The success of Scandinavian design

Podium: From a speech by the Norwegian Minister of Culture at an exhibition of the designs of Peter Opsvik in Gent,Belgium
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FOR ANY given period it is possible to single out designers who have succeeded in expressing the spirit of the age. Their work illustrates both what is typical and what is the best of its genre, and many of their products quickly achieve the status of modern classics.

The Scandinavian design movement in furniture design has been concerned with aesthetics, function, honest use of materials and attention to detail, and in many areas of use these criteria of quality are still the most important.

But do they fulfil our physical needs? And how exciting are these products?

In this exhibition we hope to show that it is possible to combine the natural, the useful and the visual at one and the same time.

Now, Peter Opsvik is one of Norway's leading designers. He has designed some of our most popular and widely used pieces of furniture.

Through his philosophy and his products he has challenged the socially accepted and acquired ways of sitting correctly, and through his creativity and focus on the human body's need for movement he satisfies an innate need. For more than 30 years his output has alternated between the "rational" and the "emotional".

Let me give some examples of this remarkable and highly varied work.

His Tripp-Trapp chair of 1972 was the first chair tailored to the needs of children of all sizes. My own four children, as a matter of fact, have grown up in it. More than 2 million have been manufactured, and in fact it is the most frequently imitated piece of children's furniture in the entire world.

The first prototype of the "balance chair" was presented at the Copenhagen Furniture Forum some 20 years ago by a group of leading Norwegian designers, among them Peter Opsvik. The great number of imitations made of these products proves that the group's philosophy regarding the need for movement was correct.

We humans need movement. Our muscles are constructed for dynamic use. We move physically, and we respond to emotional impulses by moving. Human beings were active in the past, but as our society has become more and more technological, we have begun to lead increasingly passive lives.

We sit everywhere, at work and at home, and the risk is that the only physical activity left will be moving a finger - to operate the "mouse" of a computer or the remote control of a television set.

As my civil profession outside politics is to deal with occupational health including ergonomic issues, it is particularly interesting for me to have the opportunity to open an exhibition of Peter Opsvik's furniture.Peter Opsvik has continued to develop the philosophy of movement in a wide range of products. And, as we all appreciate being surrounded by attractive objects in our everyday lives, he tries to combine the useful with the beautiful in an artistic way. We feel that he has succeeded.

The Norwegian government finds the extended use of good design and good architecture very important. Subsequently the government decided, in fact some weeks ago, to elaborate its Action Plan on Design and Architecture.

Under the leadership of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs we have invited designers, architects and others to contribute to the action plan that will be presented later this year. We very much look forward to their designs and hope that they will be as important as Peter Opsvik's are.

In this respect I am most grateful for the great interest and work done by Norwegian representatives abroad to promote Norwegian architecture and design.But when Peter Opsvik talks about movement, it is not only our bodies that need movement.

Stagnation of the mind and of the senses is just as wasteful as stagnation of the body. Mens sana in corpore sano - a healthy mind in a healthy body.

Peter Opsvik likes to regard himself as a homo ludens - a playful human being.

With his objects and playful creativity, he challenges our imaginations and moves our minds. Are his Cylindra objects pieces of furniture, or are they sculptures? Is this a cupboard, or is it a picture? And is this a picture, or is it an instrument?

Before I leave you to view, touch and move through the exhibition, I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to the City of Gent for their kind co-operation and hospitality, which have enabled us to present Peter Opsvik's work here in Gent as the very first stop of this travelling exhibition. Ladies and gentlemen, let us move and be moved.Thank you very much indeed.