We caught up with Swedish design duo Butler/Lindgård to discuss their passion for textiles, how Malmö is changing for artists and their plans to branch out into furniture design. Pull up a chair…
BTC: Who are you and what do you do?
KL: We are first and foremost textile designers.
BTC: Did it start with an interest in the graphic side or in textiles? How did it all begin?
KL: I think it started with a desire to express myself; I started doing illustrations. However, I found out that it didn’t give me what I was after. When I started working as an illustrator I noticed that it wasn’t much fun enough to try to fight for those jobs; you have to find something that you want to fight for.
And I also wanted to work on a bigger scale. Then I found textiles, with a small detour via cut-outs and clothes, to patterns and pictures for that part. I am attracted to the fact that you can make really big things, and that it becomes physical rather than flat and blank as it may be in printed newspapers.
BTC: And for you?
HB: To me, it is also partly an interest in colour and shape. It’s the combination of patterns and the abstract; the fact that materials and colour are allowed to be in focus. I have not done illustrations but I have painted in the past.
BTC: Why textiles? Is it because they have a practical use?
KL: Exactly! It’s partly because it is a utility item but also because it is a material suitable for patterns and colours. But there is also a value in the material in itself. The fact that the surface you start working on can add something to what you do. For example, a pattern which we have sketched on paper may not look so amazing but once we have transferred it to fabric with the material that comes it can then become completely magical.
BTC: Your enthusiasm for textiles is plain to see!
HB: Textiles have the ability to speak directly to the body through structure and tactility. We like to work with other materials so it’s really about the materiality. We have a lot of knowledge about textiles because we are trained in the trade so that is the way to go. You also get to work with colour and space.
BTC: So there is a form of synergy going on?
KL: I think that when you work with textiles, you work in relation to your body because textiles always relate to it. Thus, the body and the scale it means to relate to a body is one part of it. It is also about materials and exact colours. There are a lot of aspects that come with textiles regarding all the different materials we work with. It feels good to say that we are textile artists because it is the angle we always take. That’s how our process looks like – we are textile designers even if we work with wood or metal. That is our general approach although it does not always become a textile in the end.
BTC: You talk a lot about “we” throughout, how did it end up being the two of you?
KL: It’s a love story. We started at the same school in Copenhagen, in different classes, and we didn’t know each other at the beginning; maybe not even in the first two years. We took the same train and talked a little bit. Then we both had children so we had to take time out of school for a year. We actually worked on a project before that, which we very much enjoyed doing, it was the two of us and a third person that collaborated. We really liked her but I think our cooperation clicked better.
BTC: What happened after you returned to your studies?
KL: We had to start in the class below where we did not really know anyone. There weren’t that many Swedes and we spoke on the train all the time and then it became a cooperation and friendship. We often stayed late in the studio and realised that we worked very well together and that we complemented each other very well.
HB: It’s very tough to freelance in this field so it is far more rewarding to be two. In the projects we are doing now, it is almost necessary that we are two, that is, physically, to cope with the big frames.
BTC: So it is very much a collaborative process?
KL: Our collaboration is prestige-less. I think our sketching process requires that it’s us two or at least that there are two persons involved. We do half-minute sketches, where the sheer number of sketches is important. We had homework over the weekend and on the Monday we would bring in 20 A5 sketches with different techniques on a theme, just to get a starting point.
That’s often how we work. It’s so nice to look at the sketches together. You can be a bit self-critical, but when we look at it together, you’ll see other things. The next step would be to choose a few directions to develop further. It’s a great way to work because you can go outside yourself and be the “we” that is us. Sometimes we even work on the same surface or change paper. What we do has no “me” and “you”.
HB: This way, working in a prestige-less way, we feel that we don’t hesitate and get stuck in the same way. It is a little easier to move along and keep on pushing forward.
BTC: Do you double up with the same approach or do you bring completely different techniques, tools, and approaches? Do you complement each other or do you more become one?
KL: We have worked together for a while so in a way we use the same design language. But we have different strengths. It’s not just about creation, it’s about the whole concept. For example, we need to consider marketing and the storytelling we create about us. There are several aspects in which we complement each other well.
BTC: Your products, where do you wish for them to end up?
KL: We want it to end up in people’s homes and in public spaces. We want to get our products out there but we’re not good at sharing them. We would like to see how far we can take it on our own. Then there are other things we would love to pass on, which someone else would take care of realizing. But projects close to our hearts like “Tits and Ass” that we are currently working on, there the goal is for it to become an exhibition.
BTC: Is it always about textiles?
KL: We have not really decided yet but it may be that we take one utility item because we think it’s an exciting part of the design world that we haven’t really explored yet. Or yes we have but only on a small scale. It would have been interesting to test hard materials. Maybe to get help from an outside producer.
