TRÆ, SAKS, PAPIR / Wood, paper, scissors

Karmstol, Stitched wood and a Skammel and Massive weaving


Knitted wood

Massive weaving and Folded wood

Knitted weaving and Folded wood

Knitted wood

An important exhibition of recent work by the furniture designer and architect Else-Rikke Bruun has just opened at the gallery of the Association of Danish Crafts and Designers in Bredgade .

There are several strong themes running through the works shown here but perhaps the most interesting and surprising idea is about not just defining space but also exploring shadow as a strong component as if it is itself a material element in the design.

Five screens in wood - the main works - define space but also occupy space and very considerable care was taken to set the lighting and to use the natural light of the gallery so strong shadows on the floor dissolve the sharp edge between the vertical of the screen and the horizontal surface of the floor and views through the screen and light coming through the screen from the other side change as you move round the space.

After completing her training as an architect Else-Rikke Bruun studied Arabian architecture for three years and here not just the fragmenting of light but also the use of precise geometric forms show the influence of Arabian architectural forms. Walking around the exhibition Else-Rikke explained that she is fascinated by patterns and the way we look for patterns and geometric pattern has a strong role in architecture of the Middle East, North Africa and southern Spain.

Influence from Japan is acknowledged both in the way the screens and the arrangement of faceted blocks of wood in the chair and in small panels reference the Japanese art of folding paper - two panels in wood are titled Origami panel - but also there is the sense of a Japanese aesthetic in the calm and measured division of space - a key feature of the way the pieces have been arranged in the gallery.

All the works shown are made with incredible precision so they also have the quality of fine engineering - particularly in the way separate pieces are linked or joined together or have different forms of hinge: all the screens can be articulated to adjust the angles of the parts or the alignment of the whole screen and Knitted wood folds back in on itself.

Another strong theme is inspiration from textile art and that is shown directly in the titles of three of the works … Stitched wood, Massive weaving and Knitted wood. This is not just about how elements interlock - Veneer has what are in fact giant warp and weft in cut plywood - but, as with woven textiles, the visual character from a distance is different from the complexity and subtlety that is revealed as you move closer.

Four of the works exploit the properties of laminated wood and develop different techniques for cutting to shape, bending, linking or interlocking plywood.

Use of colour is important but generally subtle … the screen titled Massive weaving uses spray paint so colour is strong on the cross-cut ends of the battens but fades out along the length. This work was developed with the colour artist Malene Bach. Generally subtle except that Knitted wood has a strong colour on one side that counterposes the shadow as you look through the interlocking curves.

The exhibition is the culmination of over a year of work specifically but actually develops and builds on themes that were first shown by Else-Rikke Bruun in the craft Biennials in 2015 and 2017.

Immediately  before the exhibition Else-Rikke Bruun had a residency at Statens Værksteder for Kunst / Danish Art Workshops in Copenhagen and in a longer review here both the development of the main ideas and themes of the exhibition and the role of the workshops in giving artists access to space and equipment to realise their work will be discussed.

Stools in Oregon pine were made by Anders Petersen Collection & Craft in Copenhagen.

Karmstol, the chair in the exhibition, took, as a starting point for its design, round-headed niches at each end of this gallery. It is not strictly site specific but does hint at just how carefully-considered this work is with strong references to the design of Classic Danish chairs while experimenting with both form and construction techniques. It is an important piece that blurs our artificial boundaries between art, craftsmanship and utility and will be the subject of a separate post.

A longer review of Træ, Saks, Papir will be posted here  

Danske Kunsthåndværkere og Designere

Else-Rikke Bruun


the exhibition continues until 20 December 2018 at
Officinet, Bredgade 66, Copenhagen

Else-Rikke Bruun at northmodern

It has been quite difficult to write about these complex and sophisticated pieces. For a start they are stunningly beautiful. Of course that shouldn't make it difficult to describe them or talk about this furniture but then the superlatives start to stack up and begin to slide into hyperbole and loose their impact.

Also the pieces occupy an interesting middle ground: this is furniture - or at least they are pieces designed to furnish a room, which is slightly different - but in some ways they are closer to being sculpture than most furniture because they explore so carefully ideas about volume and space and explore the role of light and shadow in defining both.

Harlekin in birch

Veneer in birch

A strong feature of the screens is their texture although it may seem slightly odd to describe something on this relatively large scale as texture. As well as through touch, of course, texture is usually revealed by light playing across a surface to highlight changes on the surface that show that it is not smooth - so the texture of rough concrete or, and more appropriate here, the texture of a woven fabric or the texture of the surface of a woven rush mat or of a basket.

Nor are conventional definitions of style particularly appropriate here. The screens are minimalist in that they have a relatively simple repeat pattern and are made in a material with a uniform tone and colour and there is no added decoration - any pattern is formed by the technique of construction and not applied - but rather than being minimal - which often now just implies simple or basic - these pieces are better described as being restrained or sober and controlled.

Certainly the gentle curves of the chairs, when seen in profile, are complex but there is a purity of line and that is what, in part, makes them so beautiful … and that is said with no apology for slipping into hyperbole.

