Interview by Mia Dillemuth | Artworks Kustaa Saksi | Artwork photographs Miia Panula | English Editor Julie Uusinarkaus

Finnish artist and designer Kustaa Saksi is famous for his graphic storytelling through patterns, textile art and installations. Saksi’s works have been exhibited at Victoria & Albert Museum, Cooper Hewitt Museum and the San Jose Museum of Art, just to mention a few, as well as in many galleries around the world. Saksi has also produced commissioned artworks for companies such as Nike, Issey Miyake and Marimekko. Around Journal interviewed Saksi on his latest exhibition First Symptoms at the Finlandsinstitutes Galleri in Stockholm. 

Kustaa Saksi, Aftermath, 2019. Jacquard weave. 172 x 236 cm. Mohair, elirex, wool, acrylic. Edition of 6.

The jacquard machine can be seen as a pioneering invention in the history of automatization, eventually leading to the digital culture we live in now. How did jacquard become your medium? Can you tell us a little bit about your professional background?

I grew up in a small town called Kouvola, in the south of Finland. I studied graphic design at the Lahti Institute of Design, and after graduation and a couple of years in Helsinki, I moved to Paris. After four years there I found my new home in Amsterdam, where I’m still living and working.

Some years ago, I had a chance to work with wool for the first time, designing a collection for an Italian cashmere knitwear manufacturer, Gentry Portofino. I liked the softness, detail and overall feel of the material, and loved the third dimension that the textile gave to my patterns, whether it’s clothing or a hanging piece of art. Later on, I began studying and developing Jacquard weaving processes at TextielLab in Tilburg, The Netherlands. I started weaving large scale tapestries and doing textile installations, which have now been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, such as the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Cooper Hewitt Museum, Museo Poldi Pezzoli and Kunsthall Stavanger. 

Kustaa Saksi, Aura, 2019. Jacquard weave. 170 x 236 cm. Mohair, wool, cotton, velvet, acrylic. Edition of 6.

Can you introduce us the ideas behind your latest exhibition First Symptoms at the Finlandsinstitutes Galleri in Stockholm?

First Symptoms presents six unique tapestries manufactured with a Jacquard weaving technique. Drawing their inspiration and texture from the scientific examination and personal experience of migraine, the pieces result in richly layered and multi-sensory portrayals of this chronic and unpredictable condition. I portray migraine behaviour with drastic contrasts in material use, repeating patterns and rhythmic textures with disorders: sometimes appearing like nerve cells building brain connections, resembling the growing roots of a horseradish or fractal-like Lichtenberg figures – electric discharges on the surface. Pulsating, disruptive, delusional, or at times relieving – then aggressive again. 

I have had migraines for most of my life; the first attack I remember occurred when I was coming home from school at age seven. I had borrowed a stack of comics from my friend and couldn’t wait to get into my room to read them when it happened: a brilliant, shimmering light appeared in my field of vision. It expanded, becoming an enormous shimmering circle, with sharp zigzagging borders and brilliant yellow and green colours. 

Prodrome, aura, attack, post-drome – the phases of migraine seen in my tapestries are influenced by ornamentation from a variety of sources: from nature’s systems, scientific illustration and tribal art to black metal visuals. I have chosen the weaving technique and materials to emphasize the nature of migraine and to accent the healing approach of the artworks as well, as they are tactile and gentle constructions.

I have a very personal relationship with my migraine. It’s like an old, slightly tiring friend visiting regularly: always indiscreet and unconditional, never bland. Sometimes the aura takes more trying forms. I will go mute. The words I try to speak or read end up as other words, or not words at all. I will see strange dreams, or smell peculiar aromas. It is intriguing to think the migraine attack offers us a glimpse, like a looking glass, into the mind’s eye. 

Kustaa Saksi, Attack, 2019. Jacquard weave. 166 x 238 cm. Silk, mohair, linen, polyester, rubber, wool, copper. Edition of 6.

Your art is somewhat an interplay between biology and technology. What is your relationship with nature?

Ideas of nature seen from the abstracted edge of perception pervade all of my work. Nature is a never-ending source of inspiration to me. You can explore interesting shapes on so many different levels: from landscapes to microcosms. And it’s always there to be discovered.

In your work you combine digital and material. Can you describe your working process a bit? Do the tapestries sometimes go wrong? And if so, can you then re-use the material?

Weaving patterns definitely has its limitations as compared to printing – the world I’m coming from – but it opens up a completely new world of possibilities, especially in detailing. In my artworks, I’m using the Jacquard weaving technique for its magnificent control over detailing and colour and material combinations. I like to mix very different materials together. The new pieces are woven using cotton warp with mohair, silk, alpaca, cashwool, velvet, rubber, viscose, copper and transparent polyester yarns, resulting in richly layered, multi-sensory works. I have a quite experimental approach to my work, which often leads to errors but also to positive discoveries. I have a lot of sample material that I tend to use for other projects later on.

What are your thoughts on the increasing use of AI in creative work/processes? Will this somehow kill the uniqueness or blur the origins of art?

I think using AI will be a great help for artists and designers when using it creatively. It might smooth the processes and give alternative views that otherwise couldn’t be discovered.

Kustaa Saksi, Archetypes, 2019. Jacquard weave. 168 x 242 cm. Alpaca, mohair, cotton, velvet, wool, acrylic. Edition of 6.

Is sustainability something that you think of as an artist when choosing materials?

Working at TextielLab, I think I’m in a lucky position as they have full-time yarn specialists constantly searching for materials. They also make sure the materials are as sustainable as possible. I’m trying to use as much recycled material as possible as well as yarns from European manufacturers so there’s no need to ship material from the other side of the world.

What kind of relationship do you have with colours? How would you define your palette?

In my palette, I need to have colours that mix well together, but equally important are the colours that create controversy. It’s a fine balance between these two to make the colour scheme work or fail. It sometimes takes ages.

How does your art reflect your identity?

My exhibition themes are quite personal, and I’m trying to express my message through the images I present. I’m always working on a conceptual theme around my exhibition. My previous exhibitions Hypnopompic and Woolgathering have dealt with dreams, nightmares and hallucinations, and the current one is about migraine. I’m interested in delusions and in-between states.

You have collaborated with many fashion and design houses in your career. Can you tell us something about your upcoming projects? What’s next?

I’m currently working on a new series of textile-based installations in public and private spaces and interiors. I’m also busy with some commissioned projects and collaborations.

Kustaa Saksi, Full Bloom, 2019. Jacquard weave. 165 x 236 cm. Mohair, cotton, velvet, acrylic, wool. Edition of 6.

After the Stockholm exhibition the First Symptoms collection will travel to Brussels and later on to EMMA Museum of Modern Art.

More of Kustaa Saksi’s work at www.kustaasaksi.com