Monday 25 March 2013


A cover and a feature article in CRAFT magazine in March 2013, an exhibition at SO gallery in Brick Lane, a participation to Design Days DUBAI with the Crafts Council, a solo exhibition to come…. David Clarke is a busy silversmith! But he kindly managed to spare a couple of hours to answer my questions.

David has usually been dubbed “the enfant terrible” of silversmithing, or a “provocateur” and even a “terrorist”… When asked if he enjoys being called such names, he denies strongly. “I cannot control what people say about me. I am tired of being described as an angry person who cuts up stuff. I don’t want to destroy the discipline rather to tackle it with a different attitude”.

Having followed David’s work for some years now, I think that there is actually much more than mere provocation in it. I was very keen to understand what really drives him…


First, a flashback is useful to understand David’s current work. After graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1997, the young silversmith was incredibly successful. His degree show’s collection consisted in a series of stripped down fruit bowls that attracted the entire establishment. One piece went straight to the V&A and the Goldsmith’s Company commissioned another one. According to David, his success was mainly due to the fact that he was using a visual language that was radically different from what was going on at that time and that his works fitted perfectly the range of interior design products people loved in the 90’s: “it was satisfying all my financial requirement and desires” he remembers “but it didn’t satisfy my creativity. All I was doing was producing the same kind of work again and again. I became a machine”.

Pear Epergne, 1997

The revelation came during a workshop at Bishopsland: he was part of a group of silversmiths left in a field with sheets of silver but no tools except a hand guillotine and a torch. His first impulse was to try and recreate a studio but instead he let the magic operate and came back with a better understanding of what was important for him. This experience was very profound and he realised how his tools and his workspace were crucial, both physically and emotionally. Having been close to nature during this workshop, he decided to engage with the rawness of silver and started to use his scraps of the precious metal. He made a collection where the hammer marks, the firestain and the seams were visible. He drew on the metal, using felt tips and pens. “It was almost like showing work in progress”, he recalls and “ it was a real challenge for myself, for the galleries and for the audience”.

One Dayers, 2005

Keeping his momentum, he went a step further with the “Salt work” where the silver pieces were dipped in a salted solution that attacked the metal.

Insalted V, 2009

The idea was not to destroy the metal per se but to test the limits of silver and to challenge the tradition of silversmithing and its dos and don’ts. In his article about David in this month’s issue of CRAFT magazine, Glenn Adamson implies that it is less challenging being an avant-gardist in the narrow world of contemporary Metalsmithing than in the wild universe of contemporary Art, where so many boundaries have already been tested. However I am still convinced that pushing the limits of a discipline like David Clarke does requires a lot of audacity. When I asked him if his past successes gave him the legitimacy to challenge conventions like he did with the salt pieces, he reckoned that being established in the discipline helped him a lot, and that if he had done that as a student, the hill would have been much higher to climb.

Drawing on the metal, using salt on silver…what could have been the next “sacrilege”? I have deliberately chosen the word sacrilege as David describes the relationship people have with silver as almost sacred: we use white gloves to manipulate silver objects, we worship them in display cases, we barely touch them to avoid staining them, we polish them at nauseam. Lead was the answer: it is often described as the “cancer” of silver. When heated and melted, it literally eats silver. David’s first works with lead were a series of silver objects cut in different parts then “fixed” with lead parts.

Yea ha, 2007

Brouhaha, 2007

Then came the work “Dead on arrival” where a silver tea service eaten by lead rests in a leather carrying case…

Dead on arrival, 2012

Dead on arrival, 2012

Those works have triggered some extreme reactions in the audience. Amongst them is this letter sent anonymously to David. I can’t resist publishing an extract: ”Is this intended to be some sort of joke? All you seem to be able to do is take the work of other, much more highly skilled makers than yourself and then mutilate it with obscure, unnecessary additions. What a waste of silver! As if that wasn’t bad enough, upon closer inspection and with further research it’s become apparent that you actually contaminate your silver using lead? Do you even understand how wasteful this is? Silver is a precious, pure and beautiful material as it is. It is ‘makers’ like yourself who pollute the good name of many contemporary silversmiths coming up with interesting, functional designs as well as beautiful sculptural pieces”.  
What an unintentional tribute to David’s work! This letter can be seen in its integrality in the silversmith’s website and on David’s Facebook page it has reached 230 likes and 125 comments altogether. I even asked David if he didn’t write this letter himself as it was almost too good to be true! But it was for real, and he even added another story: a couple in their 60’s visiting the Swedish Gallery where he was exhibiting in August 2012 smashed one of his pieces on the ground and destroyed it claiming that it was “the ugliest work they had ever seen”…Two unpleasant happenings together as they had to pay for the broken piece…
David takes responsibility for the consequences of his attacks against the precious metal and even though he finds those two extreme behaviors very violent against his creativity, he enjoys the fact that his work triggers passionate reactions. He has since tried to contact both the writer and the couple, though without any success yet.

