Erika Emerén is Doing Magical Things With Concrete
When Erika Emerén was a confused college student in Uppsala, Sweden, unsure of what career path she wanted to pursue, she decided to to give literature a shot, thinking she could become a writer. “But I hadn’t read all the books my classmates had, so that whole year I had to use my imagination and spontaneity to try to fool them into thinking I knew things that I knew nothing about,” she recalls. Several years and a proper design degree later, she’s still adept at winging it, albeit in a totally different way — her current practice involves dyeing and casting concrete in an experimental process that she has very little control over, then using it to make chairs, tables, and soon, lamps too. “The results always vary, especially when I’m mixing different colors,” she says. “But that’s what I prefer, to make something unique. The that I can’t control is what makes the design interesting.” Get to know Emerén, who released two new projects during Stockholm Design Week, below.
Describe your most recent project and how it was made.
The Spotted Collection is based on experiments with colored concrete. I had used concrete before, but only in its original grey form. With this collection I explored how to color the concrete and how to create abstract patterns. The result of the casts varies a lot, which makes each piece unique. Opening a mold is always a thrill and a bit terrifying; sometimes the outcome is fascinating and sometimes it looks like a bowl of porridge.
The furniture’s concrete blocks are the result of two different casting methods. The chair’s seat almost looks like shiny plastic, while the tabletop has a rough texture. Instead of using a metal frame combined with the concrete, I chose to work with pine. The two materials contrast each other: one’s cold and one’s warm. By combining these two very different materials, they enhance each other.
These pieces were made for the exhibition OBVIOUS, an exhibition organized by me and Matilda Beckman in which 12 women were invited to exhibit lighting or furniture during Stockholm Design Week. We want women to take a larger and more obvious space. Concrete is a standard material — everyone knows what it looks like — but at the exhibition many people were surprised to hear the blocks were made of concrete.
Describe your next project and how you’re currently making it.
My next project is a continuance of The Spotted Collection, but instead of furniture I’ll be making lighting. By manipulating plastic pipes with heat, I’ll create “imperfect” molds. I’ve grown tired of geometric and perfect shapes, and I want to search for more organic forms. The lamps will be sold at Etage Projects’s shop in Copenhagen.
Another project I am preparing is casting a kitchen table in the same material. Since it will be so heavy, I plan to cast it on-site. The buyer will not only get a new table, but also a live performance of the process.
Tell us one thing that’s been inspiring you lately and why.
I guess most people have a place they dream about when life feels grey — mine is an island in the gulf of Bothnia. There is something special about Swedish summer, and the water, which never gets hot. The island is a nature reserve which makes it special in many ways: There are only two villages separated by the forest, no cars are allowed, and the only way to get there is by boat. The natural forces of the sea rules the island and its inhabitants. This way of living inspires me. Rather than being influenced by artifacts, I feel creative and empowered whenever I visit this island. (Photo: Lovisa Lindström)
Show us your studio and tell us what you like about it.
My atelier is a shared studio in the southern part of Stockholm. It’s a bit worn-down, but it has a lot of space to experiment with materials in full scale. In the small workshop I can build all my pieces. Since I most often work alone, I can choose the music for myself. I always play the same song on repeat. Right now it’s Work, by Rihanna. The picture shows a tool set made by my great grandfather. There are at least seven variants of planes in it, each of which have their special quality. The tools remind me of my heritage and the craftsmen in my family. The planes have not been used for sixty years, but I might just change that soon.