Kneip – Nature, Craftsmanship and Materiality
«Maybe you could say we’re craft artists who use design processes, but there’s also some engineering involved, so it’s difficult to form a conclusive identity»Stian Korntved Ruud
“Norwegian Presence in Milan in 2015 was the first larger project we collaborated on”, begins Jørgen Platou Willumsen, who has joined forces with Stian Korntved Ruud to establish Kneip – a studio/workshop for producing craft, design and art.
For eight years they worked side-by-side but on separate projects. Only two years ago did they actually started collaborating and presenting their works on a joint Internet platform called ‘Kneip’.
“We started by making small-scale productions of candlesticks and other products to sell through Internet”, says Willumsen.
“The things we made bordered on craft art, because in producing on such a small scale, we wanted to experiment more with materials and such. So we worked with material objects but also focused on functionality”, adds Ruud.
“Our individual projects were mostly oriented towards art, and the prospect of exhibiting in Milan gave us an opportunity to work more sculpturally in a borderland between categories. So it developed from there”, explains Willumsen.
«Being able to work hands-on and mastering different techniques – that’s alpha and omega for what we’re doing today»Jørgen Platou Willumsen
During 2015 Kneip became a familiar name in Norway and abroad, with the duo participating in a welter of exhibitions. The name relates to a type of whole-wheat bread that has been a staple of the Norwegian diet since the 1930s, but it came about by coincidence.
“It was all a misunderstanding”, explains Ruud:
“We were searching for a short, simple name related to a set of values, and Jørgen wrote a list of what he considered to be possible names. I was supposed to read them aloud. But being a ‘hobby-dyslectic’, I read knep (a time-saving method or strategy) as kneip. We liked it. It was down to earth, and we also liked how it reflected the contrast between our ambitions and our actual work. What is more, the domain name ‘kneip.no’ was available because the bread type is written with a double p. So there was no confusion. And neither of us particularly enjoyed the task of finding a name…”
“The name has become more and more fun over time”, adds Willumsen.
“Many people find it humorous; it also seems a bit unambitious. Kneipp – the bread – is the cheapest you can find except for the simple white variety. And it also does a good job of representing us.
«There’s a good mix of bus mechanic and craftsman in what I do»Stian Korntved Ruud
Materiality and science
Kneip as a project is difficult to categorise. Willumsen and Ruud work in a liminal area between art, design and craft, yet their works cannot be explained simply by pointing to any of these categories. This is because they tend to give the projects a strange twist whereby a craft and a concept fuse together. Furthermore, some of the ‘products’ appear almost traditional in their materiality but also pseudo-scientific in function. The duo gained recognition for Weathered and Pat.Vol.1, two sculpture series which combine wood and metal in constructions reminiscent of scientific instruments from the 1800s.
Their approach can perhaps be better understood if one knows something of their background.
“My grandfather (on my mother’s side) is a woodcarver, my father is an engineer and my mother works with ceramics. There’s a good mix of bus mechanic and craftsman in what I do. I’ve always been interested in making things, been fascinated by surface treatments and tried to understand how things are put together. So for me, it seemed natural to follow this career path”, says Ruud.
“I’ve always liked working in a project-oriented way and to fix things, as would a mechanic. But I come from a very academically-oriented family with few people who work with art or design. So it wasn’t perhaps all that natural for me to work in this way. I had a dream of becoming an artist when I was child, but I didn’t think I could make a job out of it. Then I thought of becoming an architect, but that would entail being good at math and I didn’t think math was much fun. So I ended up studying product design more out of coincidence than through deliberate choice”, says Willumsen.
Both Ruud and Willumsen are eager to create objects and develop projects.
“What I think we share is a gut feeling for things, that you just have to do stuff”, says Ruud.
“Another key aspect is to put heart and soul into one’s work. I think it would be difficult if one of us wasn’t so genuinely interested in achieving our goals”, adds Willumsen.
«I had a dream of becoming an artist when I was child, but I didn’t think I could make a job out of it»Jørgen Platou Willumsen
Both Willumsen and Ruud studied product design at Akershus University College.
“The school has wonderful workshops, some of the best in Norway, and we experimented with metal, wood, ceramics and plastic. The education was loosely structured and rooted in handicraft”, recalls Ruud.
The two students experienced the curriculum to be more closely related to craft-based art than traditional product design or industrial design, and the highly competent workshop teachers gave them a thorough introduction to a range of machines and work methods.
“We learned that we could produce many things ourselves, that we didn’t necessarily need to have them made by a producer. Being able to work hands-on and mastering different techniques – that’s alpha and omega for what we’re doing today, and such things the teachers really knew how to do. They weren’t traditional designers; I think almost 80 percent had a background in art, so it was a freer education than many other schools for product design”, explains Willumsen.
Along with their more design-oriented projects, Willumsen and Ruud have regularly worked with art, among other things, with painting and printing. But it was not until they established Kneip that the art projects took centre stage.
