Maybe it was expected that this title be used, paraphrasing De Sade, but in a way, Sanja Rotter’s work is just as provocatively teasing and daring. With “Woodoir” as her choice of name that has become a brand, and her unique hand-made objects, Sanja openly talks about this “dark side” of furniture and how it is shaped into a product that refines and enriches, not just the interior.
As a product designer, what are your views on the design profession in general, regardless of the aspect of the “graphic”, “virtual” or “industrial” – do you think the design is supersaturated with both avant-garde and kitsch? Can there be a new environment from which to act alongside these two currents? We can talk about opposite values we have called avant-garde or kitsch, but the more-less way is not even close to being the only dimension in design – even if it’s what you might first see. In contemporary design, I can see the digital – analog relationship, as well as the mass-oriented – unique relationship and a lot of other “axes” by which we experience each work in the domain of design. And it’s certainly something worth exploring. Personally, I am quite interested in the relationship between order and chaos, intentional and accidental, the rational and intuitive methods of design.
Who are your role models and whose work is most inspiring – the one that was created by your role models or the one your idols have nothing to do with? This is an excellent question. If there are any role models – my inspiration is not necessarily found in their works, but in what they themselves were inspired by. I seldom draw inspiration from someone’s final products – I’d rather draw it from the ideas which had created them. I feel the link between the author’s personality and their works in an unusual way: I am completely my work and not at all. The properties of objects that I shape are not in the least part my qualities as a person – I’m temperamental, chaotic, messy, irrational… while through creating, through these physical objects, I project what is harmonious and poetic. And this is a process that completely makes me what I am. Speaking of actual persons who inspire me, I would first mention the ideas and texts of R. Buckminster Fuller, and the work of the Finnish designer Tapio Wirkkala.
What is for you the ideal starting point in designing something, and is it easy to create a unique piece today, not necessarily inspired by someone else’s work? In my case, the someone else’s work you mentioned is the design of leaves, flowers, shells, desert dunes, bird nests, leopard patterns, branching trees, constellations in the sky… and so on. I admit, I am strongly influenced by that, and it’s just not that easy to get away from it.
In your opinion, where is the fine line between original work and plagiarism? I believe that the plagiarist can convince himself that his work is an original idea, while it is probably a subconscious memory of something already seen. I very confidently state that I have no need to plagiarize things. To use a banal analogy – why would I steal water if I own the spring? I saw some works that could be said to resemble something that I have made – after I made them. It is nothing of concern – people around the world have similar problems resolved in a similar way, but if the author had their own, unique design process that led to the final product (research, experiments, causal relationships in the process) – that can not be plagiarized. Of course, there is a special category – those works that fall within the domain of ready-made, pop-art, homage, and the like.
In furniture design, are laws of physics really that important in everything? To what extent can you predict and avoid pitfalls related to the (lack of) functionality, and how often do these pitfalls lurk when you least expect it, when you believe that you have the project thoroughly thought out? Such a case recently took place, although the project was not related to furniture. Tragicomic situations, when something seems perfect and goes wrong are probably an integral part of this job.I often joke – unless you’re a master of organization, you have to be a master of improvisation. Sometimes it works out, and the “saving things” process alone often brings out something different and even better.
Given the specific nature of your profession and the ideas you turn solid, how do your works rate on the domestic market? On the domestic field there seems to be scarce interest in the innovations of product designers… there prevail the frustrations of people who often do not find the ideal buyer and therefore numerous prototypes remain only prototypes. Where would you say does the main problem lie, unrelated to the (failed) industry? Distribution channels and their conditions are certainly a problem, and the fact that due to small series, the price of each piece increases significantly compared to real industrial production – with which Croatian designers still have no proper relationship they deserve. Let me cite a rare bright example – the cooperation of the Borovo shoe factory and Mauro Massarotto to revitalize the Startas brand. I’ve never designed anything for mass production, and I have a great desire to do so. For now, my production is based on my own desire and my effort to have a piece made. Precisely due to the lack of infrastructure that would enable production for me, I was forced to a “do-it-yourself” operation, a process through which you learn so much, and furthermore – it’s a new way, a new trend of production that is not closely tied to the small field of product design. We see this trend through increased homemade arts and crafts, local food products, home music production, redesigning of clothing and restoration of flea-market furniture, etc. In spite of everything, I can only see positive changes in the future, primarily in the fact that people are developing awareness of what design is and why it is worth the trouble.
Regarding this, what about working abroad? Is there any interest out there for young people like you – if you could choose, who would you want to produce your own furniture and jewelry for? My parents lived abroad for a few years and I’ve lost some illusions related to this concept. In short – I could not. I’m bound to Croatia, my language, my city – its places and people, friends and family: the emotional and social “infrastructure” of life. It is my great desire to design furniture for some of the lumber industries in Croatia and I am particularly interested in quality use of our most valuable timber species – the Slavonian oak. I have to mention how quality management of Slavonian oak includes proper management of forests, as well as protection of wetlands and deep groundwater, which are crucial to the maintenance of high quality oak forests and the prevention of oak drying in the Spačva basin area.
If you spoke to someone who did not necessarily understand your aesthetics, would you accept the challenge and try to reeducate such a client or are there limits due to which you feel that money is not always worth the time and effort? Or would you agree to a compromise? Creation-wise, which would be the worst compromise that you would agree on? Of course I have my limits, but I am still learning a lot about compromise and interpersonal relationships at work. It’s hard for me to say because I do not have much experience in this regard. Generally I do not agree to any compromise for which there are no arguments. I start from the point stating that I am the master of my shapes, and I know what’s best in the formative sense! On the other hand, I absolutely accept to compromise for technological and structural reasons, which is very important when working with wood – a material that “has a will of its own”. Recently I worked on a quote for some furniture where the client requested that an element I designed as a standalone – was hanging, and with a slight change in size, which required space. There was no problem about that. The worst horror scenario would be the one in which I would work on, for example, redesigning semiautomatic weapons or something like that. Designing something that causes destruction goes against all my principles.
At this year’s “D-Day”, you’ve presented a range of wooden jewelry, along with images of selected furniture. Are these two branches your favorites or are you planning to expand your talents and ingenuity even further – and if so, in which direction? Jewelry is something not very important, today it is very widespread and commonplace. But the reactions of people recognizing their uniqueness and value in a little thing that they will wear and love a long time – that’s what the designer wants to feel, regardless of how banal the thing itself may be. The thing itself is not important – it’s what it means to people, how they feel about it! It’s how I feel while I create it for them! In the spirit of this philosophy, I really do not care what I do, as long as both the audience and I find quality and beauty in it. I do definitely plan to expand the activities I do. In which direction – only time and experience will tell. I am interested in environmentally friendly, sustainable concepts that take advantage of local production capacities, traditions and resources, which in the bigger picture brand Croatia as a country that uses renewable energy, preserves and properly uses its resources, where people eat local, organically grown food… in a nutshell, a country that is aware of its values and preserves them. Also, most of all, I have an ambition to open my own gallery / workshop / studio, which I especially fantasize about while watching all these abandoned spaces in the city. I look at the empty places and visualize possibilities: I imagine painting the walls, furnishing the space, pouring champagne at the opening of the Gallery Woodoir to the music… Sounds ridiculous and far-fetched – but if there is no vision, there can be no accomplishment!
Further information: facebook.com/woodoir
Interview conducted: 0.5, proofreading/translations: Goran Gregor
Woodoir Noir photographed by Adriana Pavelić, Tarna Putina and Sanja Rotter