Coming here I felt like...You know that film Annie, where she gets adopted by this rich guy and suddenly there’s servants and tennis courts and more... I was just running around like crazy opening each door and asking the person responsible ‘What are you doing here?... How can I learn?'- Fredrik Bull
Before starting his masters degree at KHiO, Fredrik Bull took two bachelor degrees in Bergen, one in architecture and the other in interior architecture. He explained that he always knew he wanted to make something but he was unsure as to what scale it was. He went back and forth between interior architecture and architecture, ‘skipping between the two schools’ but after completing both degrees he decided to continue his studies further. Like his Annie description above, coming to KHiO was a huge change to the two small schools in Bergen with more people and more facilities.
“I started with metal which was so interesting, I would go there and say what I wanted to do and he would say ‘for this you need a mould’ so I would go to the mould workshop and then they said if you want to make a mould then you have to have something to make a mould of, so then I would 3D print something..I was tracing what I wanted to do through these different processes, it was so much fun!”For Fredrik, learning different techniques seemed to be a crucial part of his process. During his time at the architectural school in Bergen which had quite an alternative and artistic approach , he explained that he learnt that “even if you learnt a craft or a skill that isn’t directly related to architecture you can still look at architecture through those glasses and that can make you create something else.”
“Learning those different skills allowed me to have all these different powers.”
Fredrik’s spot in the studio was great, well lit, quite spacious and had the most amazing arched window. He explained he was here two weeks before the school opened last summer and lots of stuff was piled up in the corner, which is now his studio. “If you filmed me from above and added crazy music it would be quite a funny movie watching me move it all back and forth.”He’s definitely made this small corner his own.
I loved that in the space, you could see all of Fredrik’s work together. “I love to gather it all, I like to see how everything is as one. It tells me a little bit about myself.” Fredrik explained that when he has an idea, having old works around means that he can easily compare it to what he has previously made. “I’m all about craft, making something with your hands and sometimes I have an idea of what that’s going to be and sometimes I’m interested in a technique and something develops from that and if not, at least I’ve learnt it.”
The first item I spotted was a candle holder, a product that Fredrik produces the most of. Fredrik is now working with a caster in Tønsberg having previously made them all himself. We passed them around and Fredrik talked us through the process of making them. He explained that when a technician in the workshop noticed he was creating the candle holders for business he decided it was time to consider putting them in to production. The casters in Tønsberg are known for casting church bells and they have made the bells for Rådhuset here in Oslo. They have been running the factory for 150 years and now they will take over the process of making them. Fredrik told us how this is great as he can save some time, explaining how he would previously polish the holders between lectures and on lunch breaks.
I asked whether he had visited the factory and whether this close relationship with them was important, “I think there is something special about your first thing. In the beginning I was thinking of countries such as Poland or places further to get them produced but there’s something nice about the production being somewhere I can easily travel to.” Fredrik remembered the little differences and marks between the objects he had produced himself so it is important to him that these little quirks remained and were easier to facilitate if the factory is close by. They are cast in Bronze with a medieval technique called ‘lost shell’ but combined with a new material called NASA porcelain which he has previously used. It is usually used for heat shields on space rockets, hence NASA - it was developed by them. The material itself does not shrink, it strengthens each time there is heat exposed to it. We were shown a pot that Fredrik made using the material, which had a beautiful, almost ‘moon’-like surface combined with copy paper synthetic white colouring. The materials available to the students at KHiO seemed to be vast.
At this point in the interview I passed Fredrik his backpack so he could grab a snus…the conversation took a turn and we spent almost twenty minutes talking about the stuff. The first time vomiting - ’I was green in my face’, the fact that Marthe & I should probably not start now, white snus, brown snus, my time as a diner girl trying snus, cool kids snus-ing, attempting to buy it at fourteen from supermarkets, and so on. Fredrik was so fun to talk with, his curious and outgoing personality definitely matched the explorative nature in his work.