But David also enjoys the other end of the reactions spectrum: he has regular buyers, fans of his work and he loves asking them to send him pictures of the objects in their surroundings. He brings out this lovely story of a lady telling him that his “teapot had changed my husband’s breakfast and is the beginning of our days”… This story outlines some other very important aspects of David’s work: emotion and humour. Pushing the boundaries of the silversmith world can also be obtained through less radical gesture than destroying the metal. Titillating the seriousness, the rigor and the relative classicism of the silver world is paramount to David’s approach. “We try to make everything very profound nowadays but there is a space for playing and laughing”, he told me. “I like my work to have different levels of reading and I want it to be accessible and communicative”.

Some of his works are very cartoon-like and David likes when people laugh in front of them: “when you laugh, it changes your physical and mental state. It is very healthy”.  I can’t stop myself smiling when I look at the works photographed below:

Deeperer, 2009

In flux exhibition, 2012

Chuffing marvelous and friends, 2009

Miss de caf, 2009

The emotion in those spoons and pots comes from the bizarre associations, the oversized details, the comic deprivation of basic functions: they could almost be some characters in Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.

This collection of amazing works leads me to the next theme that is essential to David’s work: function and non-function and the grounding of the artist in its discipline, the silversmithing. Often compared to fine artists like Cornelia Parker (who smashes silver objects and suspends them in the air), I asked David if he was not frustrated not to be featured at the Tate Modern as Cornelia does.

Cornelia Parker, Alter Ego 2012, photo from Frith Street Gallery Website

I have no need or ambition to be there”, he replies. “I once had an identity crisis and I called myself an artist but now I insist on being named a silversmith”. “I might be at an extreme edge of my discipline, but it is my grounding in silversmithing that makes my work relevant”.  
I believe that challenging domestic objects, giving them a second chance or another identity, playing with the notions of function and dysfunction are at the core of the contemporary Applied Arts scene and David is currently one of the most creative and interesting artists to engage with those challenging topics.

His collaborative projects with other artists are an important part of his artistic approach as well: he is a member of 60/40, a trio made up of Tracey Rowledge, Clare Twomey and himself with the aim of injecting new vitality and content into craft. He is also part of “Intelligent Trouble”, a group of makers (Helen Carnac, Lin Cheung, David Gates, Katy Hackney, Shane Waltener and David Littler) whose manifesto is to ”explore the possibilities of working together and what new things could be done. Without jettisoning our own identities, opening our selves to the actions and provocations of others. Trying to find out a little about how each of us works and thinks, locating the overlaps in approaches’.

Another aspect of David’s personality, which is only briefly mentioned in the published literature about him, is his contribution to the training of the new generation of silversmiths. He teaches in many different countries and considers that it is part of his role to educate people. He usually gives creative lectures and tutorials (and refuses technical ones) where he challenges and encourages students to think outside the box and step out of their comfort zone. When I asked him what kind of teacher he was, he laughed and replied: “I am not saying, “today we are going to smash silver”. I don’t want to create miniatures of me. I see myself more like a coach who helps student to question the work they produce, the context in which they operate and the diversity of their thinking”.
Having recently taught in Sweden and in China, I asked him if he saw some cultural differences between students there and in the UK. “The students don’t really change, It is the structure of the department where they are taught that sets the framework of what is acceptable or not”. “The Chinese students work at an extraordinary level and their ambition is massive but at the end of the day they will all have produced the same ring following the instructions written on the blackboard”. My next question came logically: if those students have to follow precise instructions and conform to a single design, what can they take out of David’s teaching? “They were very happy and it is phenomenal to see the journey they went through. But you are right, I am concerned about what they will do with it”. He is soon going back to China and it is a matter he wants to discuss with the head of department before continuing teaching there.

David’s portrait would be incomplete without mentioning his two latest bodies of works both featured at SO Gallery in London: Fix, Fix, Fix currently until 24/03, and a Solo Exhibition in April.

Sweetheart is the piece exhibited at Fix, Fix, Fix and is a collaborative work with the sugar jewellery artist Natalie Smith.

