Malene Hartmann Rasmussen – Beyond the Vessel – Q&A


What does a day in the studio look like?

I start the day by walking to the studio together with my little dog Django. My partner Sylvain and I live in the North London area called Seven Sisters and my studio is a 10 minute walk from there. When I unlock the door downstairs, Django runs as fast as he can up the stairs and wait for me there. I usually make coffee and he gets a snack and lies in front of the heater to warm up and rest. Sometimes I have a kiln to empty or a firing to start otherwise I unwrap the sculpture I am working on and begin modelling. I listen to Danish radio or Spotify, music means a lot to me and I can’t work if the quality of the sound isn’t good, so I bought a nice B&O speaker for the studio and often play pretty loud music. The hours go by quickly and at 1pm I have lunch. I work until the afternoon and then I take Django for a walk, sometimes to the coffee shop nearby, they serve a beautiful flat white that I enjoy while doing a bit of social media and emailing.

Most sculptures take 3-4 weeks to make and I usually work on 2 or more sculptures at the same time, as the clay has to dry a bit to hold the weight as I build upwards. Alongside modelling the sculptures I make glaze and colour tests, I think about the properties of the glaze and how it can enhance details in the surface or soften up the shape. Two days a week I have my assistant Leah around, she helps making small parts such as feathers, berries and snails. She is a great help and a very skilled artist too. I usually work until evening and walk home together with Django just in time to make dinner with Sylvain.

What is your first memory of ceramic?

My best friend in school was called Linda. She was from Sweden and her mother was a potter. I often went to her place after school and remember looking at all the pots they had at home. For my birthday Linda gave me a tiny slip decorated terracotta pot with painted birds her mother had made.

What was your first use of clay?

My first use of clay as a child was making small figures and buildings for a snow landscape. My mother was a teacher in the nursery where I was, and we made clay there together. At home I painted the objects and we made a landscape with cotton snow and placed a church, houses and small red hatted Nisser (gnomes) dotted around. We did that every Christmas.

What is the most challenging element to your practice?

Time. My work is very time-consuming as I strive for perfection. It is hard to decide when I piece is finished as it can always be better.

What is your favourite fable?

When researching for my recent installation Troldeskoven (In the Troll Wood) I got hold of some old books from the antiquarian store with stories and sayings told for generations from mother to child in rural Denmark. The stories evolve around trolls and subterranean spaces on the island of Bornholm. I lived on the island for 3 years while studying ceramics and some locals still believe in them. In the daytime the trolls live inside rocks or inside tumuli, the grassy mounds of earth raised over Viking graves that are dotted all over the landscape. At night the grass and soil rise up on glowing poles forming a roof. Inside you see the trolls dance and drink and if they invite you in to drink with them, all the soil and grass will fall down and bury you inside forever. the Danish word “bjergtage” (taken by the mountain) originates from these stories, “bjergtage” is the Danish word for bedazzle. The strong bond between myth and language is something I find fascinating.

What thing or person is your greatest influence?

My childhood.

What is the relevance of myth today?

In my opinion there will always be a need for myths. It is connected to our inner life and feelings. It is a way we make sense of events that can seem senseless and a way to digest the difficult.

Are you an artist or a ceramicist?

Artist

What is the relevance of ceramics today?

There is an endless beauty in ceramics. The way the luscious glazes flow into details and the way that different coloured oxides bleed into each other is an inexhaustible source of inspiration. The tactility of the material is a perfect mediator to convey emotions.

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

For me skills are freedom. Mastering your material enables you to make anything, there are no limitations, your imagination has free reign.

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

Since the beginning of time humans have used their hands to make, I find it hard to imagine a society where all creativity is purely based on thought.

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

Education has gradually become more and more academic. Ceramics is the counter-effect of this. A lot of it might just be fashion, thinking of all those sloppy craftspeople out there with thousands of followers on Instagram. I am sure they will have found another material in a couple of years. What I hope stays is ceramics a legitimate subject to study and in time I’m confident that people’s preconceptions about who you are just because you work in a certain material will change.

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

A need to get your hands dirty, an escape into something tangible. The immediate quality of the material and the fact that you have to work with the material, the symbiosis with the clay and the feeling that you are not always in control. It is a natural material that you can dig up in your garden, so I guess there is a back to basics thing going on. The sculptural qualities of clay have been used for centuries in bronze casting as it is a superior material for modelling. Now artists have finally got their eyes open to the beauty of this versatile material.

Who is your hero or heroine?

Alejandro Jodorowsky

Name a book that everyone should read and why?

I do not attempt to engage myself with everyone, but a recent book that made a great impact on me is Entwined the biography about the Outsider Artist Judith Scott written by her sister Joyce Wallace Scott. Outsider Artists/Art Brut is a great inspiration, I’m very fond of artists like Henry Darger, Augustin Lesage and Louis Wain.

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

I moved to London to study at the Royal College of Art in 2009. After graduating I stayed and later I met my partner Sylvain here, so I stayed instead of going back to my native Denmark. The studio is my hideaway. It is a complete escape that I can’t live without.

