Swedish designers work from the heartSome of the most ingenious inventions of modern civilization ― matches, zippers and telephones, for example ― have become such a part of modern life that they are virtually overlooked. The country that provided these conveniences wants to remind the world of such accomplishments with the exhibit “Improving Life: the Design of Swedish Innovations” at Hangaram Design Museum in Seoul Arts Center.
The exhibit has toured the world since it opened in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2003. Its local incarnation is sponsored by the Swedish Institute, the Foreign Ministry and the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design, also known as Svensk Form. The show at Seoul Arts Center is the first scheduled for Asia, where a local partner from each country shows off indigenous designs as well. The local partner for Korea is Samsung Electronics. Over the next two years, the show will move to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Thailand and Australia.
The exhibition features 67 items curated by Gabriela Lopez, a member of Svensk Form. Because design and technology advances non-stop, new items are added along the way ― these include a new type of computer mouse by Perific, a mobile phone by Neonode AB and a back protector for snowboarders by POC Sweden.
The show includes an environmentally friendly jackhammer, a blanket made from paper pulp, and, of course, a pile of matches. The show has been visited by various guests of honor, including Jonas Bjelfvenstam, Sweden’s state secretary; Lars Vargo, the new Swedish ambassador to Korea; Heo Beom-do, Korea’s deputy minister of commerce, industry and energy, and Kim Kwang-tae, senior vice president of Samsung Electronics Co.
Mr. Bjelfvenstam came to Korea to open the exhibition and meet with senior officials in the Korean government about forming business links in the IT sector and among road safety agencies.
Regarding Korea’s contribution to the exhibit, Mr. Heo emphasized the importance of digital, DNA and design-related activities in the 21st century, saying that these would be key factors determining technological advancement and competition.
When asked about her favorite item at the exhibition, Ms. Lopez pointed out a set of injection pens, specially designed for patients with a growth hormone deficiency. Demonstrating how the outer shell of the pen was interchangeable with various colors and patterns, she said, “The point of this product is for patients to feel better about their daily injection. The design is far from depressingly medical as it hides the needle, and the design on the outside is bright and fun. It can be close to one’s heart.”
She added that such heartfelt care for personal needs was the reason that Swedish design has advanced through the years. “You’d think that high-tech technology would make design advance, but it’s not true,” she said, approaching a mannequin dressed in functional work clothes that were introduced in the 1970s. “Swedish designers invented this workwear. If you look at the clothes, they are made from basic canvas. It’s not high-tech at all, but it changed the way people live and perceive.”
Ms. Lopez is one of about 5,000 members of the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design. Established in 1845, the society is the oldest organization of its kind, said Ms. Lopez. Its main objective is to communicate more among the members, who include various industry professionals and the general public, in order to lead and promote Swedish design domestically and globally. “This kind of constant awareness and support for design made Sweden the world’s most innovative country in design,” she commented.
The show is divided into three parts: Contemporary Swedish innovations with a strong design profile, 20 types of the latest digital technologies from Samsung and prominent Swedish companies active in Korea, such as Assa Abloy, Tetra Pak and Volvo.
Polyglot poetry-lover takes the helm at Swedish embassy
The IHT-JoongAng Daily caught up with Swedish Ambassador-designate, Lars Vargo [pronounced similar to “Varieux” in French], who will hand his letter of credentials to the Korean president on Friday.
Mr. Vargo, 59, formerly headed the international department of the Swedish parliament. He also served as ambassador to Lithuania and was a minister and deputy chief of mission at the Swedish Embassy in Tokyo, where he has been posted several times. He has also served in Tripoli, Libya and in Washington D.C.
Mr. Vargo has translated Japanese novels, short stories and poetry into Swedish, and has published several books.
Q. What is your mission in South Korea as a Japan and China expert and a diplomat from one of the countries comprising the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) in Korea?
A: Sweden and the Republic of Korea have shared intimate relations ever since the Korean War. We were quick in establishing a field hospital in 1950 and we have had a presence in the NNSC since 1953. This is a sign of early Swedish commitment to peacebuilding on the Korean Peninsula. Sweden is unique in having had three missions on the Korean Peninsula ― embassies in Seoul and Pyongyang, and the delegation in the NNSC. We have the same aspirations as the Korean people, to see a peaceful unification, and we are ready to do whatever we can to facilitate this goal. It breaks my heart to think of all the families that have been divided by the war and I understand how painful this must be for people on both sides of the border.
In your resume, it says you speak “Swedish, Japanese, English, French, Chinese and German.” Is this the order of fluency?
Yes. My Japanese and English are more or less on the same level, but I know more about Japanese literature, history and culture than that of Great Britain and the United States, and I was educated at a Japanese university. That is why I put Japanese before English, although at times I still feel I bang my head against a wall when I try to translate texts in classical Japanese. My major at Stockholm University, before moving on to Kyoto University, was Chinese, but I have never lived in China, therefore I still hesitate too much when I try to speak Chinese. French and German I can understand and read relatively well, but please don’t ask me to make a [formal] speech.
How has your research in Japanese culture helped you understand Asia?
In many ways. My doctoral thesis was on the social and economic conditions for the formation of the early Japanese state and what I first realized while doing research for the dissertation was how dependent Japan was on Chinese and Korean culture. One can say that China and Korea built the foundation upon which Japan constructed a highly sophisticated castle. Japan is in no way inferior to China and Korea, but without the knowledge that came from the mainland, the Japan that we know today would not have existed.
Like Korea, Japan is a country where education has been considered extremely important, and the knowledge of the outside world is very high. There is an overflow of books and TV programs on Asia in Japan. So it is very natural to increase your knowledge of Asia when you are there.
by Ines Cho
The exhibition runs until Feb 25 at Hangaram Design Museum at Seoul Arts Center in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call the Embassy of Sweden at (02) 738-0846 or visit the Web site, www.designgallery.or.kr.