“We’ve of course worked at different times specifically with design, with art, and with craft, and because we’ve focused on the different categories at different times, this means we understand how they function”, explains Willumsen. He continues:
“We also like challenges. During the last year we’ve mostly worked on projects we really wanted to do, and we found venues where they could be presented to the public. So the projects have been defined by the context they are exhibited in, or by the media channels (e.g., newspapers or blogs) used to discuss them.
Ruud and Willumsen are not particularly interested in being categorised as one thing or the other.
“We’ve chosen not to define ourselves”, explains Ruud.
“We don’t belong any particular place”, agrees Willumsen.
“Maybe you could say we’re craft artists who use design processes, but there’s also some engineering involved, so it’s difficult to form a conclusive identity”, says Ruud.
“Our works are appreciated in some contexts more than in others, but we try to hold in mind that what differentiates one white room from another is the attitude of the public in the room. So we try to find the arenas that best fit a given project”, adds Willumsen.
«For Milan this year, we’re trying to make something that cuts across genres, something with the potential to be mass-produced but very much rooted in handicraft»Stian Korntved Ruud
The Weathered project
The arena where Kneip presents a project can also influence how the project is approached; the partners are cognizant of where they are and who will come to the specific arena, and they try to use this knowledge actively when creating the works. One example of this is when they were invited to Milan in 2015 and ended up creating the sculpture series Weathered.
“Our initial idea was to do something on the topic of weather phenomena, and this translated into four sculptures inspired by instruments that could potentially measure earthquakes, humidity and wind, and an instrument that could simulate the movement of waves. These could become real products; they’re just a little abstracted in the direction of fine craft, yet with function in the back of one’s mind. The idea was to make objects that could function without people fully understanding what they were for. So it was interesting to play with the tension between functionality and abstraction, and with the expectations viewers at furniture fairs have about what they see”, says Ruud.
“To give an example, they’re functional in the way that a seismograph records ground motion on a coper plate during an earthquake, but we’ve reduced functionality because there are no numbers indicating the precise degree of ground movement. It’s a poetic representation of a function”, explains Willumsen.
“The hygrometer (humidity-measuring instrument) has a strand of horsehair that is affected by a room’s humidity. It’s curving form changes”, adds Ruud.
«Pat.Vol.1 was actually pure experimentation cum sculpture»Jørgen Platou Willumsen
Oak, copper and brass are used in the sculptures Swell, Seismoscope, Hygrometer and Breeze. These materials, the shapes they are given and the names of the sculptures all create associations to scientific instruments from the 19th century. While working on the Weathered project, Willumsen and Ruud experimented with patination. This they investigated further when creating Pat.Vol.1, which was included in the annual exhibition Craft 2015 at the Museum of Decorative Art and Design in Oslo.
“For Milan last year, we worked with patinas, with how materials behave over time and how time affects them. So Pat.Vol.1 was a continuation of that research”, explains Ruud and adds:
“We did a number of experiments with metal. Steel is the foundational material but we learned to copper-plate it. Copper has some qualities we wanted, for instance its ability to turn blue, and steel rusts and becomes orange. So this immediately gave us a wider range of colours that included different shades and nuances of green.”
“Patination depends in large measure on how clean the processes are, and on how long or short a time it takes. You can’t understand it completely”, Willumsen asserts.
“Even through at time B you think you did exactly the same as at time A, the results are different. That’s part of what’s so fun about working with the natural qualities of materials. So Pat.Vol.1 was actually pure experimentation cum sculpture”, he adds.
Pat.Vol.1 was a key work in the exhibition Craft 2015 and was pictured in much of the promotional material related to the exhibition. Kneip has also used patinated surfaces in combination with digital printing, zooming in and blowing up in size:
“There are many levels to this. It can create associations to nature, the forest, but also to planets”, points out Willumsen.
Also on the occasion of Craft 2015, Ruud won the prestigious Craft Prize for his work entitled Daily Spoon – a collection of 365 wooden spoons carved by hand, one for each day of the year. The work was purchased by KODE in Bergen when it was shown at Galleri Format Oslo in the spring of 2015, and has received extensive press coverage. Daily Spoon symbolises a type of dedication Ruud and Willumsen share, of exploring a material over time, of learning new ways of doing things, and of fusing a concept with a craft in a way that causes the result to appear both traditional and modern.
Back to Milan
Also in 2016 Kneip will participate in Milan’s furniture fair, in the exhibition Structure – Norwegian Contemporary Crafts and Design. The duo will exhibit new objects.
“For Milan this year, we’re trying to make something that cuts across genres, something with the potential to be mass-produced but very much rooted in handicraft. We’ll make it ourselves in the workshop. It will be a kind of fine-craft lamp that reflects a fascination for engineering and a fascination for tools and how they relate to materials and production”, explains Ruud.
“The lamp sheds light on a sculpture series called Loen, a series of abstract sculptures with black surfaces that emphasis the organic shapes created by the forces of nature over time”, concludes Willumsen.