Saturday 29 March 2014

Bucolic Landscape

Something amazing happened yesterday. I went for a walk with my son to the nearby biotope. Last time we went there it was in the middle of the winter so now I hoped to show him the awakening of nature.

We left the village behind us. Then we took the path that goes uphill, with beautiful and peaceful scenery with many old wooden barns scattered along green undulating meadows. This is where my son started to slow down, complaining that he is too tired and that he would like to turn back. So I had to promise him that just around the corner there is a big surprise waiting for us. What I had in mind was all kind of animals, birds and all the newly sprouted vegetation. 

When we came to the biotope, it was not exactly the bucolic landscape what we saw. There were huge diggers everywhere, bare ground, ditches, huge piles of stones and something that made my heart beat faster. Clay! The diggers were spreading clay at the bottom of the future pond. I asked one of the workers if the clay comes from this biotope, but he told me that it was delivered from the nearby gravel quarry.

Until this exact moment it never crossed my mind to search for some local clay. Even though I was always secretly dreaming about it: Digging my own clay from the local river bank, purifying it from the branches and stones, letting it mature in a ditch and then one day make something beautiful with it. But, let’s be realistic: I am happy when I can find time to even work with clay in the first place. 

So I decided to take a sample of clay and test it in my next firing. If it is good enough, I will probably go to this gravel quarry and try to get some more. And I guess I will not be digging it by myself after all; I will let the machines do it for me.

Thursday 20 March 2014

University of Applied Arts Vienna

When I think about my life, there are a few things I would do differently if I had a chance. One is that I would study ceramics at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. Every time I visit Vienna, I catch myself sneaking through its studios. The huge ceramic atelier with a high ceiling is situated at the ground floor of a beautiful old brick-facade building at the Oskar Kokoschka-Platz. The ceramic studio is filled with light and a good portion of artistic flair.

There is a big area with pottery wheels and working tables, a separate room for the plaster mould making, glazing and a kiln room in the basement. The floors are full of clay dust. The shelves are filled with moulds and pots. 

I wanted to make a few photos of the atelier so I asked for permission. Instead of a quick sneak inside, I started a very nice conversation with ceramicists who work there. When I told them how much I wanted to study there, they explained me that the Institute of Ceramic Arts has been shut.

It is no longer possible to study ceramics at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. The same happened with classical sculpture. The only reason the ceramic atelier is still there is to support other departments such as a design. How could that happen? Am I such an old fashioned person that I just don’t understand the importance of the rise of digital media and gender studies? 

Well, the world is changing and I have to accept it. However, every time I visit the ceramic studio at the University of Applied Arts I have to think of the grand dame of ceramics Lucie Rie. She had studied ceramics in these exact rooms. 

I just hope that this ceramics atelier remains as it is: full of clay, dust, plaster, arts and history.

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Vienna Porcelain Manufactory Augarten

Last week I went on a guided tour through the Vienna Porcelain Manufactory Augarten.  Even though I took the same tour some 15 years ago, I found it very interesting to look behind the scenes of professional porcelain making again. In this one-hour tour, you can catch a glimpse behind the scenes: From mixing porcelain from kaolin, feldspar and quartz, to slip casting, throwing, sanding and firing until the final glazing, painting and distribution.

As a studio potter, I have the same or a very similar workflow. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by the fact that there is a separate section for each production step. When I think of the way I work in my one-room studio, it makes me feel rather small. On the other hand, I have never considered the lack of space as an obstacle in my creativity.

I was nearly breathless while sneaking between huge shelves filled with plaster moulds and huge amounts of porcelain-ware waiting to be fired or painted. Another thing that amazes me is that all the filigree decoration patterns on their porcelain are hand-painted by skilled artists. When you look at the final products, it is hard to believe that they were not finished by a machine.

Unfortunately I was not allowed to take photos during the tour so I cannot share any with you. If you want to learn more about this nearly 300 hundred years old institution, you can check their nicely made homepage. Also I can recommend this short video.

If you ever come to Vienna, or if you live there already, visit one of the oldest European porcelain manufactories.