the Biennale - no straw shortener

uden stråforkter / no straw shortener - are two works by the designer and visual artist Christina Christensen. One work is with rye from fields near Odder, and the other with reeds from Kysing Beach, and both with cotton, linen and brass.



Through their work, many of the artists who exhibited at the biennale communicate complex ideas or raise important issues about our lives … both in our immediate communities but also, more generally, about how we respond to and how we do or how we should appreciate and respect our broader natural environment.

These woven panels raise interesting issues about both how we see and use natural materials and about the impact on nature of human intervention.

Over recent decades research by plant breeders has lead to the development short-stemmed grain crops - to reduce damage from wind or rain, and to increases yields - but, as a consequence, secondary uses for the product from taller varieties are lost.

Until the second half of the 20th century, corn was not simply harvested for the nutritional value of the seed but the long stalks were a sustainable raw material.

Straw (and in many areas reed) was used for thatch where stone slates or fired clay tiles were not available locally or were too expensive for ordinary buildings.

Now, we worry about air miles or about the cost and effect of shipping food, fashion clothing and goods round the globe but I'm curious to know how many people think about where the materials for the construction of their home come from and the environmental impact of those materials at the source, at the factory, and from the transport of the materials.

Generally, in the past - so before the twentieth century - transport of building materials was difficult and expensive. If you were wealthy then you could buy a fashionable fireplace or elaborate panelling from the nearest city or import an exotic wood like mahogany for a staircase to be made by a local craftsman, but for ordinary people, building an ordinary house, materials, generally, came from the local area - often from no more than five miles away - unless you were by the coast or on a river, or, from the 19th century, by a canal or then a railway, when transport costs were less prohibitive.

So, it is fantastic to see the architect Dorte Mandrup using thatch for not only the roof but also for the external cladding of the walls for the new Wadden Sea interpretation centre at Ribe on the west coast of Jutland.

But straw and reed were not just used for building but were also used to make mats or to make furniture - in areas, where good timber was not available - and for making household goods and toys - but how many people now have things in their homes made from straw or reed?

I had a set of table mats that lasted for nearly 20 years before they finally disintegrated and I have a few traditional Dutch Christmas decorations - small birds and stars - that are woven in straw, and every year, for more than 30 years, they come out of the cupboard to be hung on the tree … good and sustainable examples of rural crafts that have much more meaning than tinsel and baubles.

For more than 20 years I measured and recorded and assessed historic buildings of all periods and a good number were thatched. My job was to measure, record and date the timber-work of the roof structure but I have to admit that I rarely thought about the thatch … more than just to note the material and any pattern on the ridge or eaves that reflected the traditions of that area.

Looking at the work by Christina Christensen, reminded me when I first thought about long straw. I had been asked by BBC radio to collaborate on a programme about a thatched building in Oxfordshire and was there to talk about the date of the roof timbers - the form and techniques of construction suggested it dated from the 14th century and that had been confirmed by dendrochronology - but the main contribution to the programme was from a plant archaeologist.

What was so important about that particular roof was that it had never been stripped back for the thatch to be replaced completely. For over 600 years it had simply been patched and repaired with new layers over the old core of straw thatch. Not just exposed roof timbers but also the underside of the thatch itself were blackened with soot from the original open hearth that had been at the centre of the house until the 16th century when a new fireplace with a closed-in chimney was built.

From within the roof space, huddled in cramped space above modern ceilings, with me and the radio interviewer, the archaeologist drew out straws that were not far off 2 metres long and some still had their seed heads. From these he was able to identify the specific types of corn grown in the area in the middle ages - types of corn that were often specific to a relatively small area and certainly no longer grown - and identifying them was important for understanding medieval farming but also important for studies on bio diversity.

Liquid Life - Biennalen for Kunsthåndværk & Design 2017

This is the last two days of the Biennalen ... an exhibition of some of the very best of Danish craft work.

What is astounding here are those very qualities that are not normally associated with Danish design … or at least not with common preconceptions about Danish design from the late 20th century. So here there is strong, bold use of colour and texture and the exploration of ideas that challenge perceptions and preconceptions. 

