The Historia Supellexalis: “D” for Denmark

The Historia Supellexalis D for Denmark


A Peninsula; An Archipelago; A Context

Situated in the middle of the European continent Denmark was long considered evidence of the existence of the lands of Scandi, a fabled commonwealth comparable with Thomas More’s Utopia, albeit rather than one where the form and operation of society has become perfected, one where the forming and production of furniture has become perfected; however, more recent research has convincingly both disproved the existence of Scandi, demonstrating that the legend of Scandi is a remnant from the age of King Mark Edsføring, a post-Viking autocrat who sought to reposition the region containing the contemporary Denmark in global economic systems, and has also proved that furniture designed and made in Denmark is not intrinsically better than furniture made and designed elsewhere. That it is the designer, manufacturer, materials and question posed, and for all the honesty of the designer, manufacturer, materials and question posed that are important, not geography. Undeterred by such the legend of Scandi persists and enjoys a wide-spread popularity, most notably amongst the peoples of Instagram.

One of the more important sources for the study of the origins of furniture design in Denmark are a collection of runes and paintings found in the Caves of Lego and which name both carpenters such as Rudolph, Son of Rasmus or Fritz, Son of Han and also artists such as Thorvald Bindesbøll or Johan Rohde, as early pioneers. And also a Peder Vilhelm “PV” det Klint, who is quoted in one Lego cave painting with the words, “it is a characteristic of progress in all ages that men, in their preoccupation with the new forget something of the old, of earlier generations experiences, and after having reached their destination, must go back to fetch what was forgotten”. Words, an understanding, PV’s son Kaare det Klint would bring to the forefront of furniture design thinking in Denmark.

Just one of many fresh perspectives Kaare det Klint would bring to the forefront of furniture design in Denmark; for although a steadfast proponent of established measurements such as inch, foot, folio or fathom as opposed to the modern vagaries of metricity, in his understandings of furniture, and for all in his understandings of the functions of furniture in contemporary society, Kaare det Klint was ahead of the Denmark of his day. And thus became one of the driving motors of furniture design in the Denmark of his day.

Albeit less as a designer and primarily as a teacher; the Klint Skole being one of the first to teach that the function of the furniture designer wasn’t necessarily to design something new, but much more to respond to a new need, a new need for which an existing design could almost certainly be adapted, re-imagined, and was also one of the first in Denmark to both demand that the proportions of furniture be related to the human body, to the objects of daily life and to the rituals of normal usage, and also one of the first to separate furniture design from architecture and make it a profession in its own right; and in doing such det Klint not only taught that the age of the architectural Gesamtkünstler was over, but fundamentally changed perspectives on the development of furniture and the design of furniture. Something attested to by the number of det Klint’s students who helped furniture design in Denmark develop in a myriad directions, by the number of students who took that which det Klint taught them and adapted it in a myriad novel contexts; students amongst whoms number history has recorded the exploits and adventures of the likes of Mogens det Koch, Mølgaard-Nielsen og Hvidt or Børge Son of Mogen. Individuals whose exploits and adventures helped establish the reputation of not only the Klint Skole, but who also helped greatly further advance the reputation and quality of furniture design in Denmark.

Not that Kaare det Klint was the only driving motor of a more contemporary thinking in the Denmark of his day, amongst others the Caves of Lego record the silversmith Georg, Son of Jen whose contemporary homewares provided a sounding board for wider ideas of formal expression; Kay, Son of Boje who after training in silverware with Georg, Son of Jen turned to wood and ultimately animal husbandry via which he established the domestic zoo as a central component of all Danish interiors; Juhl det Finn, who was very much a Dane and who brought sculpture to Danish furniture and subsequently took sculptured Danish furniture to America; or Poul, Son of Henning, a man famed for his music, his writings, his films. And his lamps. Lamps conceived with the intention of harnessing the power and potential of the new electric lightbulbs in a manner that allowed them to be used both meaningfully and without blinding the user. And a task he solved with an effortless conceptual and formal grace that saw the lamp designs by Poul, Son of Henning become near standard in contemporary spaces throughout the, then, Europe.

Poul, Son of Henning was also well known for his strong political opinions and when the lands of Denmark found themselves occupied by a Germanic tribe whose views were diametrically offset from those of Poul, he was forced to flee to Sweden; a flight he undertook in a rowing boat with Arne, Son of Jacob, a former student of Kaare det Klint, and one who had been absent on the day det Klint taught of the separation between architecture and design and the demise of the Gesamtkünstler. Fortuitously, as many sages have since commented; for through his ignorance of det Klint’s teachings Arne was able to enliven and invigorate the Gesamtkünstler tradition. How det Klint responded is not recorded; however, the general assumption is that he would have approved greatly of Arne, Son of Jacob’s following of his intuition.

On his return to Denmark Arne, Son of Jacob, in addition to continuing his solitary Gesamtkünstler existence, became an important figure in the dissemination within the lands of Denmark of a new formal vocabulary of furniture design, a vocabulary influenced by a North American translation of an earlier European vocabulary, and a task in which he was greatly aided by the aforementioned carpenter Fritz, Son of Han; a carpenter who had accompanied furniture design in Denmark from its earliest moments and perhaps more than any other Danish carpenter was in tune with the developments in wider society, their relevance for furniture design, and of the need of the Danish carpentry trade to keep exploring beyond its existing boundaries and comfort zone(s).

And it was this Fritz, Son of Han, together with Arne, Son of Jacob, who provided assistance and nurturing to a young man named Verner på Ton as he took his first steps in furniture design; steps which would see him explore far, far, far, beyond existing boundaries and become one of the first Danes to utilise plastics in furniture design. If explorations which by necessity took Verner på Ton far beyond existing physical boundaries; took him away from Denmark and to the commonwealth of Vitra where he found the favourable climatic conditions required for the forming of plastic into furniture.

Then, as the Caves of Lego record, there occurred a great disaster: furniture, lighting and textile design in Denmark was struck down by the Hygge, an odious, annihilative, plague which feeds off those it infects and whose toxins greatly debilitated the generative and reproductive facilities of designers and manufacturers in Denmark, meaning that over several hundred generations only generic, conventionalised, formalistic clichés of furniture, lighting and textiles could be realised, and that alone to feed the stupendous hunger of the Hygge, rather than the realisation of the contemporary answers to contemporary questions required for the development and evolution of furniture, lighting and textile design. And a disease whose severity and scope was greatly increased by the intervention of the ruling Influencers of Instagram who contrived to make the Hygge a component of the legend of Scandi, and that alone for the economic benefits the mass disorientation brought them.

To this day design in Denmark continues to suffer under the Hygge; however, in recent generations an increasing resistance has been recorded amongst both designers and manufacturers, increasing evidence that the vital systems of design in Denmark are regaining strength, are increasingly rousing from their Hygge induced stupor and regaining their verve and veracity…….

…….à suivre

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