Interview by Sofia Järnefelt | Photographs by Hannakaisa Pekkala | English Editor Julie Uusinarkaus

In 2018 Milla Vaahtera showed her sculptures at Helsinki’s Design Museum’s Open Call. Since then she’s had 12 exhibitions in seven countries. ”And I made a baby,” she laughs and continues, ”I was supposed to be on maternity leave. My phone started ringing, and agents started dropping by my home to buy my works. I’m still quite confused about it. What’s happening?”

I met the former furniture designer at the Artek Flagship store in Helsinki at her current exhibition consisting of mobiles and stabiles. They’re made of glass and brass. By hand. Hers and others. But most importantly, they’re made just the way she wanted. ”When one’s career is on such a fastlane, one’s personal identity drags a bit behind. What’s essential is that I get to do what gets me the most excited. What I want to do,” she claims.

Milla was working as a project manager at a design office when it hit her. She had always been an artist. It was hard for her to fit in the design world. She didn’t feel she was being her best self at where she was. She started to sabotage herself. To provoke. And got provoked. ”I started dressing inappropriately. I was waiting. I wanted someone to ask if I felt I was in the right place,” she explains. Then she felt her skirt had become too short. And that’s when she decided to drop out of the design world. 

The personal works snuck in quietly. When Milla was still a furniture design student, she had come across some mobiles by Artek. They had felt like a wonderful way of working on sculptures. ”A weird way. Useless stuff. Like poems,” Milla sighs. 

Glass. It has always fascinated her. ”It’s fast! Spontaneous! Glass never looks good if forced,” she says. She’s the daughter of a goldsmith and a silversmith. She had sworn she would never start doing that. ”Then I called my mum and asked if I could use her smithy to try out some things with brass,” she tells me, and we smile and nod our heads in approval of the call she made. 

Giving up control. Not striving for goals. Giving coincidence a chance. The glass breaks! ”It was its job,” Milla notes. If something goes wrong there is a different way for it to exist. For her it’s about  body image. About unconditional acceptance. Being wilder. And more free. She bends the radiuses of brass against her knee. For the sake of unapologetic shapes. Or something like that. Circles are not circles. The organic shapes conquer space from the geometric. And when night comes, Milla’s mother polishes the brass in secret from her daughter who would want them unpolished.

For the exhibition at the Artek flagship store in Helsinki, Milla wanted the colors to be crisp. A detox after the holiday season. To give some incomplete alternatives to a functional industry. Show that inaccuracy is human.

The glass is blown in collaboration with Sani, Pauli and Otto. ”And Paula! Henni. And Jonas,” Milla adds. She tells stories about them all. Beautiful details about each and every one of them. I don’t have space to write it all down. So I write this: ”They are young masters. New in their profession. I’m so in love with all of them!” When Milla goes into the hot shop where the glass is blown, she takes a sketch with her. Not very detailed. More like a broad vision. And everybody is excited. And nervous. Will they make anything worthy out of it? And so they improvise. That’s when glass is at its best. 

Dialogi – Milla Vaahtera X Artek on view at Artek until February 8.

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