At the Europees Keramisch Werkcentrum (EKWC), known since 2011 as Sundaymorning@ekwc, renowned artists and promising new talents have the opportunity to experiment with clay to their heart’s desire. In honour of the institute’s fiftieth anniversary this year, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is showing installations by seven Dutch artists whose time at the centre had a major impact on their work.
‘Clay is a material you have to listen to.’
Dick Verdult, Gijs Assmann, Jennifer Tee, Helen Frik, Koen Taselaar, Maartje Korstanje and Thijs Jaeger all embarked on an adventure with ceramics, based on their own autonomous artistic practice. The Gemeentemuseum will show a ‘world’ by each of these artists, an installation that is testament to the versatility with which they have used ceramics. In some cases other work, including drawings, will be shown with the ceramic works. The main focus of the exhibition will be the pleasure of making and experimenting. The choice of artists not only ensures visual variety, but also brings together several generations.
The installation Bullshit Defines Architecture by Dick Verdult (b. 1954) was created during his time at the EKWC. ‘I got together a pile of crap like cardboard, wood, blankets and tape and covered it with clay. As soon as it was dry I removed the underlying elements (the ‘bullshit’). This is literally how Bullshit Defines Architecture was created. But it also of course says something about our society. The slightly warlike character of the piece reminds me of photographs of Grozny, where everything was shot to pieces.’ The installation includes a radio-controlled tank and a trail of sound featuring a dictatorial rant about ‘New Realistic Ceramics’. Verdult says of his residency, ‘Thanks to the expertise of the people at EKWC I didn’t have to face major disappointments like “Oh no, now it’s cracked!”. The whole ritual of the painful wait to see how the piece comes out of the kiln was always an enjoyable experience. Not only for me, but for the majority of the participants. I had a great time playing and discovering for two months.’
Helen Frik (b. 1960) previously showed her Frik Collection of Drawings at the Gemeentemuseum. She had occasionally dabbled with small ceramics, but at the EWKC she was able to construct larger works in one place. ‘Thanks to that experience I have started to use ceramics more often in my work. I always focus on practical objects, which is also reflected in my spatial work.’ She established the Frik Collection Ceramic Museum in 2010, with all the small ceramic works she had produced up to then, including pots, teapots, statuettes and small tables. ‘I gradually became more and more fascinated by the phenomenon of mud and ceramic. I really like the quote from art historian Garth Clark, who said, “Most people don’t realize how incredibly complex a pot is”. That’s so true, it’s a kind of magic.’
The ceramic sculptures that Gijs Assmann (b. 1966) will be showing have the structure of still lifes consisting of stacks of recognisable objects. ‘Like in 17th-century vanitas paintings, the objects can be seen as symbols. The presentation is an ode to a sensual life, physical thought and vital engagement with the big questions in life. A longing for constancy in doubt.’ He says of his time at the EKWC, ‘Ceramics is the basis of my work. The tension between the directness of the clay and the technical skill that working with clay requires allowed me to merge the thinking and making processes. I spent three months working in complete concentration and quiet, testing ideas and possibilities in my work.’
Jennifer Tee (b. 1973) will be showing works that include Silver Tree, Mother of Pearl, an installation featuring ceramic plates arranged in a conical shape. The work came from a visit to the city of Kharkorum in Mongolia, known as a centre of trade during the regime of Gengis Khan, a place of cultural and religious exchange in the 13th century. Khan commissioned a goldsmith from Paris to make a large silver tree. Tee’s Silver Tree translates this story, featuring small flutes placed in round cavities. As such, Silver Tree is also an instrument. The drawings on Silver Tree were made by a number of other artists and screenprinted and finished with a mother-of-pearl glaze. The EKWC was an important factor in the creation of the work, Tee explains. ‘I was able to make this work thanks to the EKWC, because it was there that I had the opportunity of making the long planks using an extruder.’
Maartje Korstanje (b. 1982) thought it would be interesting to translate her normal practice – largely involving working with card – into clay, so that the different techniques and materials could interact. ‘I used to make smaller things of clay, but I had never worked with this material on a large scale. I was interested to see how gravity impacts on hanging matter and how the material would deform as lots of weight was added. I started with the way butchers used to hang meat in the window. The willingness of clay was a welcome change after working with card. When you shape something with your hands the imprint remains visible, but card often shifts back the other way. After working with ceramics I started treating card more like a material you can model, by kneading it more for example. The sculptures I will be showing at the exhibition in The Hague are the “hard core” of around 20 I made during my period working at the EKWC. They hang or lie on wooden structures.’
Koen Taselaar (b. 1986) says, ‘My only previous experience with clay was at primary school, where I had to make an ashtray for Father’s Day. The teacher didn’t seem to care that my father didn’t smoke, which really surprised me. Now, 25 years later, there are fewer and fewer places where smoking is allowed and ashtrays are becoming redundant. So I thought the ashtray would be a nice thing to start with. I made ashtrays in the form of pizzas, a smoked sausage, a nose, scars, shoes, little landscapes and smileys. Each one with different types of clay and porcelain. I soon found out that ceramics is an entirely different craft that requires a lot of knowledge. Clay is a material you have to listen to. The crooked, somewhat cartoonesque lines you get when you shape clay by hand have the same type of signature as my drawings. This formal quality of fired clay combined with the drawings I make creates a kind of drawing in space.’
For Thijs Jaeger (b. 1990) his residence was all about the relationship between mythology and the visual culture of video games. He explored how ancients myths are still relevant today, both within and outside gaming culture. ‘During my stay at the EWKC I started collaborating with my good friend, artist Rik Laging. Thanks to the incredible potential offered by the material we were able to use a large range of techniques, using all of the workshops. Milling 2D and 3D moulds, 3D printing with plastic and ceramic, chemical mixing of glazes and procedures for producing large-scale ceramic works all helped me in a technical sense. We eventually produced a monumental ceramic fountain.’ In 2018 Thijs Jaeger showed work at the group exhibition Now or Never at GEM.