We like to print; we have a printing desk that is eleven meters long in the workspace over there. During the summer, we printed eight meters of the “Hairy” fabric for a person for his studio. It feels powerful to get to do it so we want to do both. But it will be very exclusive with handprints. For some patterns, we would like to get it to a wider audience. We think it would be fun so that it’s not just for a privileged small crowd of people who can afford it.
BTC: The fact that it’s hand-printed, surely that makes it hard to scale up your production?
KL: Yes, it’s hard to reach a mass audience. We have received orders that we were unable to handle because we cannot produce in that quantity and that becomes very boring. But it is also exciting to try to produce it in other ways.
HB: It is one thing we are dealing with, how we will proceed, to find out way forward.
BTC: Is it the aim that it should be hand-printed?
HB: I think we will always hand-print as a process but also by making collections where we make an edition that’s exclusive. In that case it might done in addition to what’s hand-printed but also have something that is produced more on a large-scale. But, yes, I always think we will want it hand-printed. Nothing can beat it really.
KL: We must come from an angle similar to how the fashion houses do it, i.e. something very nice that really conveys the feeling of the core of the idea. Maybe then you can scale back and simplify it in order to be able to reach the masses, not that there is anything wrong with that!
It’s something democratic in that people like ourselves should be able to have our things in their homes. Our hand-printed textiles are very exclusive. I would not be able to buy them myself.
BTC: It’s a bit like buying a print or the original then. Do you also do work on commission?
KL: We can switch it on and off depending on whether the client wants “Butler/Lindgård” or something else. If we get an assignment to let’s say draw a pattern of a happy Santa Claus for a German market, then probably our style will not shine through that much in the design. But we’re slowly starting to notice more and more that it’s our style the clients are looking for when they call us up. Our basic design methods are always there, it’s our lines. But you probably need to nerd down a lot to even be able to notice it sometimes.
BTC: Is it mainly hand-prints that clients are after?
KL: We don’t work that way. It’s not like someone asks us to do a hand-printed floral pattern for them. We could, but it would be damn expensive because it’s a big sketch process before the patterns come to life. If you want a hand-printed fabric, then you need to select one from our catalogue of patterns.
HB: When we get assignments, it’s usually to create the pattern or to create a pattern based design.
KL: In that case we do not have anything to do with the production, we only provide them with the patterns and then someone else will make it into a finished product.
BTC: Do you have a portfolio with patterns that you have made over the years?
KL: Well, we don’t. But we really should. We have some fabric samples. We have very messy computers with folders containing different patterns.
BTC: Your office space is a bit like a showroom?
KL: Yes, it’s good to have an office space where we can hold meetings and invite people over to see our stuff.
BTC: How do your projects usually start?
HB: It always starts with an issue. For example, our ongoing project (“Tits and Ass”) started growing in or minds when we each had our third child.
KL: You were not allowed to breastfeed at the Moderna Museet; you weren’t allowed to eat or drink anything so Hanna and her baby had to leave. It’s very rigid. Then we began to talk about representation and the body, what kinds of phenomena and what types of bodies that may be seen. It was just a thing, but that was the starting point for the project. Indeed, we have always had a gender discussion.
BTC: Do you have another example of that?
KL: We have a collection called Manifest/Mångfald where we had started working on the collection and knew that it was about Malmö and how the image of the city was. There was a picture published in Dagens Nyheter and it was very dark. It was bad integration, i.e. everything was so very bad with Malmö. At the same time, when you live in the city, you do not recognise that image.
BTC: So Malmö became a part of your work?
KL: I live in Möllan and I think Möllan is unique in its kind that people who run their shops live there as well. Unlike Söder (Stockholm), where those who run the shops do not live in Söder, there is no chance that those in Möllan would live anywhere else. There are areas that are really integrated but there are areas that have huge problems. We had big discussions and we created patterns with different types of houses, where you can read different interpretations in combination with a dot pattern. And then this assault happened on 8/3 and then it became so very important to reinforce that the collection was about respect, humanity and love. That collection came from a discussion that evolved and suddenly became very current and got a new angle. Our approach to a project can be quite different.
BTC: And I’m told you also have a love of movies, or at least one in particular?!
KL: We have a collection based on Terminator 2; it was our degree project. We made a giant hand-printed extremely exclusive textiles. In that case we did a classic movie analysis where we selected and grabbed screenshots. It’s a great movie and has very clear colours on display.
BTC: That was completely unexpected!
HB: Yes, it was completely unexpected for us as well!
KL: At the end when the Terminator is lowered and says: “Hasta la vista baby!” the scene becomes a sort of sunset, which in a way is very romantic. We dubbed the different scenes and called it the sunset aftermath. In total it became five large textiles.
