It just doesn’t get any more Steampunk than this! Benches, armchairs, tables, beds, wood-burning stoves like something pulled from a Jules Verne story — even a baby carriage!

The mine furniture of Mati Karmin, one of Estonia’s leading sculptors, is more than a felicitious marriage of invention and industry that makes you go “Wow!” (and call your significant other to Drop Everything Right Now and come take a look.  Recycling the abandoned weapons of WWII into sculptural and functional pieces for the home – now, that is creative.

The frame of the modular furniture-art pieces is a reclaimed deep-sea mine of AGSB-type, made in Russia in 1942 and used to fight submarines. It was still being manufactured in the 1950s, and a stockpile — nay, a whole field — of abandoned mines can be seen by visitors to historic Naissaar Island in the Gulf of Finland.

Marinemine - Mine furniture

About the Artist

Mati Karmin was born in 1959, at the tail-end of the baby boom. For an Estonian, whose tiny country was pounded into abject poverty by occupying forces, that would mean growing up with a strong tradition of self-sufficiency and making over and making do — traits we can all applaud.

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marinemine baby carriageNo doubt, too, there’d have been a pronounced shadow of the World War 2 experience hanging over his generation; the repurposing of Russian marine mines into intriguing art furniture seems a natural fit.

(I’m just “supposing” all this bit, mind you, based on the story fragments I gleaned from an elderly Estonian man (a post-war immigrant to Canada, now gone) while he was teaching me to weave the traditional baskets that had been used by rural families in his own country, in his youth… That’s another tale for another day.)

However, as the artist’s bio explains:

Northern coast of Estonia and especially the islands, wich during the years of occupation were an almost inaccessible border zone for the common including heaps of corroded mine shells, wich are basically spheres with holes, spireks and shackles. Karmin got inspired by these mines and started to collect them. The ambiguity of large scale corroded mine shells intrigued the artist. The shape of the mine is perfest and uniform, while still clearly bearing the stamp of its intial destructive function. Being marked by its belonging to the past, it is closely connected to the complicated recent history that Karmin has always been facinated with. [sic]

Did you get this bit?

“The shape of the mine is perfect and uniform, while still clearly bearing the stamp of its initial destructive function.”

To my mind, that’s exactly what makes these pieces so powerful, I think, and especially that baby carriage: rounded forms and domestic objects, intimate, familiar, in the case of the armchairs softly upholstered, comfortable in every sense of the word — but never too comfortable. Because there’s no getting away from the origin of these pieces as instruments of violent death.

Turning those old naval mines into art: A gesture of optimism in a post-WW2 / post-Cold-War world that, er, turns out not to be quite the peaceful Utopia of which the flower children dreamed? — or is it a disturbing reminder that our troubled human history has a habit of repeating itself, while we’re off busily preoccupied with the unfolding of our own lives? Your call!

If Mati Karmin’s art pieces / mine furniture (and the history that inspired their creation) are as fascinating to you as they are to me, visit to see and learn more.

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