A CASA, Sao Paulo, August 12, 2015
Thank you so much for your invitation to participate in the opening of the exhibition, Ceramics of Brazil, 2015, curated in a mixture of indigenous and contemporary ceramics. It is a great pleasure to me that you have in this way taken an initiative to exchange the language and potential of ceramics and clay across geographical and cultural borders. I once read at a small Danish museum: No other raw material in nature is as malleable and plastic as clay. And that is a nice thought. Clay is earth, and earth will never become ‘unmodern’. Clay will always be a raw material that offers an immediate opportunity for one to express oneself in the present age. No matter whether it is functional ceramics or ceramics on its own as an artistic means of expression. In the midst of a digitalised world, clay and ceramics have furthermore acquired renewed status as being the material that can best link past and present together. For modern man, clay contains the longing for a cohesion between nature and culture, past and present.
Although I am a qualified ceramist, I have to admit that I will never become a ‘real’ ceramist. By this I mean that ceramics has taken me in so many different directions that I mostly be ‘rated’ as a designer than a proper ceramist. Clay and ceramics are, however, still my basic material when new challenges are to be explored. It calls for nothing else than a pair of hands and a lump of clay!
This yellow tea pot in faience from 1993 is the first of my objects to be put into serial production. In many ways, it marked my breakthrough as a designer. It has been moulded in one piece with a loosely fitting lid and does not look like many other tea pots from the same period. The tea pot led to establishing a good cooperation with the Royal Copenhagen porcelain manufactory, where during the following years I developed a series of functional pieces in faience and porcelain. Not as a set in the classic sense – more like a family of pieces that had their separate distinctive (udtalte) characteristics. I tried to exploit the plastic potential of the clay, also in an industrial context. Later, in a cooperation with Normann Copenhagen, I made the series Familia, which had markedly recognisable forms. Almost primitive. Unfortunately, the actual quality became never really satisfactory, but generally speaking, the thought pleases me in my designing, that as a designer, you are always standing on the shoulders of your predecessors.
This has resulted in many different pieces in porcelain, faience, pottery and stoneware. Here is an overall view of my various approaches to the laid table!
In 1996, I decided not only to take care of serving the food but also to attempt 'to take care of washing the dishes’. Manual washing up. Totally reactionary and unmodern. An attempt to invest time rather than save time. An attempt to make what at first glance seems unfine and boring into something sensual and attractive. This resulted in a soft washing-up bowl made of rubber that is kind to the hard porcelain. Quite probably the most expensive washing-up bowl in the world - and not many people believed in the idea. Fortunately though, the new company Normann Copenhagen did. They put it into production in 2002, and it has become one of my best-selling designs since then. So, from time to time, you ought to listen to your intuition and not only to market analyses.
This also led to a bath tub in 2009 for the Mindcraft exhibition in Milan. The bath tub has never been put into production, but it is one of my most exposed works. A good photo model can work wonders!
For the exhibition ‘It’s a Small World’, which incidentally has also been on show here in Sao Paulo, I collaborated with the engineer Claus Mølgaard on a sustainable project that resulted in the sofa bed
We are Family. Made of bamboo and cotton. This too has unfortunately never been put into production, but who isn’t familiar with the challenge of unexpected guests who stay the night and need a place to sleep. In that way, the sofa became a good example of the fact that design is an independent language that can communicate a shared ‘problem’ across cultures.
In an attempt to get art to move out from the major cities to the provinces and rural areas, The Danish Arts Foundation invited in 2010 a number of craft people, architects, authors and designers to contribute with a work of art to Hærvejen. A thousand-year-old main thoroughfare that ran north-south through Denmark and down through Europe. It was originally used by armies, cattle-drivers, robbers and pilgrims. My contribution was a rain cape, with references to medieval clothing. A kind of merchandise or souvenir for present-day tourists and hikers. When, during the process, the design was tried out, in and outside our studio in Copenhagen, the children found it scary. My wife said: that it was'nt particularly suitable for the inner city. And she was quite probably right. But it worked well in the Hærvejen landscape. It is of course very underplayed and colourless compared to a Brazilian carnival. More a touch of Nordic melancholy with just small spots of happiness!
