Many of us dream of quitting our jobs and leaving the city, but how many of us manage to do it? I asked Innovation Strategist, Karina Vissonova, how she and her partner Aron designed ‘the good life.’
Karina and Gazsi, at home in their cottage. Gazsi is a local Pumi dog. Photo by Alexandra Heim.
Q: What was your childhood like?
A: I grew up in Latvia. I played in our family vegetable garden since I could walk, and was outdoors all year round. As a teenager in Riga, I spent every free minute with my friends making fires on the beach or partying in the forest.
Q: Why did you move away?
A: I studied in Copenhagen and was recruited right away into a job in innovation, that was still a relatively new field at the time. I got to work with some amazing professionals – architects, designers, and thought leaders. It was like working with rock stars! But Copenhagen was never really ‘my town,’ despite all the ‘goodies’ that came with life in the city. It felt like my lifestyle was bought, somehow.
Q: How did your job evolve your thinking?
A: I found it challenging to accept that so many great ideas, which would truly help people to live a better and more sustainable everyday life, would get chiselled down to fit into existing production systems. It’s as if we design for machines rather than people. We have all the technologies we need, but we have heavy, outdated systems that are resistant to change. I started wondering what else I could do.
Q: So you decided to leave your job?
A: Not immediately, but I knew I needed to change my own path. I wanted to be able to seek answers to the ‘big’ questions. Eventually Aron and I decided to make the leap and move to the countryside in Hungary. Aron is half Hungarian, but it wasn’t particularly about living in Hungary, it was about pursuing a quality of life with less, and rediscovering ourselves without a professional identity tag. We moved in the middle of winter, without TV or internet. It was the most silent 3 months of my life!
PAP Wines Garden Restaurant- Under the Volcano.
Q: How did you cope with that silence?
A: Just by giving it a chance. We missed our friends, but we were also in love with our new home on the hill. In the Spring, I started gardening. Portuguese friends had told me about permaculture, and so I spent hours on YouTube learning everything I could. My first garden was a mandala garden; a beautiful, unruly patch. I was the laughing stock of the neighbourhood at first, but when my neighbours saw how my garden was flourishing, even during periods of drought, they switched to permaculture methods. I also practice companion planting, where you pair plants that can support each other with nutrition and healthy insect populations; my strawberries grew together with spinach, for example. It’s pretty in its own wild way.
Aron selling at the Farmer’s Market – from chai and chutney to wine, 2017.
Q: So your food brand evolved almost by accident?
A: Yes! Suddenly we had all this surplus produce so we started making condiments to sell at the farmer’s market. We made our own labels and suddenly we had a brand!
Q: What came next?
A: One day, Aron announced, “Do you realise we are living in one of the world’s very famous wine growing volcanic regions? We should make wine!” My response was a hesitant ‘OK…’ Aron went to work for a local wine maker, to learn the ropes. A year later, Aron made his first wine, a ruby coloured Pinot Noir. We made 300 bottles. It was excellent. We couldn’t believe it. It was like we had the volcano gods on our side!
A selection of PAP Wines.
Q: And it’s organic?
A: The wine is organic, yes, and with a low sulphite content, but for us it’s not about labelling our product as ‘organic’ or getting expensive certifications, it’s just about being true to the traditional, artisanal wine-making methods. We want to make the most honest and highest quality wine we can, while caring for the land. Many of the new wine makers here follow regenerative farming methods – it’s far less costly and far more effective.
Aron in the kitchen, January 2017. Photo by Alexandra Heim.
Q: When did you decide to open the restaurant?
A: Our wines became commercially successful within 2 years, and our garden was abundant. It was a natural progression to pursue Aron’s dream of having a small restaurant. He is an exceptional chef, albeit with no formal training. Aron had learnt to cook regional dishes, in Tamil Nadu, in the south of India, and in Himachal Pradesh, up in the North, in the foothills of the Himalayas. This influenced our concept – Indian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean vegetarian tapas-sized dishes served with local wines . We just offered our own home cooking. We opened for guests last summer and it turned to be the busiest summer of our lives!
Q: How does your life today compare with life in the city?