The theme Liquid Life - about how precarious modern life can feel - is from a text by Zygmunt Baumann and taken from his book Liquid Life that was published in 2005.

“Liquid life is the kind of life commonly lived in our contemporary, liquid-modern society ... The most acute and stubborn worries that haunt this liquid life are the fears of being caught napping, of failing to catch up with fast moving events, of overlooking the ‘use by’ dates and being saddled with worthless possessions, of missing the moment calling for a change of tack and being left behind.”

With an amazing diversity of both materials and techniques - with works in ceramic and glass, with textiles, jewellery, furniture, book binding, fashion and photography - and with many of the artists combining several materials and in some works several specialist skills - these works are the response that these observations by Zygmunt Bauman inspired in thirty seven artists, designers and makers ........... a response and an antidote.


Liquid Life - Biennalen for Kunsthåndværk & Design 2017

Museumsbygningen, Kastelsvej 18, Copenhagen until 27 May 2017



note: select an image by clicking on it and that will take you into the gallery where the title of the work and the name(s) of the artist(s) can be found

more photographs

biennalen for kunsthåndværk og design 2015


This is a dramatic exhibition and not just for the pieces in the show - the venue in a warehouse out at the Carlsberg site in Copenhagen is quite something.

Dating from the late 1960s, this building was a warehouse, Lagerkælder 3, a bottle store for Carlsberg brewery, and has a massive concrete structure, to support all the weight of beer that was kept here before it was transported out. Climbing up to the top floor by the concrete staircase it feels, in its abandoned state, like a multi-storey car park or an abandoned factory that might have had a role in The Killing. There is a huge steel lift but the stairs gave me a chance to explore a bit. The warehouse is about to undergo a massive refurbishment as offices and cultural spaces by the architects Gottlieb Paluden as part of the ongoing redevelopment of the whole Carlsberg site.



Emerging at the top floor the contrast is dramatic with white-painted concrete, extensive lighting and a new wooden floor for the exhibition space.

For Kunsthåndværk og Design - the Danish Craftwork and Design Association - the contrast between dereliction and swish display and between the architecture of industrial mass production and the highly individual skill and quality of the craft works on display must have been almost too good to believe as the venue for their biennial exhibition.

The theme for this year is Making is Connecting and the expressed aim is to explore new technologies, new materials and new techniques and to promote new connections or new collaborations between different disciplines within the professional works of craft, art, design and architecture.

There are new works from 28 craft artists or in some cases the works are a collaboration by two designers or makers.

At the opening of the exhibition these works, that I've reviewed briefly below, caught my attention and seemed to reflect best the interests and themes explored on this site but the exhibition as a whole is incredible.

Carlsberg Byen, Bryggernes Plads 11, 1799 Copenhagen V

The exhibition is open daily until the 29th of August. For more information see the Biennale web site.



Connecting Childhood by Annemette Beck and Mette Maya Gregersen

A collaboration between a ceramic artist and a textile designer using PVC rings and porcelain knots ... presumably the title suggests that returning to a more open or child-like way of playing with materials, exploring ideas without the restrictions of preconceptions, has produced something new and less conventional.

Coh&Co bicycle

Mette Walsted and Poul Harder Cohen

Here wood and carbon fibre replace a traditional metal frame to create a bicycle that has a level of craftsmanship normally associated with the work of Danish cabinet makers.

"Hand-built in Copenhagen using local materials, this is a sustainable injection into the throwaway culture that is prevalent in much of the cycle production industry. The aesthetic beauty of the bike compels us to take care of it."


Nominated for the Biennial Award


Lone Bedsted

Elements in wool with two colours for each, knitted on a jacquard machine, and connected in different ways.

Colours and patterns within each piece were inspired by trawling nets of local fishermen and Nordic knitting patterns.

Cross Roads

Vibeke Rohland

Vibeke again contrasts the heavy manufactured material of the backing - one of her 'commercial' designs for Kvadrat and the other a cotton denim - with the application of a thick apparently free-form impasto of silk-screen prints and paint. The Cross Roads of the title here refers to the "unpredictable factor that arises during the production of new work, where strict craftsmanship meets art in a free unfolding of expression".