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

My process is very hands on, I do not use any technology for the making. That said technology is important for my practice in getting the work out there. I do prefer getting inspiration from books, experiences and memories and try very hard not to spend too much time on Instagram and other social media, they do shape your creative output and that is something I am not interested in at all.

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

The ceramic educational systems and cultural organisations are the biggest challenge to ceramics. They seem stuck in a past where there were solid definitions of what craft, art and design were. Today you see fine artists working in wood fired ceramics and potters making performative and conceptual sculpture. I do not see any problem with that but having worked both within the ceramic world and the fine art world, I have experienced lots of preconceptions about who you are as an artist when you work in clay.

Why do you think ceramics has endured from ancient times?

It is a hardwearing material. You find ceramic work that is over 25000 years old and still intact. To me that is a super material. Just the idea that one of my sculptures could last that long is mind blowing. There is a tacit knowledge in the material, you can pass on a lot of information to the receiver. Not just historical facts on making processes but also ideas and feelings. There is the uncontrollable part of it too, the transformation from soft and malleable to hard and static that happens in the kiln. You have to let go and lose the control to the kiln. The firing always adds something to the piece… not always good though. It is a living material and that is fascinating.

Who would be in your ceramics collection?

We do collect ceramics as both my partner and I know a lot of artists working with clay. One of my favourite pieces is a present from New Zealand artist Jim Cooper, it is a psychedelic dog with a very cheeky grin.. it looks like him. Another one is a Medusa Head from Carolein Smit that stares at us from high up on the wall. I would love to have a piece by German based Leiko Ikemura, Danish artist Marianne Nielsen, Swedes Frida Fjellman and Klara Kristalova or American Allison Schulnik. Of historical ceramics on my wish list is a Martin Brothers grotesque monster or one of Jean Carriès Gothic beings. The Danish Symbolist artist J.F. Willumsen is another favourite of mine.

What would you make if money were no object?

An art installation on the moon.

What is your philosophical approach to making?

Feed your brain, close your eyes and look within.

     

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Claire Curneen – Beyond the Vessel – Q&A


What does a day in the studio look like?

I have occupied many studios over the years, some wonderfully atmospheric, although freezing cold, others exciting and edgy but somewhat challenging after dark. My studio at the moment is at the end of my house, it is warm and bright, I built it there as it was a perfect solution when rearing a small child. As the teenager years loom, I’m I now ready for the new larger studio away from domesticity. I expect this will be my last studio.

What is your first memory of ceramic?

My father brought home a ceramic bird when I was 10 years old. He had been visiting his brother in Madrid and discovered his wife had been making ceramics. It was a round plump shape, which felt good in the hand. What seemed significant at the time was the fact that this object was made by someone I knew and better still a family relation. The Bird joined the collection of other random objects that came home after my father’s many visits.

What was your first use of clay?

When I was 19, I made a series of teapots with varying spouts, handles and lids and they clearly demonstrated no function at all. I loved their sculptural possibilities and the problems a teapot body, spout, handle and lid presented. These limitations provided endless permutations on form, yet the teapot was always there.

What is the most challenging element to your practice?

The endless self doubt.

What is your favourite fable?

Bluebeard. Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is a wonderful unsettling interpretation of this fable.

What thing or person is your greatest influence?

Piero della Francesca’s The Baptism of Christ in the National Gallery has been a constant go-to reference for me. It challenges every aspect of my being, a painting that is utterly beautiful and complex. The skin of the Christ figure is translucent and fragile, very much like porcelain. The whole scene depicted has a uniquely charged presence.

What is the relevance of myth today?

Myth is a good way for us to be able to explain the unexplainable.

Are you an artist or a ceramicist?

Artist is my preferred term, but ceramics is a way into how one reads and understands my work.

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

Skill is vital for us to articulate our ideas and this enriches the experience of what is being communicated, but it is not everything.

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

No and this is very unlikely to happen, although the media would like you to believe otherwise.

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

Ceramics is visceral and has a certain honesty which is rooted in craft. Crafted objects give you something to believe and the world of art needs that now more than ever, ceramics is a good antidote.

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

I have occupied many studios over the years, some wonderfully atmospheric, although freezing cold, others exciting and edgy but somewhat challenging after dark. My studio at the moment is at the end of my house, it is warm and bright, I built it there as it was a perfect solution when rearing a small child. As the teenager years loom, I’m I now ready for the new larger studio away from domesticity. I expect this will be my last studio.

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

Not much has changed in technology when working with clay, my hands are my tools.

Why do you think ceramics has endured from ancient times?

Because it is ancient and still bound up with mysteries and it tells us so much about the past. For us to understand ourselves we must delve into the past and ceramics holds many of those histories.

Who would be in your ceramics collection?

Johann Joachim Kändler in particular the Meissen goat at the V&A.

What is your philosophical approach to making?

I think Woody Allen says it all in this quote: ‘To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer, to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love, to be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy, therefore, to be unhappy one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness – I hope you’re getting this down.’ Woody Allen, Love and Death

      

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Phoebe Cummings – Beyond the Vessel – Q&A


What does a day in the studio look like?

