particular, is that the separation of roles in academic training and in professional practice is blurred. In Denmark many furniture designers have trained initially as architects, product designers come through a craft background as makers, designers appreciate that they have to understand the craft techniques as the starting point for commercial production and, through a long well-established tradition, many classic pieces of furniture have been produced by a close collaboration between the designer and cabinet makers. 

However, even in my own mind, it is difficult to define clear boundaries. At one end of the scale a unique piece, signed and often dated because it can be seen as part of a sequence in the development of an artist’s work over the years, is clearly ART and at the other end of the scale something produced in a distant factory and shipped back for sale is product design. Between though is the problem. A potter or glass maker might make a one-off piece for an exhibition; a set of matching pieces - a series of handmade pieces - for a client and then a related design for mass production by a well-known design brand. So one unique piece is a work of art, a set is crafts-made, and more than ten? more than twenty? several hundred? several thousand? becomes a product run? And how should artists, makers and designers interact? Surely they have to! Surely a designer needs to check back in to making something by hand every now and then and a craftsman could benefit from the occasional fee of a commercial run.

Vibeke Rohland very clearly and deliberately breaks through these boundaries. Here, at the Superobjekt gallery, many of the large and unique pieces are actually produced over commercial fabrics that Vibeke designed and that are made by Kvadrat. Even the techniques shown here are a beautiful subversion. Many of her pieces with a limited-run as well as the commercial designs have been produced by silk screen printing so always with slight variations because it is not, strictly, a mechanical process.* Here, for  the largest pieces in this show, the dye has been laid on and taken across the fabric using a squeegee but without the screen and its mask as the control or intermediary. Each area of colour therefore is and has to be a unique area of the overall work. There can, obviously, be no precise repeat pattern. The colour appears to be built up in layers and that is exactly what has happened.



A recurrent theme of Vibeke’s work is using what appear to be simple repeats of pattern but with complex overlays of colour using intensity of colour to create changes in the depth, light and space within the pattern. A series of grid or cross-hatched designs, some framed and included here, and experiments she has produced with large wheels or circles as the underlying form, created with broad cross spokes, uses the same approach ... being apparently very bold but actually creating a finished piece that is incredibly subtle in it’s use of colour and it is the variations in the intensity of colour or variation in the thickness of pigment which create the sense of depth. Another series uses strict repeats of large but simple shapes like crosses or dashes but on a huge scale to undermine the viewers judgement of distance from the work. The repeat becomes a texture but again not something mechanical because it is slight but deliberate changes or slight differences in the units over a surprisingly large repeat making up the pattern that bring the design to life.



Again, this same approach to colour and pattern can be seen in the commercial designs by Vibeke for Kvadrat. Her commercial woven and printed textiles use small points or fine lines of colour to build up pattern and form and shadow so it actually comes as a surprise when you see the large overall size of the repeat of the pattern. In the same way that the layers of colour on the pieces in this show build up to form a complex and large-scale work, the small points of colour and the very very careful combinations of colour in the furnishing fabrics are used to create depth and an effect of shadow to build up the final bold overall pattern.

The works on show here are amazing but it is also worth tracking down the commercial designs from Vibeke Rohland that have been produced by Georg Jensen Damask, Bodum, Hay and Royal Copenhagen. Spend time looking at the on-line site from Kvadrat to see the designs for fabric there - including Map, Satellite, Scott and Squares - with a wide range of colours in each design. The small sample at the start of the Kvadrat page reduces these textiles to a simple small area of dots or graph-paper grids but clicking through and moving out to the broader view these become complex patterns that are again both bold and subtle ... that same effect as you move close up to and then further back from the pieces in the gallery.

CrossRoads continues at Superobjekt Gallery Borgergade 15, København until 2 May 2015

Vibeke Rohland



* And yes ... I know that screen printing can be incredibly precise when used as a commercial process. Many years ago I went to the Sanderson factory in west London and watched the hand printing of fabric that was 1.5 metres wide with a 900 mm repeat with men on either side of a screen printing alternate sections down a massive length, loading the dye by judgement and experience and taking the squeegee backwards and forwards between them and then returning down the length printing the gaps and it was impossible to see the joins ... but an important quality of screen printing on a textile that itself may have blemishes because it is organic rather than mechanical gives the finished textile its character and warmth. Perfection can be really dull.