Fredrik told how he is always inspired by his fellow designers in Oslo. Because he has studied furniture design with a couple of different classes, he has gotten to know a few that have become furniture designers and has seen how it can be quite hard (meeting the right person and getting things in production) and the little amount of money they get in return. “It’s inspiring to see people doing it, even though it is a struggle.” Some of Fredrik’s friends who are talented designers that have things in production still have other jobs on the side. “I think at some point more designers started to make their own things, a small production like what a ceramist or a printmaker would do..I think designers start to look at themselves more and more as craftsmen.”We discussed how designers are taking ownership of their work in making the process of creating just as important as the outcome.
For Fredrik it was just about an exploration of ideas and materials which someone then saw something in and that generated something in the sense that people appreciated what he was doing. He was clear in explaining his intent to keep exploring. “I don’t want to have to decide what I want to be really..I don’t want to say I’m an architect, I don’t want to say I’m an interior architect or furniture designer, I just want to be an explorer really which is where I am comfortable in the role.”
When asked where he gets most inspiration from, Fredrik was clear that sculpture is a big part of his enthusiasm for making. “I love sculptures and every time I’m in a new city I go to galleries, I love to find new artists.” Fredrik’s love of contemporary sculpture stems from the volume and compositions they have. He referred to the work of Isamu Noguchi, a Japanese sculptor who uses proportion and a variety of materials whilst creating volume. Noguchi’s light sculptures and a love for cartoons and Anime were two of the main inspirations mentioned by Fredrik. "Whenever I’m watching Anime, suddenly there is a thing in the background so then I screenshot it and so I have an archive of screenshots of different things….” Collecting visual references from fictional sources seemed to help build a sense of mystique and fantasy within Fredrik’s works.
"The combination between the fantasy world and human scale and sculpture is quite an interesting contrast which I love" he says. We spoke about the show Penny Dreadful which is a favourite of Fredrik’s, it was based around the time of Jack the Ripper set in dark grotty Victorian London. "If there was a scene in that with a desk, I would freeze it and zoom in and look at what is on the desk..there would be these amazing oil lamps and tools which you never see anymore." Fredrik explained that this is something he would like his work to stand for, the handmade. The reason for his thinking like this, he explained, was perhaps the fact that he is currently working in a shop called ‘Kollekted by’ in Schous Plass. The store is all about handcrafted goods and shows that "You can actually buy handmade one-off objects for reasonable prices." Every item from different designers is unique so everyone that buys has their own individually different piece. In the same way, "The great thing about these old Victorian products was that they were made to order and they would last for ages…when you hold those kinds of things in your hands it feels like it has much more depth rather than something that is mass made."
Fredrik showed us some works of his that he made in glass. It was really easy to understand what he meant by objects that have a certain depth about them when holding these dark, blackened and textured glass objects. They really had a presence and character about them. He developed a surface that made it a mysterious material - again creating this sense of mystical and fantasy world. It felt like iron or something much harder than glass. Working with someone who was an expert in their own craft on a piece is something that Fredrik loves doing.
An amazingly glittered green stone sat behind Fredrik. "I made myself in to a Shaman" he says. Fredrik explained that he had been sitting in the basement hammering at this stone with the intent of transporting himself to the spirit world - having visions of different places. He showed us drawings of what he had seen, they were sometimes very detailed and others were very abstract. "The idea was, what happens if you do design work inspired by the spirit world, could you make something that actually a manifestation from another world?"
I thought this was an interesting concept…instead of taking inspiration from what already exists but instead to try conjure ideas from a certain state of mind. His hammered light objects were based on the spirit world as he hammered the plates in the same way he hammered the stone. Creating new processes for himself. "These are from the spirit world as I would not have created those without experiencing the visions I had."
"We as designers do the same thing again and again, the same chairs and tables and they often have the same names…to me we can stretch out a little bit more, instead of being inspired by a chair that exists. If you state that your inspiration comes from somewhere else then you will get something else out of it."
I found it really inspiring speaking to someone whose intent was purely to explore his notions completely and to think through making. His ability and intrigue to dive in to different materials and processes definitely shone through as a strength of his work. We loved chatting with Fredrik, if you get the chance to, definitely check out Kollekted by (Schous Plass 7 A) and say hello!
All photography by Marthe Thu