Interview by Mia Dillemuth | Designs by Hanna-Kaisa Korolainen | Pictures by Katja Hagelstam and Ulla Kokki | Copy Editing Matthew Jones

Hanna-Kaisa Korolainen’s current exhibition The House of Play and Rain at Lokal Helsinki is the first in a series of three exhibitions, as part of her doctoral studies at Aalto University. The exhibition is inspired by various visual artists, from Raoul Dufy to Niki Saint Phalle.

How did the collaboration with Lokal’s owner Katja Hagelstam got started?

Some years ago when I was still working on my Master studies, Katja was looking for an intern from Aalto University and I went there for an interview. I showed my portfolio and Katja really liked my work.  She said not to hesitate, if I wanted to show my work one day in Lokal. I ended up doing my internship with a fashion company in Belgium, but I have often dreamed about having an exhibition at Lokal.  We spoke about the exhibition already in 2015, and met several times to talk about what will be in it. I appreciate Katja’s exquisite taste and advice, though she is someone who gives the artists free hands just saying: you can do it!

Designs by Hanna-Kaisa Korolainen. Picture by Katja Hagelstam.

You are a textile designer and an artist. Can you tell us a little bit about your professional background?

I studied photography in Turku Arts Academy in my twenties, and I was working as an artist for almost ten years including exhibitions both in Finland and abroad. I moved to Paris, and studied some more fine arts while working in the field of fashion. Clothes have always fascinated me; my first clothing memories are from when I was three or four years old. I can only blame my grandmother who took me shopping and gave me free hands to choose.

In Paris I worked as a store manager for a Japanese luxury brand Keita Maruyama, a fashion design assistant for the brand of David Szeto, as well as many other working experiences from photo editor to fabric buyer. After almost ten years spent in Paris and Brussels I moved back to Helsinki, and started my textile master studies in Aalto University, while working on some projects for Marimekko together with the artist Paavo Halonen. These days I continue my textile studies at the doctoral level and simultaneously work as a textile designer.

Jacquards. Designs by Hanna-Kaisa Korolainen. Picture by Ulla Kokki.

Why did you choose art as your creative outlet? What fascinates you about the jacquard technique?

I was an early fashion-enthusiast, but my actual dream from the age of three was to become a painter.  I started art studies at the age of six. I have so many memories of art museums, exhibitions and books, that I guess it is easy and inspiring for me to source from those. I also go to exhibitions whenever I can, they are an endless source of inspiration.

The jacquard technique creates a 3-dimensionnal version of the image. As a photographer, images are very important to me, and with the jacquard technique I can give the images another life. It is fascinating how you can control the whole fabric making process when you are designing jacquards; you draw, or fill in your own bindings, choose the materials, and decide the densities and of course the final colors.

Sweet thing, jacquard. Design by Hanna-Kaisa Korolainen. Picture by Ulla Kokki.

How do you come up with the textile motives? Can you let us in on the process?

First I choose my inspiration sources, even though sometimes they transform during the process, when I encounter new interesting things. The chosen inspiration sources help me to decide what I want to make. Then I start sketching. My subjects are mostly flora or fauna, but the techniques vary: they can be painting, photography, paper cutting, potato printing, almost anything. I love to try new things.

Once the sketches are ready I will work them on with computer and start textile trials, weaving, printing and tufting. Often at this moment I realize something should be added, or done differently, and I go back to my sketching table. Yes, sketching is the heart of everything; it is the decisive moment of the process. I try to work as much as possible with my hands, and as little as possible with the computer.

Amur, rug. Design by Hanna-Kaisa Korolainen. Picture by Ulla Kokki.


Designs by Hanna-Kaisa Korolainen. Picture by Ulla Kokki.

How would you describe your aesthetics?

It is all about nostalgia. I have always been in love with antiques; my favorite period is the early 1900s. Then when everything is almost too beautiful, I need to mix in something else, like bold design from 70’s, or memories of my youth in 1990’s. I have always been looking more to the past than the future, but the way I see it, the future also lies in the past – at least in aesthetic terms. I should probably also admit, that David Bowie has been and is a major influence in the development of my aesthetics.

Designs by Hanna-Kaisa Korolainen. Picture by Katja Hagelstam.

At the exhibition in Lokal the Houses of Play and Rain mix together. Can you explain the notion of the ‘House’, which you have used in your PHD?