I have only very recently made a studio at home. A lot of making happens on site, using clay directly in the space where it is shown. This way of working initially grew out of financial necessity as I was unable to afford a studio or the cost of firing, however, it quickly became an intrinsic part of the work itself. Over the past fourteen years I have continued to work in this way, often in very different environments; from Hawaii to the Arctic, museums to factories. Increasingly, and since having children, I try to prepare components at home that I will take with me, this has happened mainly in my kitchen and now I have a separate workspace in the garden. I tend to have a lot of plants in the studio as well as clay, it is important for me to look at the structures of growth and details of real plants, even if those I make are imagined.

What is your first memory of ceramic?

We had a set of willow pattern bowls at home, I remember my mother telling me that they contained a story. I was about five at the time and thought if we smashed the plate there would be a piece of paper trapped inside with the story written on it. She taught me to look more closely at what is written in an image.

What was your first use of clay?

I used to go to a pottery class as a child. I can clearly remember the satisfaction of making something with my hands. Our group exhibited in the local art gallery and on reflection I think that was an important experience. It was the first time I think I felt visible in society, I was aware that making gave us a voice.

What is the most challenging element to your practice?

Clay is a challenge, it is constantly changing, which is also why I am so drawn to it. Dealing with shrinkage can be difficult, it is important to understand how things break as well as how they’re made, I respond to that understanding in how I construct the work.

What is your favourite fable?

I am not sure I have a favourite, but I enjoy the way fables offer an alternative version of reality and the possibility to learn and grow from fictional stories.

What thing or person is your greatest influence?

Artist Jefford Horrigan was a visiting tutor when I was studying at the Royal College of Art. He really shifted my understanding of how I work with clay and gave me advice that I still draw on. Amongst many other things, he told me that I could make work by the side of the road if I needed to, don’t make excuses, just get on and do it. That was so important after I graduated, I declared myself bankrupt and had to find a new way of working, he gave me confidence and that push just to get on with it.

What is the relevance of myth today?

Stories and fiction have always been important to humanity, I think today advances in technology give us different experiences of reality as part of our everyday life. There is such multiplicity to who we are and how we exist and interact with the world around us, for me myth is part of that. Written fiction is often a starting point for me, writers such as J.G Ballard, Ursula K Le Guin, Virginia Woolf and W.G Sebald have been particularly significant, I see parallels between working with clay, a monochrome substance, and written language, both of which can construct vivid worlds with structure and texture. I am increasingly thinking about writing as a resting point of the ephemeral sculpture I make, considering how I might document sculpture through writing, sometimes as fictional memories of the piece. Maybe there is always an element of myth around how a work that no longer exists is retold in the present.

Are you an artist or a ceramicist?

Artist seems the simplest term to describe what I do as it encompasses a wide range of practices, but I am clear that my work is rooted in craft and specialism in ceramics. I use traditional ceramic techniques and my thinking has been shaped by a close relationship with materials and appreciation of decorative arts. The outcome of that however is usually temporary sculpture made from raw clay. The fleeting existence of the work also has a close connection to performance.

What is the relevance of ceramics today?

I think ceramics has always been relevant to humans across cultures and time periods and continues to be so. We experience it through objects for use and as an artistic medium, how we use it shifts and evolves. Our definition of ceramics is less rigid today, for example the work I make never makes that transformation from clay into ceramic with heat. Clay and ceramics touch so many areas of our lives, some we pay little attention to such as in mobile phone technology or radioactive waste management. I believe the relevance of ceramics as an artistic material today is deeply connected to relationships between body and material; physical and sensory perception. As humans I think we seek connections, and clay responds to the simple press of a finger, maybe that plays to our innate desire to communicate, in a very basic way it confirms we exist, there is action and consequence.

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

For me, technical skills give me greater opportunities and possibilities in what I make. I can choose how and what I want to communicate through making, it may sometimes involve pushing against those skills or traditions as well, but by having that knowledge of material and process I remove certain limitations. There is a great satisfaction to making and direct involvement with materials and I think it can lead to innovation across a wide range of fields.

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

I am not opposed to technology or machine production, but I don’t think it can ever completely replace making by hand. I think they offer different possibilities, individually and combined.

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

Perhaps recognising a need for physical, material experience in reaction to our increased interaction with the digital world and ‘virtual’ reality.

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

I think there are always waves of interest, things rise and fall, ceramics has never disappeared, there are just fluctuations in where the interest comes from, who uses it and in what way.

Who is your hero or heroine?

Nature.

Name a book that everyone should read and why?

Ursula K Le Guin’s Direction of the Road would be a good start, it is written from the perspective of an oak tree. I love short stories, Lydia Davis is one of my favourite writers, brevity interests me in both senses of the word.

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

I don’t see a studio as a necessity, the way I think and work with clay is part of who I am so that moves with me. I am fortunate to now have made a workspace at home, and I appreciate the chance to work close to my family. Over the past 14 years I have worked without a fixed studio space and I enjoy the interaction of working in different places, meeting new people and responding to different spaces.

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

In terms of how I make things I work with traditional ceramic processes and use very few tools. The internet and the ease with which we can connect to the rest of the world has enabled me to work in the way I do, I think without the possibility to work internationally it would have been hard to sustain my practice.

