Descendents

by Dr Julian Stair, Principle Research Fellow, University of Westminister

Descendents is an exhibition from a potter who has come of age. Ninna Gøtzsche has undertaken a journey over the last 13 years that began in the Potters School in Sønderborg followed by a ceramics degree in Bornholm, the completion of a two-year apprenticeship in Camberwell, London, and the setting up of her studio in Aarhus six years ago. On this journey Gøtzsche has come into contact with ideas that have spanned the broad identity of ceramics from artisanal craftsman to active participant in metropolitan life, rural romantic to avant-garde artist. She has now emerged as a mature and confident potter in her own right, with her own voice, her own ideas and a body of work that manages to blend these experiences. She does this by combining the values of English studio pottery with the flavour of a pared down European modernism to create porcelain pots of a hybrid nature appropriate to the 21st century.

Gøtzsche is articulate and talks and writes engagingly about her work. She both constructs and discusses her pots in formal terms, contrasting one shape against another - a sharp edge with a soft curve, a perfect cylinder with the tell tale impression of a human finger or thumb. The same applies to her surface treatments. Straight lines of colour that derive from carefully thrown rims and trimmed foot rings create a tension with overlaid glazes that blend and flow into each other, feathered edges that move as a result of gravity, and drawn and inlaid lines that emerge through washes of liquid colours. Equally important is the work's haptic quality, the smooth feel of glaze, the sensual curves of a form experienced in the hand, a 'tactile-spatial experience' expressed so well by the Human Geographer Mark Paterson who wrote that

'touch like vision, articulates an equally rich, complex world, a world of movement and exploration, of non-verbal social communication. … when an object brushes our skin [it] is simultaneously an awareness of the materiality of the object and an awareness of the spatial limits and sensations of our lived body.'(1)

Making pots for Gotzsche provides an opportunity to explore the endless possibilities of making three-dimensional forms and drawing on two-dimensional surfaces. The nature of throwing on the potter's wheel naturally lends itself to repetition, where series or groups of pots emerge from the collective memory of hands that pull up wet and spinning clay to exploit mass and create forms within the full sphere of space. But this inclination to repetition does not necessarily mean a lean towards uniformity. While Gøtzsche celebrates the inherent nature of throwing she also intentionally creates difference through the striking variety of her work or in the subtle variations between seemingly similar pots.Limfjorden is a series of cylindrical forms but each piece has a slightly different proportion, height, inflexion of handling and different treatment of colour and glaze. When displayed in a group on a horizontal surface, these variations in form and colour create an ebb and flow of movement across the group, a rhythm that accentuates the individual differences between the pots but adds up to form a greater interest through the collective. Wayward is a family of individual bowls, which despite being made on the wheel have an asymmetry that moves away from the familiar circle cross-section of thrown work. Gøtzsche gently distorts the rims of the bowls when drying, but while the clay is still malleable, to create pots that have a series of varying ellipses that flow into wide spouts. Bright white porcelain rims contrast with deep green glazes that accentuate the volume of the forms; black inlaid lines with the intensity of a pen and ink drawn mark emerge through layers of soft glaze.

When writing about Descendants, Gøtzsche refers to the cultural historian Philip Rawson's seminal book Ceramics (1971) and his table of morphological relationships that illustrates the evolution of pottery forms. She states 'It is pretty simple. A pot is a pot. A vase is a vase. A bowl is a bowl.' (2) In many ways Gøtzsche is correct, there is a primacy and security in our understanding of pottery - it is after all one of the most constant and familiar of all human achievements. But Gøtzsche is speaking from an informed position with a depth of knowledge that warrants explication. This exhibition consists of individual pots, each considered and different. But underlying the nuances and subtly of these pieces is the fact that they, like Rawson's chart, illustrate an evolutionary development. The genesis of the Limfjorden series lies in the rigour of making espresso cups, mugs and jars; the origin of the Wayward group lies in the salad bowls and salt casters she makes for everyday use. 
Gøtzsche has titled this exhibition Descendents because, although new, these pots are built upon an established career of making. They reveal the latest stage of her development but also contain the essence of all the work she has made to date: 'there will always be a part of me in them, they are related to me' (3). Whether working on a large or small scale, the foundation for Gøtzsche's work is her belief in the value of pottery as a valid discipline for artistic endeavour. But what is this value? Again, one can look to Rawson. Like his evolutionary chart, Rawson offers a critical framework for the appreciation of contemporary ceramics that sidesteps the insular positioning of the art world and debates over the classification of ceramic practice. Instead, he demonstrates the central role that pots have played throughout human culture, arguing that pots are in effect material touchstones, intimate objects that are capable of condensing ideas, aesthetics and tactile experience

'something undeniably material, wearing the evidence of its material nature in its visible and tangible forms and attributes, which at the same time contains so much projected into it from man's daily life and experience at all levels that it can seem to him almost like a projection of his own bodily identity.' (4)

Gøtzsche revels in the familiarity we have with pottery and its multi-layering of the visual, tactile, symbolic and conceptual. She unashamedly celebrates its materiality, its domestic nature and the limitless opportunity it offers to express new ideas. She takes an age-old medium and modernises it, makes it personal. They are, on the surface, only pots, and as she states 'It is pretty simple'. But is it?

 

Teksten er fra katalog til soloudstillingen Ætlinge i Danske Kunsthåndværkeres Udstillingsrum Officinet i september 2012

1) Paterson, Mark, The Senses of Touch: Haptics, Affects and Technologies, Berg Oxford, 2007, p. 2.
2) www.ninnag.com
3) Ibid.
4) Rawson, Philip, Ceramics, Oxford University Press, London, 1971, p. 6