Nor do the pieces really conform to a strict sense of period or location because although they are, in some ways, typically Scandinavian - pale wood and high-quality construction for a start - they can also be seen to relate to Japanese and Chinese techniques of carpentry where separate elements are held together by intersecting and locking the parts into place rather than being fixed together by using carpenters' joints or screws or glue.

Nor are these forms and shapes specifically related to timber, in its most natural form, because Else-Rikke Bruun exploits, in a very sophisticated way, the intrinsic qualities of the plywood that she uses and plywood is manufactured rather than being timber that has simply been felled and then sawn and planed smooth. But also the screens are reminiscent of origami and could be made in paper or card although, of course, then they would be of a different scale.

These pieces show Else-Rikke Bruun exploring and testing, in different ways, both a material and the different technique or ways of working with that material … here the shaping and bending of plywood so that it retains a complex shape. Plywood can be bent and then held under tension, as in the screens, or, with the construction of the chair, sheets of plywood can be shaped with heat and pressure so at normal temperatures the separate sections are flexible but retain the shape of the curve of a former or mould.

The screens and the chair are important because they illustrate another aspect of the design process. It is fascinating to see the work of a designer who knows instinctively that they have reached a point with a design when it is absolutely right. Many designers would have to think carefully before being able to explain to someone why one part of their design is not longer or not a sharper curve or a thicker dimension but by instinct and through experience they know or they feel when something is absolutely right for what they are trying to achieve. And that really is difficult to explain.


Veneer was shown at the Biennalen exhibition of Kunsthåndværk og Design - the Danish Craftwork and Design Association - at Carlsberg Byen in Copenhagen in August 2015

Else-Rikke Bruun

Bended by Else-Rikke Bruun


This chair was inspired by Arabic lettering and, when seen in profile, the curves of the separate parts certainly have the fluidity of ink lines drawn with a pen or a fine brush as in calligraphy.

It is formed from flat, two-dimensional, sheets of plywood that have been cut to shape and bent and moulded to follow complex curves but what is also important, particularly for the view from the side, are spacing and joining pieces that keep each of the four main parts of the chair separate so that they appear to run parallel for sections but then curve away without actually seeming to touch.

Back, seat, front support and the back support together form an elongated X in section when the chair is seen from the side but it is an X where there are not just two main lines simply intersecting but four curved parts that slide together with different amounts of overlap and changes of angle.

There is a strong contrast between the view of the chair from the front or back - which shows something very solid - because the elements are bold unbroken shapes - and the view from the side where the chair is thin, linear and very elegant. The proportions of the parts and balance or relationship between them is crucial and there is a dynamic between the lines and the solid planes in any view from an angle.

Else-Rikke Bruun



In terms of the broad history of chair design the structural form of Bended is fascinating.

Roman and medieval stools used either an x-shaped frame or intersecting and crossing pieces but generally the X shape was seen from the front, not the side, and the person using the chair was either sitting between the arms of the X or on a seat that rested across the top of the X. 

Some designers in the early modern period, such as Gerrit Rietveld, used flat sheets of plywood to form the seat and back of a chair and in the 1930s Alvar Aalto designed chairs with shaped seats or backs in plywood but this was only bent in one plane, basically forming a scroll, and these plywood seats were invariably supported on bentwood frames.

All these designs look inelegant when compared with the chair designed by Else-Rikke Bruun.


 Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964) 

Red and Blue Chair 1917


Plywood is an industrial or manufactured product that was first made in the early 19th century and was seen as primarily utilitarian. It has layers of thin sheets of wood that are cut by turning a tree trunk against a long thin blade and often smaller or poor-quality tree trunks are used. These slices are glued together with a number of layers to form sheets of varying thickness. Plywood is strong, relatively light and relatively inexpensive so it can be used for boat building, covering industrial buildings, such as sheds or factories or farm buildings, or used for the backs of furniture such as wardrobes or over frames it is strong enough for the sides and fronts of cupboards - particularly for what was sometimes called utility furniture in the middle of the last century.

In the second half of the 20th century, several designers in Denmark produced chairs with a seat and back in plywood that had been curved or moulded into relatively complicated three-dimensional seats, perhaps most notably Arne Jacobsen, but generally these plywood shells were supported on a separate frame of wood or metal.

folding chair by Kaare Klint 1933

Chair PK25 by Poul Kjærholm 1951


The BENDED chair is low and in its form and in the position of the sitter it is reminiscent of two very distinct designs from the middle of the 20th century ... the deck chair by Kaare Klint from 1933 and the metal-framed chair PK25 by Poul Kjærholm designed in 1951 or his slightly later PK22 from 1955.

Several designers have, however, explored the possibilities of using plywood for the whole chair, both the seat and back and the support, and have moulded plywood into far more complicated shapes to create more complex pieces of furniture. 

Sori Yanagi (1915-2011) -  Butterfly Stool 1954. Deceptively simple with two very complex pieces that mirror each other.

Greta Jalke (1920-2006) chair in plywood from 1963. There are two main parts to the chair that are bent to particularly complex shapes - almost like strudel pastry or pasta.

Nanna Ditzel (1923-2005) a prototype chair in Oregon pine from 1962 for Poul Christiansen. The seat is a separate piece, supported by a cross piece between the front legs and housed into the back strut with a line of square mortise-and-tenon joints.