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

In the UK we face challenges to do with education, the closure of ceramics courses in universities over the past decade and the rising cost of tuition fees has radically changed the provision and access to ceramics training and education. However, from that new opportunities and ways of learning are also emerging which provide different models and provision. I think it is important to embrace change and opportunities.

Why do you think ceramics has endured from ancient times?

I think it is part of a primal need to create and to interact with the material world around you. It is such a varied material, it has so many differing qualities and such rich potential, it has always had something to offer, across time. I think the directness of working with clay is also important, it will listen to anyone’s hands, it rewards touch.

Who would be in your ceramics collection?

I love Gillian Lowndes work, the combination of materials, risk and yet a sense of calm. The work of contemporary artists Marit Tingleff and Sam Bakewell would definitely be on my wish list too, and historic pieces, some Palissy, Meissen and Sevres without a doubt. It would be a big collection.

What would you make if money were no object?

Time is the biggest luxury, I would love to work on a project over a longer period of time, years, and to have the funds to dedicate my time to that.

What is your philosophical approach to making?

I am more interested in the way we experience materials and objects, how they change and interact. There is a flow, and I try not to fix things or hold them still for too long, I try to allow the material a voice and agency. I think an anthropocentric viewpoint is part of many contemporary problems in the world, When I observe plants I can’t help but think what fools we are in comparison.

Phoebe_Cummings_(Study I)      Phoebe_Cummings_(detail Study II)

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Christie Brown – Beyond the Vessel – Q&A


What does a day in the studio look like?

A day in the studio can look very different depending on what stage I am at in the making schedule. My press molding process proceeds in episodes: firstly, much research, drawing and sketchbook reflection as to how to realise the ideas; next, the focused labours of polystyrene carving to make new models, followed by the mess and challenge of mold- making. Both processes take several weeks and are critical but laborious. Clay and plaster mix badly so after casting it’s a big spring clean before rolling slabs and assembling sections to build a range of figures. These may relate directly to earlier design drawings or they may evolve more intuitively while building the piece. Long drying times are needed for more complex pieces. Bisque- firing, slip-painting and glazing will also take several days, maybe two or three at a time in the kiln. Sometimes there’s disappointment but more often reward. Then there are days spent packing and doing deskwork. It’s all part of the studio day.

What is your first memory of ceramic?

Not a first memory but a really significant one. After falling for the Leach ideal of stoneware pottery and a self sufficient way of life making pots in the country, I visited the top floor of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and was dazzled by the huge range of ceramic artefacts held in that amazing collection, such as English Slipware, Turkish Isnik pottery, Dutch Delftware and the spectacular Hispano Moresque plates from Moorish Spain, and I realised how much more exciting clay could be than thrown wood-fired faux-Japanese pottery, which in the 1980s was still regarded by many as the ceramic canon, despite the new agendas that were emerging with the work of artists such as Alison Britton, Richard Slee and Jacqui Poncelet.

What was your first use of clay?

I went to a night school in London many years ago and the tutor showed me how to wedge a piece of clay, cut it into small blocks and make pinch pots. I spent the next six classes pinching pots. The process was so absorbing and meditative and provided me with a grounding in understanding the qualities of the material and my relationship with it.

What is the most challenging element to your practice?

It’s sometimes difficult to match the vision with the practice, to make an object that is only half formed in my imagination into a finished object. But it’s important to allow the clay, which is a challenging material, to have its say and contribute to the vision. It’s always a dialogue between maker and material. Also I never have enough space or a big enough kiln.

What is your favourite fable?

I have always been inspired by Greek myths from a young age. Later I began to read Metamorphoses by Ovid, who documents all these stories with such passion and conviction. The story of Prometheus who modeled the human race out of clay is especially significant, as is the tale of the sculptor Pygmalion and his idealised statue Galatea, brought to life by the goddess Athene.

What thing or person is your greatest influence?

The artist Louise Bourgeois has been a constant inspiration to me, as are the animation films of the Quay Brothers who are able to visualise the dream world with such uncanny precision. When I first saw Street of Crocodiles and Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies I felt they had entered my unconscious while I was sleeping and invaded my dreams.

What is the relevance of myth today?

Myths are a constant source of knowledge and wisdom if only the post-modern global world would listen to what they have to say. They can both delight and alarm us, thrill us and warn us of dangers, and offer a sense of continuity with history and a way forward.

Are you an artist or a ceramicist?

Artist

What is the relevance of ceramics today?

Ceramics and all things clay is a constant force in our lives wherever we come from. The earth is largely composed of clay and there are countless myths of origin that revolve around this material. The transformation from clay to ceramic is a story from long ago when nomadic people began to settle and develop communities. Clay objects have been part of human existence ever since, and they are key to archaeology’s understanding of how our ancestors lived. Ceramics continues to form part of our daily lives from domestic functional objects and decorative art to objects of ritual and symbolic artworks. As a material for sculpture clay carries a range of references that are both ancient and contemporary. It feels important always to keep examining history as a way to learn about ourselves and how we can improve the way we evolve.

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

The ongoing human need for some kind of tactile hands on experience with no commercial or technological outcome offers emotional benefits and contributes to the way we experience ourselves in the world.