And now, back to ceramics again! In 2013, along with the two female ceramists Karen Kjældgaard-Larsen and Tine Broksø - known as Claydies - we at Copenhagen Ceramics put on the exhibition The Opening. Since all three of us are particularly interested in use, function and action, we decided to make all the objects one typically uses in connection with an exhibition opening – and a bit more besides! Speaking podium, wine-glasses, beer mugs, bottles of spirits, and various other items. Beer came out from the wall and there were spirits in the bottles, and all the objects were actually used during the opening. It never turned out to be a beautiful ceramics exhibition. But quite an entertaining one! And, most of all, a good way of finding out if the objects work as intended.
Partly because of this exhibition, I guess, Claydies and I have been invited to take part in the Mindcraft exhibition at Salone di Milano this year. I have been asked by the curators GamFratesi to contribute with one unifying work. I decided to make a simple bar for serving water, consisting of a plinth, several drinking cups and a large jug printed H2O . Hand-modelled out of high-fired red clay and standing on a pinewood plank. Basically by virtue of materiality, recognisability and use. An object that points backwards just as much as it does forwards. The work can be seen as a sign – as a still life. But it can also be used. As a ‘place’ for the action: drinking water. Simply a Basic Bar!
Particularly as a result of the exceptional staging by the GamFratesi curators, with a mirror-lined cloister in central Milan, this year’s Mindcraft exhibition was an extremely beautiful and almost sacral exposure of contemporary Danish craft and design.
As I mentioned earlier, I never became a ‘real’ ceramist and do not represent a dedicated and passionate executant within the field of ceramics. So, to conclude, I would like to show you a few images of ceramic works done by contemporary Danish colleagues. Colleagues who, to a much greater extent than I do, cultivate clay and ceramics as an independent means of expression.
Anders Ruhwald, Danish ceramist and professor at Cranbrook University in Detroit, has in recent years gained particular attention with installations with modelled monochrome ceramic objects. With clear references to interiors, everyday objects and artworks, he links the craft field, - which often get less attention -, to the fine art- and design spheres.
Anne Tophøj, an absolutely underplayed and analytical loner in Danish ceramics. Here objects of everyday use combine a both rough and delicate expression. Function, clay and glaze without industrial compromises!
Bente Skjøttgaard, modelled ramifications that are fired together with glaze to form cloud-like formations and objects. Clay, glaze and firing as phenomenon and in symbiosis. Represented at, among others, Galerie Pierre Marie Giraud in Brussels and co-founder of Copenhagen Ceramics.
Christina Schou Christensen, the viscosity of the glaze during firing is exploited as a shaping element.
Marianne Nielsen, carefully modelled plants and flowers from Danish flora. A radical, unsentimental and brave rejection of the modern anxiety and fear about using nature as a model.
Martin Bodilsen Kaldahl, extruded elements combined to form organic sequences. Typical coloured in monochrome glazes. Ceramic objects with a radical, consistent expression. Represented at, among others, Galerie NeC Nilsson in Paris and co-founder of Copenhagen Ceramics.
Michael Geertsen, traditionally trained potter. With great awareness, courage, and craftsman energy, traditional pottery is brought into the present age and made relevant for a present-day audience. This work was acquired by Lady Gaga! Represented at, among others, Jason Jacques Gallery in New York.
Morten Løbner Espersen, a pioneer ceramist in the rediscovery of the innate qualities and potential of clay and glazes as an independent mode of expression. With a conscious reference to the history of ceramics, the vase can still be glimpsed beneath the wild-growing shape. For connoisseurs, there are perhaps also references to Axel Salto’s ceramics from the 1950s. Represented at, among others, Jason Jacques Gallery in New York and Pierre Marie Giraud in Brussels.
Steen Ipsen, carefully executed earthenware objects in smooth, monochrome glazes with silkscreen printings. Almost liberatingly without traditional ceramic qualities. Seductive and potent ceramic objects. Represented at, among others, Galerie NeC Nilsson in Paris and co-founder of Copenhagen Ceramics.
Once again, many, many thanks for your invitation. Brazil is much, much larger, more diverse (frodig), festive and warm than Denmark is – which is after all situated in the northern, cool and more boring end of Europe. It has already given new 'energy' to meet the ceramics from Brazil, - and the people behind