The layers of pigment create complex levels of depth and changes dramatically the way the textile hangs and moves to show a complex relationship between freely applied areas of colour that over a large area take on the distinct qualities of a repeat pattern.

for other posts here about the work of Vibeke Rohland

De fire Temperamenter

The four temperaments by Helene Vonsild

Here weaving becomes an incredible combination of virtuoso skill and intellectual games. The same weave pattern is repeated in all four pieces but with very different materials - one is a heavy linen - one with fine wool and a silver thread - one with paper cord and a synthetic fibre so it curls and changes in unpredictable ways with any movement and one in silk with a waxed fibre that produces an incredible textile that has shape memory so it can be set into a position that it retains rather like working with paper for traditional Japanese paper sculptures.

For all four fabrics, the weave was adjusted and deconstructed on the loom and all four were conceived from the start as costumes whose form and cut was an integral part of the weaving process .... so concept, craftsmanship, mastery of technique and the execution of the design are absolutely and indivisibly united.

The designs represent the four temperaments of Melancholy, Sanguinity, Irascibility and the Phlegmatic.

See profile on Helene Vonsild for more about this piece and her work

Det er ikke svinets skyld

It is not the pig's fault by Inger Heebøll

Here multiples are used to give the modern breed of pig some sense of an individual personality although the text for the work points out that 20 million pigs are produced in Denmark each year so it becomes impossible to see them as individual.

These heads are contrasted with the freedom and naturalness of wild boars also modelled as part of the work.

Hjertet er Rødt

Red is the heart byJørgen Hansen and Bent Vinkler

Large concentric rings of interworked willow branches tied with braided bark encircle a gigantic vessel balanced on a rock. It is the striking contrast of textures and surfaces and the strong colours that make this piece mesmerising but it is the sweeping lines that seem to define and break and expand and constrict the space. The scale and the drama of the work challenges any attempt to define the work specifically as either sculpture or as a craft work. 

Ingen tite

No title by Søren Thygesen

Bricks that are sheared and then stacked to form an almost organic and sculptured shape.

Again this work challenges preconceptions that bricks, particularly modern bricks, should be rectangular and uniform: surely if bricks combine, they combine to form a flat vertical wall or a floor? ... but here bricks become the soft fluid surface of a structure as if seen through the distortion of water in a pool.

"The smooth bricks are sheared in profile where they conjoin. This method translates organic form into the aesthetics of the bricks." Søren Thygesen


Lamps by Lisbet Frills, Uffe Black Nielsen 

"Friis&Black's Nordic lamps exist at the crossroads where handcraftsmanship and architectural elements meet."

There are five rings with LED lights mounted on the second and fourth ring of this large lamps 840mm across and 360mm high.

Lighting has always played a strong part in Danish interiors and there is a long and well-established tradition of complex designs playing with directed and carefully controlled light and playing with the contrast between parts that are opaque and parts that are brightly illuminated.  

Tekstilt finér

Textile veneer by Else-Rikke Bruun

This work takes as a starting point the technique of weaving but translates it from textiles to timber with a solid wood warp and bands of veneer for the weft. The screen has a beautiful sinuous line and has a very strong texture that creates an amazing and dramatic contrast between the natural tone of the wood and deep shadow.

Things Change

Maria Bang Espersen

Five glass vessels appear to be conventional vases but the form is deliberately crude and each uses different materials for decoration with shards of glass, brick and stone. These alien materials cause the thin hand-blown glass to stress and crack and possibly, over a period of time, break into fragments.


Åsa Alm - carpenter Andrea Stokholm

Made in ash, the design of the chair plays clever games with conventional forms by using less common details of construction so here the overall shape is reminiscent of a good, well-made, country chair with a spindle back but the arms are robust, sweeping round and down with horizontal bars below the arm rest that echo the rails between the legs to give the piece much more character ... it is more like a sculpture and here that is emphasised by the dramatic light and shadow.