In my PHD, I use the notion of Houses. The word “House” comes from famous fashion houses, such as The House of Chanel and from my fascination with inhabited spaces. These houses of my PHD are different entities where I give myself various design and research tasks. Everything inside the house frame fits together; inspiration sources, sketching techniques and themes, it’s a creative playground.

Where do you get your ideas, what inspires you?

As said earlier, art, nostalgia, and fashion inspire me a lot but working is often a big inspiration as well. When I work, I constantly get new ideas, that I want to try out. If I have enough time for creative practice, it becomes almost a self-feeding idea generation system.

‘Flow’ is an essential part of the creative process. How do you reach this magical state?

The answer is good old work. The more I work, the more I have a chance to achieve moments of flow. But it can be helped of course: I need to give myself challenges, and not to be afraid of trying novel things. One way can be to submerge myself in techniques where I cannot entirely control the process or the outcome, such as wet technique in watercolors where the water cannot be fully controlled. Accepting possible hazards, and the risk of failure frees my mind, and helps me to reach magical moments of the state of flow.

Designs by Hanna-Kaisa Korolainen. Picture by Katja Hagelstam.
Shirts. Design by Hanna-Kaisa Korolainen. Picture by Ulla Kokki.

One of the alluring aspects in your work is the very distinctive palette. What is your relationship with colors?

Colors are very important for me. I have tons of favorite colors, but I also like to work with the colors that I feel less comfortable with. It is good to challenge yourself, and often I purposely use a color palette that it is not typical of me. I feel that I could work almost with any colors and I usually do not use any strict color schemas while I’m working. I’m always as surprised when I realize at the end of a collection or a project that most of the colors go well together. I need a surprise element in my work to be able to stay interested and go on.

There is a lot of research behind your artistic work. This exhibition is the first one in series of three. When did you start preparing for this project and when is the sequel expected?

I started working with The House of Play and Rain back in 2015. I hope to show the next sequel in the end of 2018.

In this exhibition, you have collaborated with Nikari and Lapuan Kankurit. In your opinion, should there be more collaboration between fine art and commercial brands?

Absolutely. The design and art worlds should mix more because they come from the same root. It was actually Katja who had the idea for both, Nikari and Lapuan Kankurit.

Designs by Hanna-Kaisa Korolainen. Picture by Ulla Kokki.
Designs by Hanna-Kaisa Korolainen. Picture by Ulla Kokki.

What is beautiful to you? And ugly?

I can’t totally associate myself with the words beautiful or ugly. I guess it is more interesting and uninteresting. Honestly I can find anything interesting, even a trash can fallen on the street or a blue plastic bag hanging from a tree. It is all about the moment and the feeling. Sometimes something can make you feel uncomfortable, but these moments can be revealing. If everything would be perfect, life would be just too boring.

What do you find challenging as an artist today?

The speed. The digital world is full of images that are downloaded in ever-growing speed and you need to be part of this world, to exist in several places at the same time. You need to be on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram… Even consumer goods are produced faster, and in bigger quantities than ever (who needs all this?). But when things are happening at such a speed, it sometimes feels, that nothing has a real meaning. You don’t need to stop and create an emotional bond with something, as this something will be quickly replaced by something new.

How has your process of making art evolved through the years?

I’m much faster nowadays. The struggle between working, home, and creative practice is constant. Even though creative practice is part of my everyday job, there never seems to be enough time for it. So I plan my work when I’m sitting in the bus, or walking on the streets. Once I get a chance to sit down – preferably alone – I start sketching. I don’t wait any longer for the inspiration, I go and get it myself when needed.

If you could collaborate with anyone alive today, who would it be?

I find this as a difficult question to answer. I could confess, that I’m a huge fan of French artist Pierre Huyghe, but I don’t know what kind of collaboration we could make. Other than him my biggest idols are long gone. I feel that I should answer something relevant, so let’s say Miuccia Prada and Dries Van Noten.

What next?

Parts of the House of Play and Rain will travel to Milan Design week in early April 2017. Aalto University organizes an exhibition to celebrate Finland 100 there this year and I have my own space as part of that. I have also started to work on my next exhibition project called The House of Beauty and Theft. Working with textiles is very time consuming so I like to have almost 2 years between big projects. And in addition to my own research I also teach in the Department of Design in Aalto University. Let’s say I’m living busy times, but those are the happy ones for any creative worker.

Hanna-Kaisa Korolainen: The House of Play and Rain


Lokal Helsinki

Annankatu 9

00120 Helsinki