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

Not at all. Technology is crucial and beneficial in so many ways but making by hand provides a welcome balance for anyone who gives it a go.

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

For many younger people the new technologies that have developed in the last couple of decades are simply a useful everyday asset, which has always been there in their lives. The smartphone has taken its place alongside various other convenient inventions. This one is however so radical that its possible dangers of alienation and stagnation are becoming more apparent and as a result the need for activity and hands on practice becomes more necessary and appeals to many young people as a way to reconnect with material process.

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

Working with clay is an immediate and alluring process, despite the mess, or maybe because of it. Its unformed quality allows a freedom that has been recently welcomed and embraced in the art world, where new technology has became just another tool for making art, alongside all the others. Process was slowly returning as a mainstream method of art practice when Rachel Whiteread first cast beds and chairs in the 1980s, even though video was the latest trend at that time. The art world is inclined to be fashion-led however and so for the moment clay people are having their time in the sun, but it was Klara Kristalova who said she chose ceramics because she didn’t want to have to engage with “important art” and so maybe its still seen as a non-serious material with which to express the playful child within us all, as it was in the early 20th century when painters such as Gauguin made ceramics. The fine artists using clay at the moment, as opposed to the artists using clay who have been trained to use it, are enjoying this freedom and even using their lack of skill to create artworks that present this as a conceptual appropriation. Meanwhile many artists who have more skill because they began with a medium-specific training may still find themselves marginalised as a result, as if craft and skill lessen the ability to have a strong concept. But the great thing is we are having all these conversations now and that is very productive and welcome.

Who is your hero or heroine?

Louise Bourgeois

Name a book that everyone should read and why?

The recent Man Booker winner, Milkman by Anna Burns really blew me away, because it not only tells a personal story about growing up and seeking identity from a subjective angle, through its stream of consciousness heroine’s train of thought, but it does so within the context of a recent war zone, and I for one had very little idea just how tough it must have been growing up in Belfast in the 1970s. Burns is challenging the usual narrative associated with contemporary novels. This book is nothing to do with clay but it’s very stimulating. Another good read is The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollop which was written in 1875 but is very relevant in these present greedy times. I also rate Carl Jung’s autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, which was a huge influence on my own search for identity as a person and as an artist.

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

My studio is at home for economic reasons. I have two spaces, one an upstairs room for drawing, sketchbook work and research, the other a space built off the back of the house for making and firing. I am lucky to own my house and be able to build these spaces for my work but if I could afford a larger external space that would be ideal. At home the dust of my practice creeps into the living space and the studio is never big enough.

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

Paint-on glazes!

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

The demise in recent years of ceramic courses in UK universities has thankfully resulted in a rise in small private classes, group workshops for tuition and even a Clay College in Stoke on Trent. There is little to be done in the current climate to encourage the government to offer more support to non-commercial occupations such as art and we therefore all have to build on what is left and look to the future with a positive approach. However the reduction in the numbers of BA Ceramics graduate students who possess a high level of technical knowledge and skill may unfortunately start to have an effect over the next few years.

Why do you think ceramics has endured from ancient times?

The material clay is beyond ancient. It’s archetypal.

Who would be in your ceramics collection?

Kim Simonsson, Stephen de Staebler, Daisy Youngblood, Carmen Dionyse, Johan Tahon and a few others!

What would you make if money were no object?

Firstly I would apply to the EKWC for a residency and to take advantage of their technical support and very large kilns. I’d also have a large studio where I could make big drawings to reflect the narrative quality of my work. But as I also have an interest in bronze and other materials from time to time I would take a work like My Desk from my 2012 Freud Museum exhibition and employ fabricators to help me scale it up and cast it in or plaster, but I would then maybe paint it so it looked like a very large ceramic work.

What is your philosophical approach to making?

It’s what gives my life some meaning.

      

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Bertozzi & Casoni – Beyond the Vessel – Q&A


What does a day in the studio look like?

We start the day very early because the studio is on average 30 minutes by car for both of us. We work from 8:30 to 18:30 and we work on projects that are on the go at the time.

What is your first memory of ceramics?

For both of us the first memory of the ceramic material dates back to our entrance to the Ceramics Institute of Faenza.

What was your first use of clay?

The first projects that envisaged the use of ceramic material date back to 1979 when we began to make the first sculptural experiments in the context of a group that was formed in those years between Faenza and Bologna called the New Pottery that tried to free the ceramic material from the cage of the traditional. Franco Solmi the director at the time of the Modern Art Gallery in Bologna, and Marilena Pasquali made projects that highlighted this new way of using ceramics that at least in our case focused on art. This brought a wave of novelty, and exhibitions such as Il Lavoro Felice, at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Faenza in 1980 and Terra d’Italia at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Ancona in 1983 were a part of this period.

What is the most challenging element to your practice?

The most challenging element is to be able to continue the thread through which our work moves.

What is your favourite fable?

Pinocchio.

What thing or person is your greatest influence?

The passion for what we do is the thing that most affects our life.

What is the relevance of myth today?

