Caroline Slotte

A Room Full of Amber – and Other Manias

There was a room full of amber objects – jugs, boxes, vases. Each object pieced together out of hundreds of small petrified resin lumps, like three-dimensional puzzles. Some of the craftsmanship was perfect, the objects exquisite and impossible to wrench one’s eyes from. In others, the bits had been ineptly glued together, with cracked, gaping joins. It was the porcelain we were there to see, and there was porcelain everywhere. I wanted to wax lyrical over the porcelain, but it was the amber that moved me, made things happen.

This manic focus on a raw material – as though the material itself were more than the physically perceptible. As though the yellow stone were imbued with an energy, something we couldn’t see, something supernatural. For it could not be explained in any other way, this fervent puzzling and filing, this proud attention, bordering on obsession.

The hype that promoted porcelain as a material in Europe in the early 18th century reveals the same gigantic admiration for a raw material. This exalted expectation on matter and what it is capable of; in a material-based artist of today, this inevitably stirs a certain envy. What was it about porcelain that made it so desirable? Yes, it was hard, white, shiny and sometimes even translucent. But how big a part did the porcelain’s visible physical attributes actually play? Vision itself is altered by what we know or expect. Perhaps the aesthetic qualities were of minor importance, after all, in a process that was primarily governed by availability, by the simple fact that what is scarce increases in value.

Our contemporary abundance of industrial porcelain has led to a sensory devaluation, and we can no longer see the material with the same eyes as they did 300 years ago. How do we read and evaluate the value of materials today, then? What is the relationship between the aesthetically appealing and the rare? With regard to hard, white materials – which ones do we find beautiful today, and why?

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Dresden has sandstone buildings. Sandstone is a living material, it is affected by the air, darkens and eventually turns black. The porous, gradually darkening surface appealed to me, I wanted more of this.

I sandblast the surface of the plate hard, I want to get at the raw clay just under the glaze. Once again, I am obsessed by the actual doing, the process absorbs me – we can call it a mania. I am to remove layer after layer, to reveal, finish, purify. There is something here, under the surface. There is yet another thing to tell.

The glass layer gradually thins, until I get through and the clay is bared – white, or rather yellowish, beige, with darker veins of brown and red. The blaster moves across the plate like a miniature sandstorm, a sandstorm in my hand. The sand eats everything hard. The soft and flexible, such as the glue I use for masking, remains, the sand cannot penetrate it. This time, I leave nothing of the original surface, only the pictorial content remains – like a shadow, as though a memory of the image had sunk into the plate. I work my way down, layer by layer. I make the motif three-dimensional, a relief with plateaux of different heights, like the elevations of an architectural model. The white in the picture becomes deep valleys. The darker parties of the print, the patches where cobalt lies in thick, dark puddles, become crests, hills in the landscape.

The sand hastens natural erosion, an inevitable disintegration. It penetrates, small holes soon become larger, sand is drawn through the openings. Finally, all is pure, raw clay.

Then, the pattern that was there inside the clay appears – the red, brown, mustard yellow sediments, as shifting as the nuances of a watercolour. Suddenly, the colours are on the surface again. Later, when I wash away the sand and the clay is saturated with water, the pigments come to life. They regroup, seek out the hilltops, find their way in new landscapes.

 

Published in Zwinger und Ich, ed. Kjell Rylander and Caroline Slotte

Network for Nordic Contemporary Ceramics, 2016


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