Carolein Smit – Beyond the Vessel – Q&A


What does a day in the studio look like?

It starts early in the morning after morning walks with the dog and I prefer every day to be the same, the radio is on a network with only talking people, I don’t listen really, it is just a murmuring sound. I work and sometimes my assistant comes for glazing, she works mostly silent. I want it to be quiet. Dog is snoring under the table.

What is your first memory of ceramic?

I come from a family of artists, there was always all I could wish for to work with. Friends of my parents were artists too and I remember how in the sixties I was in the studio of Rosemarie van Oort, a friend of my mum’s and she worked with clay. She always gave me high praise for my attempts. Sometimes she would ask me to make something, a duck or a pussycat and she would fire it and give it as a present to someone’s birthday, this I do not remember but my mum told me.

What was your first use of clay?

At home and at the studio of this friend of my mum’s, also in art school I have made several clay pieces but I studied graphics so I did not do much with clay at that time. In 1996 I started at the European Ceramics Working Centre in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands as an artist in residence for a three month working time with clay. It changed my life.

What is the most challenging element to your practice?

When a piece has hair or small holes, I have to keep my concentration to stay on it, it takes a long time to finish these pieces.

What is your favourite fable?

It is about a scorpion and a man who have to cross a river and there is only one boat. The man offers the scorpion a place if he promises that he will not sting the man. So they agree and they set off to the other side. When they arrive on the other side however the scorpion stings the man anyway and the man asks him why. The scorpion says, because it is my nature.

What is the relevance of myth today?

Myths and other old stories, fairytales and biblical stories can make you see a point of view that is not necessarily your own. Most of these stories were not only told because they were fun but also to educate and to tell right from wrong.

Are you an artist or a ceramicist?

Artist, I just use clay and glaze and such because I can make the things I want with them. Normally in the morning I have a small hesitation before I stick my hands into the clay, I am not fond of the consistency and the dampness, but once I have started it does not bother me anymore.

What is the relevance of ceramics today?

It seems that more artists with no ceramic training are beginning to make works in clay, it is good to see what boundaries they push and cross being not bothered by ceramic conventions that trained ceramicists sometimes have.

What is the argument for learning / honing technical skills in today’s world?

Technical skills make it easier to achieve what you want. If you are constantly held back in making something because you have no technical skills, that is irritating. For me, it is not something I think about much, I invent as I go along. It is nice if you are not clumsy and have an open mind to possibilities and solutions that are unconventional.

Have we moved beyond the need to make with our hands?

I see more and more how artists are returning to the ‘old’ techniques. But also very exciting developments where clay is being 3D printed or designed by a computer, I like both. Important is what you do with it.

Why do you think ceramics is becoming popular amongst today’s youth?

That is also because a lot of contemporary ceramics are very exciting. I always say that there is nothing I cannot make from clay, it has no limits for me.

Why do you think there is such an international vogue for ceramics today?

Because there is such a lot of exciting ceramics, both in art and design.

Who is your hero or heroine?

Bertozzi & Casoni and funnily enough they look at me in the same way.

Name a book that everyone should read and why?

Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan, a story that keeps turning around and around, a lot of horrible details and beautiful images are being depicted. Unusual way of telling a story, surreal.

Why is your studio where it is and what does it mean to you?

We had our house built about ten years ago to the size we needed. My husband is an artist as well and we have two large working spaces and a modest space to live that is adequate for two people and two dogs and the best roof terrace for miles around with stunning views. We live in a very small village just beside Maastricht. From my studio I can see into the garden, it is quiet.

What technological or other advances have made you able to push the boundaries of your material / practice?

Having a large kiln and a device to lift heavy sculptures. Working with larger galleries and knowing that transport is not my business.

What is the biggest problem or challenge you see with ceramics today?

Transporting the works and getting the sculptures to their destination in one piece.

Why do you think ceramics has endured from ancient times?

It is a material that can serve any artist or craftsman to make what they want. And the result is mostly beautiful, I am a sucker for beautiful things.

Who would be in your ceramics collection?

Bertozzi & Casoni, Simone van Bakel, Malene Hartmann Rasmussen, Claire Partington, Katsuyo Aoki, Bouke de Vries, Phoebe Cummings.

What would you make if money were no object?

The same as I am making now. I don’t think that ceramics materials are very expensive and thus see no limits.

What is your philosophical approach to making?

It is not very difficult to like my work. Everything shines and glitters, is adorable and the details of eyes, tongues, noses and ears are endearing.  People love that kind of refinement, it can bring back memories of precious Meissen porcelain. That’s just the way I like it. I want people to love my sculptures. I want them to lose their hearts to it and I use all I can to make them do so. At the same time, I want to make this loving not too easy. It’s painful, fragile, unfulfilled and sometimes dangerous. Where are the boundaries? Where does innocence become guilt? Life become death? That is what my work is about. The tension brought by emotional dilemmas, trying to separate right from wrong where everything evolves out of clumsiness, coincidence and misunderstanding.

In my work these dilemmas exist as a complicated knot of conflicting messages. I think that the turning point where seriousness becomes melodrama, beauty turns into overkill and love becomes hate, makes a subtle balance that is very annoying and at the same time very interesting. Humour sneaks into my work when I am making it, I never make sketches before I start, I need it to be an adventure. The highly detailed works allow my thoughts to wander and combine several things that sometimes are not very logical together but do make sense in the end. When I am working in my studio, I go from one work to the next, combining several thoughts and fascinations. I love cabinets of curiosity, Wunderkammer, scientific collections, museums with devotionalia. All these collections contain images that are related to art, but also to other areas. They show the exceptional, the strange, the rare, to secure the scientific order. They lift up the supernatural to restrain the whims of nature. They suggest order and security. At the same time they warn us for chaos that will occur as soon as we let go of this proposed order. They are images that scare us and also restrain that fear. The ambivalence makes us look with admiration and disgust.

Beyond the Vessel exhibition page…view details

Beyond the Vessel exhibition catalogue…buy now

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