We can’t quite explain that, but we think that the classical world is the root from which art today should find nourishment, and recognise itself within a historical path to have a base for the possibility change.

Are you an artist or a ceramicist?

What we do is addressed to the art world, but the technique we work with is very important and is for us a language that allows us to shape our thoughts.

What is the relevance of ceramics today?

Ceramics is used by artists today in a freer and more conscious way. When we started it was the 1980s and there was a strong prejudice on those who worked mainly with ceramics; people immediately thought of it as a product belonging more to the world of craftsmanship than to art. Today it is used for its very important expressive and mimetic potentialities.

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

We believe that in order to refine technical skills today, constant daily work and the search for new stimuli are important, just as it was in the past.

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

The new technologies give the illusion that you can do anything you like without developing particular skills such as those you’d need to make things with your hands. The same thing happened between photography and painting, where you thought you could do everything without any use for brushes or drawing. But instead as we’ve seen photography presenting new possibilities as an additional instrument that enabled us to advance even further, pushing the boundaries of our imagination.

Why do you think there is such an international vogue for ceramics today particularly amongst the younger generation?

The popularity of ceramics among young people is due to its nature that is very close to the most basic experience of humankind on earth and to the fact that in art it is a material to be discovered further, with still much to give. We also think that ceramics is a material that is relatively new in its use in contemporary art.

Who is your hero or heroine?

We don’t know, unfortunately our age leads us to think that there are no heroes or heroines, but we all try to survive in a world of distraction.

Name a book that everyone should read and why?

If this is a Man by Primo Levi. We think it’s a book to read and reread for all future generations to keep alive the memory of the horror that humans can inflict on each other.

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

Our studio has been in Imola since 1980 because our roots are there. We realised over time that it is also very important to remain connected with the rest of the world, but we think maintaining a firm base in our cultural background has strengthened our work.

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

The technological advances that have allowed us to overcome some limits come from the industrial field. Unfortunately, today there is no more advanced research done in ceramics as it is a sector that is funded in such a limited way and not as appealing as art or crafts and therefore we necessarily had to turn to the research done in the industrial field.

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

The problem we see in ceramics when used in a conceited manner is the trivialisation of technique. The challenge
is to restore its status so it finds its rightful place next to numerous other techniques used in art.

Why do you think ceramics has endured from ancient times?

Because it is the material closest to humans in their most flexible and versatile conditions, even if today the techniques have brought it to unimaginable levels of engineering.

Who would be in your ceramics collection?

We don’t have the spirit to be a collectors but if we had to think about a work done with ceramics to keep with us we would think of some pottery by Paul Gauguin.

What would you make if money were no object?

If we had limitless money we could produce ideas that would be unexpected today.

What is your philosophical approach to making?

Our approach to work is the same as any other work, we believe, we give timetables and deadlines, the only difference is probably that we are never detached from it, the thought is always projected into the work, the senses are all connected to find quadrature to problems that exist only within us, but that perhaps concern us all.

         

Beyond the Vessel exhibition page…view details

Beyond the Vessel exhibition catalogue…buy now

Sam Bakewell – Beyond the Vessel – Q&A


What does a day in the studio look like?

Dysfunctional probably. I’d say it might seem like there’s no logic to it, and sometimes no making at all. Probably more thinking and worrying about making than making. Testing things. Generally, the end of the day being the most productive.

What is your first memory of ceramic?

Not ceramics, but clay. Digging it up in the back of our garden in Somerset when I was around six, in an area my Dad kind of gave over to me. I remember the sensation of being lost and out of myself; of something that felt like power, probably through the ability to create and then destroy again. But also perhaps, like something was being channeled. I think this is what I would now label as the chthonic element of clay, the earth/death god sense of it. Also, I’d say the shit/dirt aspect was highly intoxicating as well. So therefore, pretty sexy too, though obviously before sex was on the radar.

What was your first use of clay?

A fish slab at school, with pressed scales when I was six. Followed by many dragons, sumo wrestlers, gremlins and the like once Dad had convinced the local college to let me attend the adult evening class when I was eight, with him acting as my foil. From there I just tried to follow a path through school and beyond where I could keep making things in clay with as little thought as possible to where it might go.

I was very lucky to have a line of incredibly open-minded teachers who pretty much encouraged any idea I might have. On my foundation course, after drying out porcelain-slip filled sheep’s lungs (I was on a negative-space-Rachel Whiteread trip) which had stank out the classroom for weeks, we fired them. They caught fire and burnt out the kiln and the fire brigade had to put it out. Amongst all the departmental hysteria my teacher Nick quietly whispered in my ear “Don’t worry, I’ve saved them. We’ll re-fire tomorrow!”. I still have that broken, but very beautiful, white, bronchial tree.

What is the most challenging element to your practice?

Self-validation. Keeping a desire to make things in the face of their redundancy once up for sale.

What is your favourite fable?

I’ve sat and thought about this for 30 minutes now, and nothing is sticking. And that’s more due to myth’s and fables being such a big part of my childhood and life since that, that I can’t choose just one. Religion fits into this too. Storytelling involving the spiritual, supernatural or “the other” in all its guises has always filled my head. But I’m afraid I have no favourite to single out.