BTC: How important is it that the message/concept reaches with the buyer? Can the fabric stand for itself?
KL: We work with conceptual design in a way but never at the expense of aesthetics. Or, the concept should always exist but the aesthetic expression is equally important. The fabrics should always be able to speak for themselves. But if you hear the background story, we hope that they feel even more beautiful. To us it’s part of the creation process but most of the time the background story becomes a part of the finished product.
BTC: Once you’ve settled on a concept, how do you then continue your work?
KL: We’ll do a sketch process like the one we talked about before. We discuss things and then we create small sketches. We have wide paper rolls that we roll out on the floor and sketch on scale 1 to 1. We work up and down in different scales, sizes, and in different materials in order to try to find an expression. We always try to reject the first idea, work intuitively and not so much driven by thoughts and opinions. We talk a lot but what’s coming out should be more temporary.
HB: I have problems choosing when I’m working on my own. I just have to test yet another idea and I have a hard time to decide. Together it’s easier. You can move along easier. You can divide the sketches into different categories. Then we select and continue with a few sketches.
BTC: Do you test your ideas in a physical way or are computers a part of the process?
KL: The computer is coming in somewhere along the way. If we do a pattern, it will be repeated and we will do it digitally. But since we start from sketches by hand, they have to be cleaned up. There is usually a little bit of scratch left. Then we copy up and down and test the scale. It’s a bit different how quickly we get into textiles; sometimes we go straight to textiles and sketch the fabric from the beginning and sometimes we clear the pattern completely. It all depends.
BTC: It feels as though that different fabrics behave differently? Do you test out different fabrics?
KL: We have some favourites that we always come back to.
HB: There’s no limit on how much you can try out and testing is fun.
KL: But usually there is a thought, whether it’s for furniture or for clothes.
BTC: On a practical level, if you hand-print on the 11 meter table you mentioned before, how long does it take before it dries? Can you roll it up?
HB: It may take a few hours. You can hang it up but we let it remain on the table.
BTC: That sounds awesome.
HB: Yes, it is awesome!
BTC: Do you maintain your curiosity throughout the process? Could there be changes or rejections even when test printing?
KL: Yes, that’s how it is. We have made beautiful big patterns, which turned out like crap when we did a test print. It was so nice in our minds but in reality it did not work at all. Usually, we think the same thing. Ah, crap, it didn’t work!
BTC: Who is the one who usually says no?
KL: Well, it usually comes sneaking up, it hangs in the air.
HB: It probably grabs both of us at the same time.
BTC: Do you also test without having a design, testing printing techniques, fabrics, colours, pure craftsmanship?
KL: Yes, then we usually set aside a few days for this. It’s great fun.
HB: Just getting ideas through material can be wonderful sometimes as a start for something new.
BTC: Do you subscribe to the eco-thinking mindset?
KL: Yes, we have. The textile industry as such is a heavy environmental polluter, but we try to stick with the materials that are OK.
HB: For example, linen does not require as much water as cotton.
KL: We buy from suppliers with fair trade conditions. If we make a collection of cushions, we only create as much as needed. We have had friends who ask us for leftovers and we never have any. We avoid waste where possible.
HB: The same applies to colours and using materials that are environmentally friendly.
BTC: And the textile industry has undergone many changes too.
KL: There is actually no textile industry in Sweden anymore so you have to turn to another country. The question is which countries to go to. Do you want to produce in Turkey as things are there today? There is a huge textile production in Turkey. Now we are talking to textile producers in Lithuania, it feels a little closer. We can go there and visit.
BTC: Do you work on your own individual projects as well?
KL: Yes, we do. We work about half-time with our cooperation, depending on projects. On average over a year we probably work half the time together; the rest of the time we do other projects. I worked on a movie recording tonight, for example. Then I worked on a costume. I worked on feature films during the summer as well. I’ve also published a few books and I work as a print consultant, sitting in house at companies and do textile assignments and work with the design team there. It’s fun to be able to jump between projects and to be free to choose.
BTC: What movie did you work on?
KL: Becker. Martin Larsson (Director). It’s enjoyable to enter into projects like that but it is very immersive. I do not want to do it too much, feature film.
BTC: Do you involve others in the process?
HB: Not so much that others should have an opinion and produce, but we for example cooperate with a rope maker. We are very curious. Recently we collaborated with a choreographer as we wanted to test dance-sketches.
BTC: You are both quite open, do you actively seek out collaborations?
KL: Yes, we never want to stand still and always want to test new things. We are very curious. Dance, motion, it’s so far from what we’re dealing with. Our craftsmanship is physical but in another way. We felt like doing something with Emma Ribbing (choreographer). And then we wanted to dance. We have some pictures done. It was very special. Perhaps something will come of it.
