Opening Remarks by Mr Jukka Valtasaari, Secretary of State at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland: Exhibition "Finnish Design 125", Budapest Gallery 10th January 2001

Venue: Finnish Design 125, Budapest Gallery, Exhibition opening 10th January 2001

Mr. Jukka Valtasaari,
Secretary of State,
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a particular pleasure to open this exhibition, Finnish Design 125. The reason is obvious; design is an integral part of the promotion of Finland, its image and even its mission.

You will forgive me if I do not offer you waterproof argumentation, Cartesian style, on why Finnish design is the best in the world, but rather a few impressions or ideas on why Finnish design has managed to stay afloat during the last century in a wide variety of circumstances, from world wars to the age of globalisation.

The exhibition which I now invite you to enjoy is divided into two parts; the traditional, which you see here, and the contemporary, which will open tomorrow at the Lajos utca Budapest Galéria. The exhibits look distinctly different but the story is the same. It began 125 years ago with the recognition of the importance of education, with an emphasis on the development of craft skills, which form the basis of all design.

It was also obvious from the beginning that these skills could not be developed in isolation. One needed to see what others were doing. The establishment of World Fairs was a handy development. The early years of Finnish arts and crafts contain a good number of amusing, touching, tales of important writers posing as journalists visiting the World Fairs of London 1862 and Paris 1889, among others, gathering impressions of recent innovations. They come back with the conclusion that Finland should do better. But it took a quarter of century before we started being recognized for anything other than stuffed wolves and other exotic objects, as in Paris in 1889. Examples of the production of the remaining hundred years you see around you. Please draw your own conclusions.

Without trying to impose anything on your mind, may I suggest one or two conclusions of my own?

The first is that a fundamental characteristic of good design is that it is self-evident. It is based on skilled crafting, on respect for the material and the environment and it develops over time an ethic of its own. In that sense it becomes a reflection of national identity. Logic, craft and ethics are fundamentals of not only design but also of political declarations and, ultimately, the existence of nations themselves.

My other conclusion is that good design must be able to adapt to external requirements and trends. In this exhibit you will see that during the post-war years, which were plagued in Finland and elsewhere by shortages and rationing, emerged a minimalist style and a reliance on materials of nature. Attributes such as 'genuine' and 'functional' were used to describe the design objects. The ethics followed, "salvation through design" could have been the motto. The Saviours had names, such as Aalto, Wirkkala, Franck, Sarpaneva, Tapiovaara.

When the world was, indeed, saved and stability was secured in the sixties and seventies and when affluence gained ground bringing new lifestyles in its wake, objects and spaces were redesigned accordingly. Scandinavian design, which had conquered the world in the fifties, was now caught in a crisis. Nearly half a generation of designers had to struggle under the weight of the old ethics and the old master-saviours.

Finally, in the eighties and nineties, the world changed again. A new generation came to the fore. They were well travelled, universal young designers who left behind them the old aesthetic associations and materials. While an old master would say that design is produced when man meets nature or darkness meets light, Miss Anttonen of the younger generation says, "I do not really get any inspiration from nature". The meeting of cultures and peoples produce innovation and meeting places are multiplied by the internet.

The young generation fits well into the age of globalisation, where production methods travel freely and the pricing of products is international, where the increasing uniformity of products puts a premium on design as a criterion for customers' choices and where design becomes an integral part of products that aim at global acceptance.

Finally, the message of this exhibition is that if Finnish design continues to do well, its performance rests on a tradition of 125 years and if production in the future is more determined by environmental than technological requirements, the minimalism that we developed over the years may have a new rendezvous with customers globally and become a universally accepted norm of design.

Do enjoy this exhibiton and have fun.