What thing or person is your greatest influence?

That’s too hard. I couldn’t choose, the net is too wide.

What is the relevance of myth today?

More than ever I imagine. The particular escapism it allows for and the means in which it conveys a wider, more ancient sense of truth than the ones currently proliferated. Things that are removed from the terrible state of contemporary life seem appealing to me. But myths also acting
as reminders of past lessons, and of the vastness of time so as not to get too caught up in the present.

Are you an artist or a ceramicist?

This distinction is not something I engage with, as the conversation can only end up being reductive.

What is the relevance of ceramics today?

As much as ever, to me at least.

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

Again, this type of question over art/ craft/skill isn’t something I engage in. It’s generally something that’s used to divide or classify, and I have too many things I want to make, without a need to pigeonhole them.

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

I can only speak for myself, so the answer’s no. It defines who I am and how I think of myself. I couldn’t speak for anyone else though.

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

I think ceramics has always been popular whenever the techniques or materials are available to people. It’s more been the lack of institutional facilities and staff due to budget constraints that limited its exposure to certain generations at certain points. It’s also cyclical, like all aspects of visual culture. The use of clay comes in and out
of fashion, this is just another high period. It was the same 30 years ago, and before that the same.

Who is your hero or heroine?

Alison Britton

Name a book that everyone should read and why?

Ted Hughes’s Gaudete. It’s guttural, psychedelic, confusing, telling and amazingly descriptive as with everything he wrote.

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

Presently it’s in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London as a result of the 9-month Ceramics residency I’m halfway through here. It’s a world away from my regular studio on the other side of London at the back of a communal railway arch. The V&A residency studio is built into the Museums galleries on the top floor, full of light and space, but very exposed. I’m behind glass; another exhibit to be looked at. But it’s incredible to work surrounded by a specific view of history as seen through one material. So presently my studio means total re-evaluation. My normal studio is a place to surround myself with things that keep me ticking over. Somewhere to hide away a bit and think.

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

Technology is something I try to disengage with as much as possible within reason. It’s certainly not something that I wish to bring into my work out of choice at this point. I’m much happier taking time and figuring out a way to do things myself, as inefficient as this might be.

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

The persistence for Ceramics to keep talking about Ceramics in seclusion.

Why do you think ceramics has endured from ancient times?

Adaptation

Who would be in your ceramics collection?

I’m lucky enough to have a lot of clay works I want from friends. Some Peruvian slipware? A Miro egg? A small Ian Godfrey could easily find a good home with me.

What would you make if money were no object?

Currently a huge reduction gas kiln would pretty much solve a lot of my sizing issues, but in general I don’t believe in massive art holding much purpose.

What is your philosophical approach to making?

I don’t really think about what I’m doing in the abstract like that. I’d rather just get on with the making itself. Different ideas suit different approaches, but I think I try not to have a general mantra.

Sam_Bakewell_bv-2099 Sam_Bakewell_bv-2099

Beyond the Vessel exhibition page…view details

Beyond the Vessel exhibition catalogue…buy now

EVENT: Tim Harrisson Sculpture to Move to Nadder Centre


Tim Harrisson’s limestone sculpture ‘Silent Rhythm’ is moving from the Messums Wiltshire sculpture garden to it’s permanent new home outside the Nadder Centre, Tisbury.⁠

The work has been commissioned by Wiltshire Council, supported by C G Fry and Son Ltd and working with Messums Wiltshire to further highlight the development of the Nadder Centre for Tisbury and the collective endeavour in the surrounding area. ⁠

The unveiling is at the Nadder Centre on Saturday 28 September at 10am and a brief talk by the artist followed by refreshments.⁠

EXHIBITION: Beyond the Vessel at Mesher Gallery, Istanbul


13 September – 22 December 2019

Clay sculpture, in all its diversity, enraptured guests at the opening of Messums’ first exhibition in Istanbul; Beyond The Vessel, Myth, Legends and Fables in contemporary ceramics around Europe. Held at the Mesher gallery in the heart of the city and curated by Catherine Milner from Messums and Karoly Aliotti from the Vebhi Koc Foundation, the show champions 13 of the best sculptors working in clay from around Europe – from London to the forests of Finland to the archipelagos of Denmark and the plains of Northern Italy. The exhibition establishes clay sculpture as one of the most exciting new movements in contemporary art whilst drawing on its most ancient roots.

Malene_Hartmann_Rasmussen_photo_Sylvain_DeleuSculptures of gorgons and trolls, Minotaurs and dogs of war are coupled with some of the most remarkable craftsmanship you can see in the world today. The show covers the full panoply of styles and techniques, from the gestural and impressionistic to the exacting and precise in works where clay has been so deftly handled that it is often hard to believe that the works are made from the material at all. Advances in 21 st century technology and the ingenuity of the artists mean that some of the works are as green and furry as moss while others as shiny and plastic looking as yoghurt pots; one section features simply 23 clods of clay looking variously like ice cream, butter, human skin and elephant hide – all testifying to the unrivalled mimetic properties of this wonderfully versatile ancient material.

