Helga Mogensen welcomes me into her workshop, which is pretty much what I’d imagine a designer’s workshop to look like. It could be an orderly chaos of tools, materials and colours which make perfect sense to Helga—or simply an unruly mess, it’s hard to tell. The only thing that might seem out of place in a jewellery designer’s workshop is a stack of worm-eaten driftwood. However, her use of that material is part of what makes Helga’s work unique, and it’s precisely what inspired me to speak with her to learn more.
Helga graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art with a BA in jewellery and silversmithing in 2007, but worked at a kindergarten until two years ago. Then she finally took the leap and made her dreams come true, becoming a full-time designer.
Helga says that her passion for jewellery began in her youth, and she was always interested in metalwork. From an early age, she also had an interest in archaeology, and the two subjects are closely linked in her mind. “I always loved to go digging, looking for old things,” she says. “What interested me about archaeology was finding old jewellery in the ground, and seeing how the metal and the surface had weathered, but still made it through the centuries. That’s really interesting for me—the metal’s history.”
Similarly, Helga’s current designs also tell a story. She works mainly with metals, and driftwood which she collects herself in her secret hideaway in Strandir – the remote and ill accessible region on the east side of the Westfjords – where her family has a summer house.
Helga—a nature’s child at heart—relishes the chance of being able to escape to such a place. “There are no computers or anything, no electricity or hot water,” she says. “Everyone is in their element and it’s such a paradise and amazing to have an access to this place. Nature is just there in all its glory and I’m one with it. There’s nothing you can change about it and you wouldn’t want to. “
Having collected driftwood in the region for a long time, Helga has the shores mentally mapped, and knows where to go to get what she needs. “I’m connected to the driftwood in a way,” she explains. “I pretty much remember when and where I found each piece of wood. It sounds crazy but for example, there’s one type of very worm-eaten wood in one spot in one shore, and then there are a lot of small pieces in another spot in another shore.”
Helga’s connection to driftwood ties into her interest in archaeology, as she seeks to emphasise nature in her designs. “There are so many unanswered questions about this material,” she says. “It used to be a tree for many many, years, and then it got cut down, and then, how long has it then been in the sea? The driftwood has a history.”
Being in the now
Spirituality is another ingredient in the fusion of being that is Helga and is also connected to nature and design. “I meditate a lot, I try to reach a state of mindfulness, being just here and now,” she explains. “It ties strongly into working with materials whilst not allowing the mind to control the outcome. There’s a quote by some film director I try to live by—I think it was Cameron Crowe, it was in a movie: ‘The work most personal to the individual maker, tends to be the work that people like the most’.”
For the upcoming DesignMarch, Helga is participating in the exhibition TRIAD at the Museum of Design and Applied Art which opens on March 9. For the occasion, she is working on creating new items of which I get a sneak peak. Helga tells me the new creations differ from her previous ones, in that she is now working to a greater extent with colours.
Asked if she continually needs to reinvent herself to keep from stagnating, she says that’s not the case. “You see something new every day, new colours, new shapes and the best thing is, I just feel like I’m living my dream,” she smiles. “I go to work and don’t feel like I’m working, it’s more like playing…but getting paid for it.”
In addition to TRIAD, a piece of Helga’s will be on display at Hannesarholt to accompany a documentary about “Hidden Wood,” a group exhibition that took place in Djúpavík in Strandir last year.
During our photo session, I wonder aloud if the quirky-looking and somewhat bulky objects are actually wearable. “I don’t do shiny bling-blings,” says Helga, “You know, this is all about taking risks, showing who you are and what you stand for. It’s this spiritual thing, always listening to your insight, and following through with it in your work. It actually works.”
See Helga’s work:
TRIAD. March 9 – May 29. Location: Museum of Design and Applied Art, Garðatorg 1, Garðabær. Opening hours: 12-17, closed on Mondays. Admission: ISK 250-500, free on Wednesdays.
Hidden Wood Continuation. March 10-13. Location: Hannesarholt, Grundarstígur 10, Reykjavík. No admission charge.
Helga’s designs can be purchased at Kirsuberjatréð, located on Vesturgata 4, Reykjavík.
Also see Helga’s website.
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