Soft Walls exhibition at the Stockholm Furniture Fair

Textile architecture = Synnöve’s mission

“Oh no – not another roll of curtain material,” I thought to myself.

Synnöve Mork, textile and internal designer, talks about Soft Walls, the exhibition that created quite a stir at the Stockholm Furniture Fair a couple of years ago. An installation that managed to convey the feeling of textiles as architecture. Draped felt lamellas, laser-cut polyester webs, fluffy or perforated fabrics formed the “building material” and created a feeling of space. Patterns, cushions and curtain material, that’s what we often think of when we hear the word textiles. But Synnöve and her fellow exhibitors, a group of her students from the Art Academy’s textiles course, presented a different vision. Sensual and poetic, but at the same time combining spatial and functional aspects.

Soft Walls scored a hit. Visitors, not least architects, flocked to the graphically stunning installations arrayed completely in black, white and grey. Even buyers queued up. Although the exhibition was not at all meant to be a sales event, commercial interest was equally strong.

“Many of the ideas in the exhibition are now in production,” she says. “Although it’s not something we had thought about.”

That was spring 2005. She’s now contemplating how to take the concept further. The next time the idea is to juxtapose textiles and light even more distinctly. Soft Walls already highlighted the role of textiles as an excellent means of screening off, filtering and distributing the light in various ways. Now, the light sources should, as it were, be woven into the fabrics themselves. To make them light up and live. Light designer Gunnar Bjurs and Synnöve Mork had worked together before and became creative sparring partners and experts in this technique.

Space-creating textiles have a lot to do with new advanced techniques. Such as innovative materials developed by science, often with application areas far beyond the normal domains of interior design. Laser-cut polyester webs, fibre optics, highperformance composites, carbon-fibres and prepeg tape, the kind of materials and techniques normally found in aircraft and advanced sports goods, for example, also promote spatial creativity at home, in workplaces and public spaces. With distinctive results that create a greater impact than traditional textiles.

“There’s so much going on in the field of material research”, she says. “But it’s rare to see innovations transformed into concrete spatial dimensions.” However, this development has already been under way for several years on the international scene. Around the turn of the millennium, newly created textile wall elements began to make their appearance, such as Teppo Asikainen’s billowing wall panel in felt, Soundwave, and later the Bouroullec brothers’ much praised ”fabric tile” North Tile. And way back in the 1980s experimental architects like Shigeru Ban from Japan presented structures such as the famous Curtain Wall House and Naked House: the walls of the first were simply made of lofty white draperies from ceiling to floor, and those of the second from corrugated fibre-glass reinforced plastic.

But the concept of textile spaces had not yet found its way into homes and office environments. Synnöve Mork also thought that the new textile wall elements were often overtly masculine. Based on mathematics, system and repetition, a rational way of seeing that she would really have liked to complement with a poetic dimension – but without giving them the triteness of mere decor. “I’m really passionately keen to create spaces with textiles, I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember,” she says.

Things got off to a good start when she began lecturing in textiles at the Art Academy in the 1990s. Early on she gave her students architecturally angled assignments involving elements such as light and shadow. Architects were invited in, as were experts in Venetian blinds and textile fantasists such as Margot Barolo. From the small to the large – she even sent her students out to the residential areas around Stockholm, some of which were still only building sites. She hoped that this would open their eyes to phenomena such as inward and outward views, how light and sound spread, how they are experienced.

“I love patterns,” she says. “But not the idea that textiles should only be concerned with patterns.” The time as a teacher was really great, she feels. A useful learning experience. It also forced her to develop the language of textiles and form, not least to clarify her own position. This was crucial for the students, as she discovered. In 1980 she left the Art Academy’s textile course and claims that at that time she hardly said a word. Now she had to be both clear and open, something that she would like to see more of in the everyday talk about design. There’s just too much ”Oh, how lovely”, ”Oh, how exquisite”, she feels. And not enough well thought out and constructive dialogue.

But as enriching as it was to be a teacher, it was equally marvellous to return to her own creative work. She continues to maintain contact with many of her former students. Several of them have become her close friends. Some of them were involved in Soft Walls. And some of them, like Anna Danielsson, now with Marimekko, have become extremely successful.

“It’s exciting to see a star being born”, says Synnöve. “In Anna’s case it was immediately apparent what a distinctive cast of mind she possessed.”

To stage-set and display textiles and other designs has become Synnöve Mork’s medium, more in fact than ”normal” textile creation. But “soft walls” can be built out of many materials, not just fabrics. Flowers are the latest element of her repertoire, this time together with landscape architect Ulf Nordfjell, known for his work with many major garden projects. Last Christmas, they created an installation together in Gothenburg in the legendary greenhouse of the city’s Gardening Association. Two globe-shaped rooms of plants were placed opposite each other. One circus-like, chaotic with draperies made of flowers in amazing colours, the other with only white and pale flowers, frostily austere and wintry.

”Really way out,” she says. ”But fantastic. Spaces can be created in the most unexpected ways.”