A: Countryside offers an unveiled life, a connection to oneself and the systems that let you survive. Leo Tolstoy wrote about the division of intellectual and physical labour, and the need to experience both to acquire true wisdom. I couldn’t agree more. I scribble away about sustainability, but I feel that it is the experience of working the land and being part of a community that entitles me to write about sustainability.
PAP’s ceramic plates and Aron’s samosas. Photo by Alexandra Heim.
Q: What are your plans now?
A: I want to continue writing and consulting. I still have more questions than I have answers, and I get the feeling others do too. But we need to ask the right questions. If I can attend to the vineyards and the garden during the season, run our little home restaurant, and write for the rest of the time, I will be a very happy and lucky person.
Karina and Aron, Pinot Noir harvest 2017.
Q: Any advice to someone wanting to make a total change in their lives?
A: Dream! Plan big and trust your intuition. Life is unpredictable but it’s also full of opportunities. You just need to have the courage to believe in yourself.
These days, we have a false sense of security because of social transparency, where events and emotions that used to be very private are always on a display on social media. We have an impression that we are emotionally connected to other people, which also gives the false impression of a safety net. I find that such a net, if it indeed exists, is very thin.
Despite social media, we are more dependent on relationships in our physical communities than we realise – and the support that they can provide. Nurture real connections. Value where the things in your life come from and go to. When taking a life changing step, make sure your ties are offline as much as online.
Text by Tanya Kim Grassley & Karina Vissonova
Images: Alexandra Heim and otherwise, Karina’s own.
Imaginary Life recently was invited up to the Artic circle by artist Laila Kolostyak to help organise a seminar and workshop for over 20 selected snow and ice professionals from Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway. The seminar was funded by Kulturkontakt Nord and the Norwegian Barents Secretariat and aimed to explore how Snow and Ice professionals can raise the profile of their work, as well as collaborate and share knowledge across borders on how to drive successful projects of all scales; from installations in nature parks, to interior and architectural design, to urban planning and urban reclamation and festival planning.
Keynote speakers included leading professionals such as Timo Jokela from the University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, known decades of spectacular land art, Jens Toms Ivarsson, Design Director at the world-famous ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden and Ole Morten Rokvam, an artist and craftsman who has curated leading events with snow and ice in Norway for over a decade. In addition, the artists from Kirovsk and Murmansk were exceptionally inspiring, sharing their festival and community work and bringing a lot of love and live music.
We spoke with Jens Thoms Ivarsson:
We were discussing the ‘eternal ephemerality’ or ice. Is that something Design can learn from?
Absolutely. Imagine: the earth was created at some point, some billions of years ago. The water we are working with could have come from a comet- its ancient and essential stuff. Two different materials met and collided, basically stone and water. They became a frozen moment. Hot lava froze into stone, and water turned into ice. It’s this moment of change that artists and designers often explore in the materials and contexts they work with. Moments of change. Tipping points. How materials age next together. How they behave. It’s fundamental stuff, but ice also teaches us about the nature of continuous change. The seasons, nature’s needs, human needs in winter climates, and of course, climate change. These are new frontiers for design in general. We always think about the negative aspects of snow and ice, how to get rid of it, how to avoid it. We’ve hardly scratched the surface of how to use it as a material.
How long is something ephemeral?
It’s a good question. It all depends on the point of view, the objectives of a project. We follow the melting process of the ICEHOTEL too- it is so beautiful. We spend so long making details, crafting interiors and design elements –always knowing it will melt and return to the river again. And during the process, the sound changes in the building, the atmosphere is fantastic. It’s not sad- its liberating. The ice hotel doesn’t collapse, it opens up in the centre to reveal the sky and the surroundings of the place where it started. There is so much new knowledge to be gained about snow and ice.
But there is a high risk of making mistakes working with such a volatile material?
Yes – but the volatility also opens possibilities. Designers always ask “How do I avoid mistakes?” Ernst Billgren’s book ‘Vad är Konst 2′ (What is art 2) says that the short answer is to sit very still! As soon as humans do something there are mistakes, but mistakes also lead to discoveries. All our genetic development and success is built on learning from mistakes. When I work in stone or concrete and it is placed in city, there is a lot of pressure as the object will lasts for a lifetime. Working in snow and ice is very freeing in a way. You can be more brave and experimental. Less self conscious and more playful.
