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Alumni Story: Kaisu Savola, V&A/RCA History of Design, 2015

Kaisu Savola
Kaisu Savola
Photographer: Sanna Lehto
RCA/V&A History of Design (HoD) alumna Kaisu Savola recently curated the Finnish exhibition ‘Everyday Experiments’ at the 2019 Milan Triennial. The exhibition presents twelve experimental and interdisciplinary design projects that raise debates around human survival. After graduating from the RCA Kaisu Savola worked as an intern at the Finnish-Norwegian Cultural Institute in Oslo before being accepted for a PhD at Aalto University in Helsinki, where she is currently working towards finishing her doctoral dissertation. She spoke with RCA Stories about how her time at the RCA has shaped her approach to research and curation. 

What was your approach to curating the Finnish exhibition at the Milan Triennial?

In the curatorial process I had two aims: firstly to show some of the ways in which questions of sustainability are being addressed in Finland at this very moment by different actors; secondly, to explore design’s role in these questions in a fresh way.

The end result presents a variety of projects that range from decision-making, business-building, activism and education to urban development and craft, each aiming towards sustainability in their own way. I think this way of seeing design as an intrinsic part of all levels of society was very deeply rooted in me during my HoD studies.

archival research
Archival history of design research
Photographer: Kaisu Savola

Where did you study before the RCA and what led you to apply to the V&A/RCA History of Design MA Programme?

My background is in design: I studied Ceramics and Glass Design at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland. I was also an exchange student at the Bergen Academy of Art and Design in Norway.

During the first year of my BA studies I experienced a major existential crisis where I started to question my wish to become a designer and produce more stuff in this world. I had so many questions and I felt that maybe history would be able to give me some answers. I can’t say it did, but at least I didn’t have to make and sell objects anymore.

Around this time, I happened to be in a conference where Glenn Adamson gave a presentation about his work at the V&A, including the History of Design Programme. He spoke about design and curating in such an interesting way that I knew I had to apply to the programme. 

What surprised you about your development at the RCA?

The insane speed of how both my thinking and writing developed. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the programme opened up my mind to the world. I did not always understand why I was reading about, say, economic policies in early modern England, or poverty during the Industrial Revolution, but once you start getting an understanding of all the layers and elements that our everyday lives consist of, and how everything is connected to bigger questions, there is no going back.  

archival research
Archival history of design research
Photographer: Kaisu Savola
What was a typical day like?

A typical day for me would have been a combination of listening to a lecture, doing a lot of reading, discussing what you had read, wandering around the V&A looking at things, getting a ton of books at the National Art Library, doing more reading.

What was most rewarding about your time studying at the RCA/V&A?

Many things: being in South Kensington, either at the V&A or the RCA soaking up the history and atmosphere of those places every day; getting to know fantastic people and creating friendships; developing my own skills as a writer and researcher; widening my understanding of the world.

How did HoD prepare you for your doctoral research?

My doctoral research is a direct continuation of my HoD thesis to the extent that it will form the majority of the first chapter in my monograph. I’m also continuing with the same methodologies, only a bit more developed and refined.

Enjoyed this story? Discover more alumni stories here.

Find out more about V&A/RCA History of Design and how to apply.