Artists in the show include: Sam Bakewell, Bertozzi and Casoni, Vivian van Blerk, Christie Brown, Phoebe Cummings, Klara Kristalova, Malene Hartmann Rasmussen, Elsa Sahal, Kim Simonsson, Carolein Smit, Jorgen Haugen Sorensen, Bouke de Vries and Hugo Wilson.

The exhibition will continue at Messums Wiltshire 22 February to 5 April 2019

 

Photos: Sylvain Deleu

Talk: Wrong end of the stick? The muddied waters between craft, design and fine art – what is the difference and does it matter?


Saturday 13 July 2019

Saturday morning brought the opening of a new exhibition in the barn at Messums Wiltshire, featuring New York’s Hudson Valley based Christopher Kurtz’s work, titled, ‘The Traveller cannot see North, but knows that the needle can’.

The exhibition opened up a conversation that has long been discussed: where are the boundaries between fine art; craft; design or should there be any such categorisation at all? We invited Grant Gibson, former editor of Crafts Magazine, Emma O’Kelley, Editor-at-Large of Wallpaper magazine, to talk alongside Christopher Kurtz and Messums Wiltshire curator Catherine Milner, to discuss the extent of cross collaboration between these disciplines.

Catherine Milner opened the discussion using a quote from Glenn Adamson, a leading US commentator on this topic, from his essay precursing this exhibition. ‘For all of its undoubted benefits, modern industrial life has also entailed many losses,’ going on to add that craft is one of the many things that has been lost, certainly in the education system in this country.

Throughout the talk there was a variation of opinion on why the boundaries between art and craft were perhaps muddied, some views more sceptical than others. Grant Gibson refers to a current phase, whereby craftsmen are entering into the fine art world in order to add a few more zeros to their price tags. Although it is inevitable to talk of craft as a dying trade, it was noted that we are seeing an increasing number of people in the sphere of fine art using a variation of materials, one only needs to look at Grayson Perry and Edmund de Waal to see the trend.

Emma O’Kelley argued that this was an increasing movement, certainly not of temporary status, that looking at events such as the Milan Furniture Fair, craftsmen show their works as pieces of design or perhaps even art. Likewise at the Venice Biennale, artists and artisans alike are displaying their cross collaboration of works all together in the same context.

Christopher Kurtz spoke from personal experience, noting, “the distinctions have never really meant much to the artists themselves”. As much as fairs and exhibitions would like to categorise pieces, eventually for craftsmen such as himself, the motivations that bring him to create a chair or table, are the same to those that motivate him to create what would traditionally considered as ‘art’. For Kurtz, it is fairly black and white when it comes to classifying his work. Simply, good or bad, successful or not.

Christopher Kurtz fervently argued in defence of crafts not being a lost art. He spoke of his own story, first learning basic traits from building an extension on his family home during his childhood, then the early years of his career working in his basement with basic tools. “Speaking to young people, I would say, there is a huge appetite for being able to manipulate materials with your hands.” He asserted that despite what might seem the reduction of services for makers, there is something to be said for the rebellious streak that many artists possess. That not having the perfect facility might actually aid the development of a craftsman or artist, rather than hinder it.

 

 

Artists-in-Residence Sonia Leber and David Chesworth’s blog – Week 1


1 Sonia_Leber_David_Chesworth_3000px_blogpost_1 (web)

“Sonia Leber and David Chesworth are cultural investigators, landing lightly in foreign territory, weighed down only with a mixed bag of pre-entry research, a camera, some sound equipment and a couple of laptops. The work they are going to make is out there waiting; images and events to be re-interpreted, re-framed, recorded and edited.” – Fiona Gruber

“As Messums first artists in residence, we have arrived in Wiltshire via projects in the arid Australian outback, post-Soviet Russia, a factory that used to print the daily news, a Finnish fortress and the futuristic house of an Australian progressive society. The diversity of settings for our past projects has enabled us to create vastly different projects, mostly involving video, but always with a deep concern for sound and listening.

Here in Wiltshire, we have encountered an isolated hillside covered in an array of mounds that turned out to be anthills. Hidden colonies of yellow meadow ants create these temperate mounds to attract their food source from aphids, allowing the ants to remain inside, stealthily unseen and nurtured by the incoming aphids.

As we travel about, we have returned to this lumpy hillside twice, and it serves as a metaphor for our forthcoming project – a prompt for the unseen activity that lurks beneath the visible. Our project will emerge from the reality of Wiltshire, but it will be developed in the realms of the imaginary, sensation and concept.

We have also been out traversing the chalk pathways with local bike riders, encountering edgy flint and a whole range of flora including masses of spikey and stinging plants, as though the right to walk has first got to be negotiated through these challenges.“

Arts journalist, essayist, broadcaster and radio documentary maker Fiona Gruber will be interviewing the artists in residence on Friday 19th July at 6:30pm at Messums Wiltshire.

Leber and Chesworth’s works have been shown in the central exhibitions of the 56th Venice Biennale ‘All the World’s Futures’ (2015) and the 19th Biennale of Sydney ‘You Imagine What You Desire’ (2014); and a parallel exhibition of the 5th Moscow Biennale (2013).

A full project history can be found at leberandchesworth.com

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