Refreshingly the same

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Truth be told, most of us have a love/hate relationship with globalization. I mean liberal (US), leftie (Br.) types who think of themselves as internationalists,  demanding that we should respect other cultures,  so long as they accept certain non-negotiable values like sexual equality.  We try to buy locally produced food and at the same time fill our homes with “ethnic” trinkets from Africa and South America. We decry the incursion of McDonalds and Starbucks into Asia while seeking out the latest Asian Fusion restaurant in Shoreditch. This malaise was cruelly mocked once by a Conservative politician at his party conference, reading out a leaflet which read, ‘Join the international fight against globalization.”

This cognitive dissonance is nicely encapsulated in a new exhibition at Design Forum Finland with the title Sámi Knife II. The Sámi knife (Leuku in Finnish, Stuorniibi in the Sámi language) is a traditional tool of the Sámi, the indigenous people of Northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland. The exhibition organisers point out in their introduction that the skill of making the knife is disappearing under pressure from global production and the resultant price competition. The exhibition celebrates this very localised artefact by inviting 23 international designers to ‘fight against the disappearance of material culture’, drawing them from as far afield as France, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Japan. Oh, and, I almost forgot, Finland.

photo Anssi Hietaharju

Each designer was sent a traditional Sámi knife made in Lapland. There were some very pretty ‘updatings’ of the knife including one with the handle and a scabbard bound in red and white cord, another with a fish shaped blade and a sexy black leather holster, another with a designer signature inlaid into the handle.

But for me, the runaway winner was Louse Campbell who is based in Copenhagen. Resisting the pressure to be “innovative”, she simply took the original knife and  coated it with a white paint (except for the edge of the blade) which is meant to wear off in use. In her spiel she writes:

I do not see any reason to redesign the knife. It is perfect as it is. Big, sharp, durable and beautifully crafted from local materials, it serves its purpose immaculately.

Leuku II / Sámi Knife II. Design Forum Finland, Erottajankatu 7 Helsinki. Exhibition ends 29.11.2009

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