BTC: What will become of that?
HB: She would like to make a movie or an idea of it. We collected a lot of different pieces. Emma did the choreography based on a workshop we had, then we danced, it was very slow. First, we blended the colour. We slipped around in the colour; that’s the way to do those things.
KL: There is no one else coming up saying that we are going to dance a pattern. We must say it ourselves.
BTC: It feels like Malmö is good place for collaborations, you are close to everything.
KL: I think Malmö is good, even Malmö Stad is good. It’s a permissive climate. It feels like everybody is curious about what’s going on.
BTC: Can the town itself help in other ways?
KL: I think it could be opened up for more public art. Malmö is very permissive. At the same time, there are many groups that never meet. Malmö is good at doing things for the public, but you can always get better.
BTC: A bit like public art has become unison with sculptures in the park?
KL: Malmö is in a way a bit of a duck pond, it’s the same artists who get asked. You can always be more curious. Both on new forms of art and new artists. Malmö should also be better at supporting students from the art school. There is a good climate for art here but there is a problem that the small galleries have difficulty coping. Those who show young and innovative artists, one should work more actively to encourage and support them.
BTC: Swedish ambassadors have a showroom to show Swedish art, perhaps we should have a Malmö showroom as well?
KL: I think that you have an important role to highlight creators. To inspire to go look and see where the studios are if you are interested.
BTC: What is the image you encounter abroad?
KL: I remember Kajsa, who is sitting here in the studio, who moved here 10 years ago and said everything is possible in Malmö. The crowd in Malmö is not tired and well-fed as in Stockholm. In Malmö there is an audience that is curious. A few years after she moved here, we had an art exhibition in their apartment where we built a staircase through the window and then we had emptied their living room and had an exhibition there. It was about the exhibition in the event calendar in Sydsvenskan (Local newspaper) so besides the people who passed by, there were a few different older ladies visiting. There is curiosity in Malmö. In the transformation from working city to something else there’s excitement.
BTC: Curiosity and chance, is a big part off your approach. Do you get inspiration in another way?
KL: Life, we never been shut down.
HB: Something tends to lead to something else. You can find inspiration in everything.
KL: When you are in a project that has a theme, you fuel from the inspiration that comes with it and suddenly you see that theme in everything …
HB: and then you encounter something else also when you look at it. You interpret things in a different way.
BTC: That sounds a bit like when you’re looking to buy a new bike. Suddenly you see bikes everywhere.
KL: It may be that you see colours in your house. That would be great for that theme. Even though that theme is about animals. We’re also good at finding inspiration on social media. We take screenshots and send to each other. Read newspapers and so on.
HB: But, yes, you really need to work on getting inspiration. We both have many children and our days are very busy, sometimes I feel that my brain is a little tired and that one must remember to keep your eyes open!
BTC: If we look to the future. What do we see there? What’s on your list?
KL: Furniture. Some type of storage furniture is on the list. And rugs.
HB: Carpet is on the list and hopefully, yes, public assignments and ornaments.
KL: We will soon exhibit and complete more of the items we have in the Tits ‘n Ass project.
HB: Oh yes, we are really longing to show it! We only have a few samples so far. We’re really going to complete that collection, and then we’ll see where we’re going to show them.
KL: We have already made a few other collections, but we also have new works that have just begun. We don’t look that far ahead, we’re not as good as entrepreneurs in that we have five-year plans. It’s more short-term.
HB: We get a whim and maybe get a request and we’ll jump on it.
KL: We’re very much driven by passion. At some point, in the future, we have the goal that we work together full-time, to make it into a more sustainable business.
BTC: It feels like furniture is something completely different from textiles. Do you design furniture or?
KL: We will make a print based furniture. A patterned furniture. It may be a series too. But we want to work with form as well.
BTC: You don’t want to use an existing chair, you want to create the chair?
KL: Yes, exactly.
HB: We have worked with furniture as part of our education.
KL: It’s so uptight with furniture sometimes though, i.e. that it should be so special especially after studying in Copenhagen where there are so many architectural offices that make furniture. We are more punky in our approach. We have made chairs before, where we have done the model and we then used carpenters to make the final result. Carpentry is probably not our best practice but it is clear that we can make furniture. It is something very interesting with the combinations of materials that you can do in furniture, which is exciting.
HB: We have made a model of a cabinet. It is something to explore a little further.
BTC: Any last words you want to give to the audience out there?
KL: I do not know. Stay true. Ah, fuck. We have no words of wisdom.
BTC: You are the wisdom.
KL: I can feel that what we think is important is authenticity. The kind of authenticity where you recognise the hand that made it, that you can sense the sender in what you do or where you live and not to lose your personality.