Lilli Hollein on the history of craft

A co-founder of Vienna Design Week and now director of Vienna’s Museum of Applied Arts (the MAK), Lilli Hollein is a titan in the world of European design. Here she discusses the cross-over between art and craft, the value of Scandinavian design and what the history of the discipline means to her and the world more broadly.

What is the difference between art and craft, and where do the two cross over?

I think the relationship has undergone different stages in history. And I think maybe we look at crafts today from a different perspective – but the most iconic objects always connect both. I think one thing that makes an object last is when they touch a certain point: when they are very functional but at the same time go beyond functionality. They need to have an element of fun too.

Can you pinpoint a school of design that affected you most?

I started to get emotionally involved in design when I came across the Memphis Group’s work for the first time. I was a young girl at the time and I was absolutely fascinated by their freedom of expression, the total liberation that was behind their mode of design.

How do different modes of design reflect the wants and needs of different societies?

Memphis would not have arisen during a time when people needed to feel safe and secure – it’s too playful, too frivolous. The rationality of Modernist design better reflects this feeling. And to consider the present moment we are living through in design history, we can see many designers working with a clear idea of sustainability. Of course, this is also a time of mass consumerism, and product design reflects this as well. You can see all of the contradictory impulses of our era in our designs.

What is the importance of Scandinavian design?

It is incredible how much it has influenced the different generations. It is an amazingly authentic form of design; there is a certain openness to it, a modesty, as well as an amazing eye for quality. It’s deeply tied to the mindset of the Scandinavian people.