Yomigæri: A Japanese term that directly translates as “return from the underworld”, but colloquially means “rebirth” or “remembrance”.
It’s also the name for the newest collaboration between ceramicist Jarkko Kinnunen and designer Marko Svart of Svartbysvart as part of this year’s DesignMarch. Based at Marko’s store, YOMIGÆRI is an exhibition and experience that promotes raw materials, responsible consumption, and, above all else, the coalescing of sustainability and natural beauty. We sat down with the two to talk YOMIGÆRI, sustainable production, and more.
Thank you for talking to us Jarkko and Marko. So first off —what is YOMIGÆRI? What can one expect from your collaboration?
Jarkko: Yomigæri is about giving new life to waste materials, reviving forgotten memories of our ancestors, and contemporising bygone techniques to create sustainable clothing and ceramics. We have dyed fabrics with rust and waste and turned them into clothing inspired by Finnish history and mythology, we dug some Icelandic clay that we made into jewellery, and I made tea bowls with glazes from Icelandic natural materials.
What was it that made both of you interested in using natural ingredients? Was there a light-bulb moment in your life when you realised that sustainability was an issue you needed to address?
Marko: My eco-standards definitely came from my love for whales and the ocean. I was appalled to learn about the plastic pollution in our oceans and that made me genuinely distressed and worried about the state of our planet.
Now sustainability is such an obvious thing for me so it is hard to see any other way to do it. Everyone has the responsibility to do anything they can to minimise their footprints on Earth and that should be a common goal for all of us.
As a designer—creating and bringing new items into the world—it is of vital importance that I make good and conscious choices.
I always feel that there already exists too many things around us, and one could argue that the world doesn’t need any more new clothes or jewellery.
That is why I use very few “new materials” and instead try to make my pieces out of things that are already around us. My jewellery is mainly made using bones, natural wood, or other upcycled materials, and most of my clothes are also made from leftovers or upcycled fabrics.
These days sustainability has become more like a marketing slogan, even for huge, mass-producing brands and businesses. It’s great that they acknowledge it, sure, but it is important that people also know the truth and make their choices accordingly.
I am making every single choice in my design with sustainability in mind, and I would never accept anything else.
Jarkko: I’ve always felt very connected with nature and always hated finding garbage and pollution in it, or finding an area of forest that I loved felled, so for me, it’s always been present. I’ve strived to live in a sustainable way for as long as I can remember. The environmental impact of fast fashion and especially the dyes used in it has always felt like the biggest and easiest thing to avoid waste to me. The strongest chemicals we used were vinegar and salt.
I’m really happy to have been a part of creating beautiful timeless pieces with Marko, that I hope will inspire others to make more sustainable choices with fashion.
The environmental impact of ceramics was something I started learning about a few years ago when I got interested in pottery. Mining is one of the most destructive of human activities on earth, and if you can use just mud, ash and seashells to make beautiful glazes instead of doing that, why wouldn’t you?
We’re big fans of Marko at the Grapevine, but Jarkko—you’re new to us! What was your journey into ceramics and pottery? What is it about the medium that so appeals to you?
Jarkko: I grew up in an area with clay soil and some of my fondest memories from my childhood are of creating clay bowls on the lakeshore in our backyard in Finland. I got interested in ceramics properly a few years ago when I saw a documentary about traditional ceramics in Japan and as a geology nerd and an artist, I thought how awesome it was that they created such amazing ceramics using only what was around them. I pretty much immediately started researching materials in Iceland and did that for about a year until I couldn’t help but get a little kiln to experiment in.
We as humans have been making ceramics non-stop for more than 30,000 years, and I hand form all my ceramics without an electric wheel so the whole process is slow and meditative and I love how grounded and connected it makes me feel.
I’m yet to find a sustainable source of high fire Icelandic clay that you don’t have to hike two hours to in the Westfjords, so I’ve focused on sustainable local materials for glazes. All of the ingredients I use for them are from within Reykjavík. It also just so happens that my great uncle was a ceramicist who pioneered lead-free glazes in Finland so it’s great to be continuing a family tradition.
It’s interesting how based your ceramic practice is in your Finnish heritage, especially considering that the basis of YOMIGÆRI is in Finnish mythology. Can you tell me about some of the myths that inspired the collection?
Jarkko: We ended up choosing to focus on Finnish mythology surrounding Tuonela, the Finnish underworld. The river that takes you to Tuonela is filled with rusty weapons and needles, and shamans wanting wisdom from the dead would have to travel down it in animal form or fool the daughter of Tuoni, the god of the underworld, to take them on her raft.
Tuoni rules over the Finnish underworld with his wife Tuonetar. They have many children who are responsible for all the pains and struggles in our world, like the Pain Girl, a goddess who grinds up humanity’s pains and illnesses in a stone with nine holes, and ancient Finnish spells ask her to take the pains away and put them back in the stone that doesn’t suffer from having them.
And you got much of your materials from stones and riverbeds, so it seems the myth is very fitting. What is it like dying with rust and waste materials as opposed to “normal” commonly-used dyes? Has it made you rethink fashion and design in any way?
Jarkko: It takes time and the smell of iron and vinegar is not the nicest to be around, but the process opens up so many possibilities for interesting patterns and happy accidents and is so environmentally friendly, that it’s more than worth it. The only thing it’s made me rethink is why isn’t everyone doing this?
In your description of the event, you mentioned “reviving forgotten memories of our ancestors”—were there specific pieces that evoked specific memories from your past? Could you tell me about them?
Marko: Something interesting about working with rust was that we could get many different colours out of it. I generally like blacks and greys a lot, but I also know that commercial black dyes are the most harmful for the environment, so I was delighted that we could get beautiful greys and black colours out of only using rust and tannins. As soon as I saw the fabrics after dyeing, I immediately knew that this is something I will keep doing, heading forward in my work. I am very much looking forward to experimenting more and hopefully soon be able to use exclusively my own dyed fabrics for my brand.
This project, making our own fabric dyes, has taught me so much and really developed my way of designing. It is my first time dyeing fabrics this way, and since I am very much a person who wants to control every single thing about my work, it feels so rewarding to also be able to alter the colours by myself and really create the designs from scratch. I already do all the patterns and sewing by myself, so this felt sort of like the last puzzle piece for my design, that one thing that could make my pieces even more authentic and soulful. It is such a beautiful feeling to know that you learned something new and that there are yet so many more things to explore…
Jarkko: Every bowl I make reminds me of the bowls I made from the backyard mud as a child. But for me mostly this collection is about the collective memory of humanity. We have been able to live and create things in harmony with nature before, and by going back to that memory we can do it again.
What can one expect at the opening event tonight?
Jarkko: We’ve turned the Svart by Svart store into an immersive experience around the pieces we’ve created and we’ll be screening a short film we made for the collection and serving drinks flavoured with Icelandic herbs along with some finger food.
Check out YOMIGÆRI (Facebook event) at the Svartbysvart store for all of DesignMarch. And don’t forget—there’s a special opening party on May 21st at 18:00!
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