June 1, 2005
I’m Sorry, Excuse Me
Fourteen young Finnish designers apologize—possibly for the fact that
they’re having so much fun.
A chair sports a rumpled three-piece wool suit. A white cloak is adorned with well-loved stuffed animals. A furry muff doubles as a whoopee cushion. The work of Finnish design group Anteeksi, showcased this May at ICFF in New York, celebrates the awkward, the overlooked, and even the downright kooky. The collective’s 14 members do most of their work independently—occasionally collaborating with another member to bring particular expertise to a project. But when the group does unite under the Anteeksi moniker, its imaginative undertakings take full flight—blurring disciplinary boundaries and offering up wildly unfettered ideas that serve only to inspire fresh thinking about design. “A lot of people have been dubbing our stuff antidesign and antifashion,” says architect and musician Tuomas Toivonen of the group’s scrappy creative antics. “But I don’t think it is ‘anti’ anything really. We just have an acute need to do these things.”
Though today Anteeksi serves as a creative cauldron of ideas for its members, in the beginning its objectives were more modest. The group, whose ages range from 27 to 35, first joined forces about three years ago to share rent in a large industrial building in Kallio, an old working-class neighborhood of Helsinki. Moving into the space was the design agency Com-pa-ny, the architecture firm M41LH2, and a clutch of freelancers, ultimately comprising a group of 14. Though each member retained their own identity and client base, new projects evolved organically from the shared office arrangement. Hosting performances and events such as a fashion show on the office fire escape and an off-off-off-site Salone Internazionale del Mobile event soon earned the collective a reputation for artful mischief making. The name Anteeksi—which loosely translated means “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me” in Finnish—served as a fitting tagline for the outfit’s good-natured iconoclasm.
A key to the group’s success lies in its easy cross-disciplinary approach, which inspires members to reach beyond their various specialties. They hail from a wide range of design backgrounds—Jussi Kalliopuska, Vesa Oiva, Tuomas Toivonen, Tommi Mäkynen, Johanna Hyrkäs, Tuomas Kivinen, Selina Anttinen, and Tuomas Siitonen are architects; Siitonen and Erika Kovanen are graphic designers; Malin Blomqvist is a landscape architect; Nene Tsuboi is a designer and illustrator; Johan Olin and Aamu Song are designers; and Mari Talka is a fashion designer—and projects often push them into unfamiliar territory. “There needs to be a leap or a jump for the design process to be exciting for everybody,” Toivonen says. Projects are loosely coordinated, and though designers often chat and share ideas, they accomplish the majority of their work on their own.
While Anteeksi designers have varied expertise, they share a thirst for reinvention. With childlike glee they put found objects to new purpose, such as the empty cans employed in the Beer Chair, by Jussi Kalliopuska. Off-the-shelf items are also merrily misused, such as the numerous mittens sewn onto the Pocket Jacket, by Johan Olin. Because the group creates its designs by hand for one-off performances and installations, each item is one of a kind. “People try to buy the stuff, but it’s not for sale because there’s only one,” Toivonen says. “Then they get kind of confused. They’ll say, ‘Why did you make it if it isn’t a product?’”
Though eager to question the status quo, Anteeksi members are hardly cynics. Their work gives nods to Dada, performance art, Memphis, and other anticommercial twentieth-century movements, but their pieces are more exercises in free creative expression than examples of any particular ideology. Anteeksi members view their flexibility and freedom as vital to sustaining their own enthusiasm for their chosen professions. “Our working process is not well planned or organized, but it isn’t random either,” Toivonen says. “Our designs may be funny, but they aren’t a joke because we take this very seriously.”