How do you work with seasons of water and light at the ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi?
You’d think it all happens in the winter as the focus is on ice art but we are moving to all year round. In the summer there is rafting, fishing and other nature activities and the phenomenon of the sun never setting at night- that is a very special experience to have. Also we are preparing for the water to freeze long before it does. It’s the pivotal moment for us, as we invite artists from all over the world. And those artists are not all traditional ice sculptors. We work with people from all background to explore what they can create with ice as a material.
We can also funnel water from the river, and blow it through snow canons to create a material we call “snice” –manufactured snow. We can throw snow onto moulds. Sometimes we use reinforcement to create very large structures. We are also learning more ever year about how to use ice reinforcement. The old way is to create giant moulds for architectural structures where the walls are built with plywood moulds and filled with snice, much like the process for creating concrete buildings. By exploring ice reinforcement we open new doors to resourceful innovation in architecture.
How many people are involved in constructing the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi every year?
At the ICEHOTEL we have a team of over 50 people who work on the structure alone. Then there is all the finishing work on interior design, lighting and so on. Tools and methods are developing all the time and its important to share this knowledge.
Focus on working together is important – the joy comes when it is finished! One of the hardest jobs is being on roof in minus 35 connecting wires without gloves. It’s the engineers, technicians and ice workers we really have to thank! They make these ideas possible.
What other type of work do you do there?
One example is that we send ice and snice all over world- and send our engineers to make large events possible. For examples we created a catwalk for Chanel at the Grand Palais in Paris. We needed to install a cooling system for the 40 m long 8 m high catwalk. Karl Lagerfeld ordered it. We had to tell him not to wear boots not to get wet. He was great fun to work for. We asked him to lick the ice and he obliged!
One of my favourite projects that you showed at the seminar was the roundabout you made in a lake.
Yes, we cut out a huge disc in the river and added a boat engine. It was a simple intervention to see if the disc would rotate – and it did! It rotated at a perfectly even speed. It worked out better than we anticipated it would. Nature is like that.
Back from London and the Photon Symposium, and seeing the prototype of an all glass living pod that will be one of 9 pods in a proposed Photon Village at Oxford University. The concept was conceived by Brent Richards of Transpolis Europe and executed by Cantifix, an advanced glass engineering company based in the UK.
Brent Richards describes the project: The Photon Pod has been designed to maximise daylight for the inhabitants in order to carry out scientific research into “the effects of daylight on human biology”. The 4 year research period will involve 8 Photon Pods and allow 300 participants to be tested in a Photon Village. As a control two of the pods will be “dark” with only 12% of the surface transparent, which equates to the average amount of glazing in a typical home.
The shape of the Photon Pod has been designed to minimise the reflection of light waves by keeping the surface of the glass perpendicular to the sun when the building is orientated north/south. The make-up of the double glazed units uses the latest technology to increase the insulation properties, whilst reducing solar gain to maintain a comfortable living environment in most climates.
The interior facilities were considered in relation to the length of stay for each participant and the fact we didn’t want the research data to be influenced. In the majority of cases a participant will only have to stay for 3 weeks and therefore basic facilities of a kitchen; shower and WC; bed; desk; and seating area were considered sufficient.
Philips were invited by Imaginary Life to design the lighting in the Pod to show how a combination of natural and design light should be combined to enhance the wellbeing and to harmonise the practical need for artificial light with the biological need for natural light. For the purposes of this launch, Hue, Philips connected lighting was programmed to create a compelling and dynamic experience, as well as enhancing the architecture of the innovative structure.
Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at the University of Oxford University states: “The recent advances in our understanding of the brain mechanisms that generate and regulate sleep and circadian rhythms, and a growing appreciation of the broad health problems associated with their disruption, represents a truly remarkable opportunity to develop novel evidence-based treatments and interventions that will transform the health and quality of life of millions of individuals across a broad spectrum of illnesses.”
The Photon Pod is a means for collecting data on how light effects the mind, body & soul. Photos by George Sharman.
The Photon Pod Installation at The Building Cente, London.
Light is a resource for health & wellbeing – in all built environments
We’ve had some contact with a small band of families, parents, kids and all, who have been living in a way that feel is in harmony with their surroundings. It’s an important & inspiring story. It is said that we are only 6 degrees of separation from any other person in the world. Please share this message with your network. There is a good chance some of you know someone who can has a spare 300K USD knocking around. This land is going to be taken away on behalf of the federal government. The community needs money to stop them.
Here’s their message to share:
“We live on a mountain. A group of folk living off-grid, in tipi dwellings, in the Cascade-Siskiyou wilderness. The land on which we live is being offered for sale. An outside organization is attempting to buy the land for conservation and remove our village with the belief that people and forests are not healthy companions. We know this to be untrue, so we have created The Land Liberation Project.The imminent goal is to purchase this land and place it into a land trust, ensuring no future development of the land as well as a stipulation that it is to never be sold again. We are seeking support in many venues, and the assistance of your donation, however large or small, will give us leverage in our quest for survival.
Tax deductibility of your contribution to the Tipi Village Land Liberation fund is secured through our association with the Way Foundation (EarthTeach), an Oregon public trust with federal 5013C not-for-profit status. For more information go to Land Liberation Project. If you are interested in purchasing a Tipi go to Rogue Dwellings.
Interesting article in the Guardian about choice and marketing. And a great quote from Professor Tim Jackson, the author of Prosperity Without Growth: “We buy things we don’t need with money we haven’t got to make impressions that don’t last on people we don’t care about.” In his book, he describes how the never-ending spiral of over-consumption has led us into never-ending spiral of debt and cultural decay in Western society. And moreover, how “We do not have investment structures, investment markets, investment conditions that are suitable to lay down the infrastructure to allow people to make better choices.”
But marketeers take note: its not all do-goodiness in his message. It’s proven that consumers who are faced with too much choice, make no choice at all. In fact, the biggest luxury of our age is to be totally relieved from the stress of choice making. To check into a Japanese Ryokan, on the top of Mount Koya, to be served a set breakfast and told when to take a bath, and what to wear; what could be a better remedy to the stresses of modern day life?
Sandu Publishing House have released a book that features our very own Johan Hjerpe, concept developer, art director and partner at Imaginary Life. In parallel with commercial brand strategy and design work, Johan is highly active within the cultural field, driving projects as diverse as designing prints and textiles for fashion, set design, magazine art direction, graphic design and concept development for various art and fashion projects.
Entitled ‘Designers Universe – the Wow Factor’, the book is a fascinating, if not somewhat random collection of design that you will have seen in the latest blogs, crossing graphic design, illustration, fashion, set design and motion graphics. Described by Sandu as a book spotlighting “59 professional designers who shine within the field,” each designer, coming from different corners of the world, has a couple of spreads showcasing recent work with short Q&A’s on what makes them tick.
The Pantone Hotel Brussels is a brand new design hotel of colors by Pantone™ . Color Contrast is the foundation of the hotel; a white canvas with different colors popping out. Guest rooms on each floor correspond to a single color, each individual room is distinctive in its perspective, via unique artwork. The Pantone Hotel thus incorporates great design with ultimate comfort throughout.The hotel is situated in the heart of Brussels amid the city’s business, shopping and cultural districts in the elegant Louise area. In this area you could find many of the city’s gourmet restaurants, designer shops and pleasant outdoor spaces. The hotel is accessible via various transport options including tram, buses and metro to Eurostar, Thalys and other Belgian and international rail connections.
TThe Greenaid scheme, set up by environmentally friendly design agency CommonStudio, aims to get residents involved in throwing seeds into forgotten Los Angeles spaces, such as pavement cracks and car parks.
Popping a coin into an old sweet-dispensing machine allows users to choose from a selection of seed bombs. A map is provided, so local residents can see which areas in their neighbourhood would benefit from flowers and grass. The machines are sold by Greenaid, which encourages bars, businesses, schools and parks all over the city to have one fitted.
Danish illustrator Lisa Grue’s solo show “Owls Have More Fun” opened last Thursday at gallery hanahou in New York and was a smashing success. We thought the whimsical and happy owls would make for a great monday morning post…
“Lisa, known for her playful and sometimes shocking illustrations that mix girlishness with feminism, puts her spin on owl and nature motifs, surrounding viewers with a magical world via domestic objects.”