Sweetheart, 2012

I find this work very interesting for two reasons: first, it shows that the artist never indulges in facility and manages to remain unpredictable. An exhibition about artists fixing objects was the perfect space for David to show one of his teapots, dismembered and recreated with other parts of silver or lead. But he chose to display a work that plays metaphorically with the idea of fixing. This “bonbonniere” had been left unwanted when he bid it on Ebay, (like a broken heart) and he asked Natalie Smith to fix it, to sweeten it with sugar. It took her 6 months to grow sugar around it and the result is beautiful and poignant.

Secondly, it shows a rupture in the inexorable journey of silver destruction that David has followed recently: sugar protects the silver and makes it even more desirable. I asked David if one could see it as a way of “re-loving” the silver? “I don’t know where I am going with this piece. It is a one off, very different. And it was for me an opportunity to work with Natalie, who is an expert in sugar.”.

So, is it time yet to see David back to working silver in a friendlier manner? Having had the privilege of a private view of work-in-progress “Spare Parts”, his forthcoming exhibition, one can only doubt….

Spare Parts, 2013

As a matter of fact with “Spare Parts”, it is the first time that silver is totally absent from David’s work… to be replaced by pewter: no dismembered or discarded objects, just sheets of metal. Pewter is very soft and gives him freedom and spontaneity. The work will bear the imprint of the hammering, the soldering, the filing. The pieces will be interchangeable, playful and will require a lot of commitment from the public. Interaction will be the main concept of the exhibition. David wants to provoke the audience: “people are not really seeing exhibitions at the moment. They are all about twitting, blogging, facebooking it instead of enjoying the present moment. With this work, they will have to assemble parts, to build objects … some bits have no home to go, others are interchangeable…I won’t have any control of what might happen. It is very experimental.” The exhibition opens on the 4th of April at SO Gallery (website).  It is worth popping in there and playing with the spare parts.

I hope that after reading this article, people will no longer see David as an “enfant terrible, a provocateur or a terrorist” but rather as a very unpredictable, prolific, talented and generous artist who brings a lot to the discipline without choosing the easy way or losing his integrity.

Silver or not silver?  As they say “there is only a thin line between love and hate”….

David Clarke’s website

Tuesday 12 February 2013



I am the proud and happy owner of a good camera, which I have been using to take pictures of my work until recently. Somehow a little voice told me that it was about time I invested in photos taken by a professional to better promote what I am creating. Some very good friends were in touch with Sussie Ahlburg, a professional photographer who specializes in Applied Arts and I thought: why not take the opportunity?

I met her at her London studio/home with a collection of my current work (silicone brooches) to discus briefly about what I was expecting. I was very pleased with the result and I found Sussie’s approach and personality so interesting that I decided to write about her own work.

Sussie is Swedish and when she was 7 years old a doctor discovered she was severely short sighted and prescribed her some glasses. This was a revelation for her: she had spent the first 7 years of her life thinking the world was blurry and suddenly she discovered what it meant to see the world clearly. She asked her parents to buy her a camera and her passion for images started at that moment in her life. This first camera was quite frustrating, as she couldn’t obtain the effects she wanted but she started to look at things differently and take notice of surfaces, patterns and new shapes.

When she turned 18, she decided to leave Sweden to travel and ended up taking a degree in photography in Central St Martins in London. She met her husband there (a photographer as well), got 2 children and eventually stayed in London.

She started photographing applied arts 20 years ago when she was approached to contribute to a book about London makers for a Japanese publisher. The whole team went to some countryside settings for a week and there she realised how much she enjoyed photographing objects and their makers.

Word of mouth helping, her commissions and talent developed nicely in that area… so much so that she now focuses mainly on, and sees herself as, a photographer of Applied Arts objects, although a few times a month she continues to take musicians’ portraits for CD covers and magazines.

I have chosen some photos from her website to illustrate how she works and what drives her.

Ceramics by Christie Brown

The above photo about Ceramics by Christie Brown is all about composition and light. What attracts Sussie is to understand an artist’s work through the material, the techniques and the concept and to do a portrait of the maker through a portrait of her or his work. She works with backgrounds, settings and lights to try and capture a mood that suits the personality of the artist.

Yoyo Ceramics

When asked how precise the initial brief has to be, Sussie replies that it really depends on the maker. Some people give specific instructions and some leave Sussie totally free. In the picture of Yoyo Ceramics above, Sussie took the liberty to include a real pear to add some curbs and sensuality to the cup.

Metal work by Simone Ten Hompel

With the maker Simone Ten Hompel there is total freedom and trust between the two artists. Simone just drops her work to Sussie Studio and the magic operates. In this picture, the background adds a fascinating touch of colour and intrigue but is blurred enough not to distract from the work.
I personally like the idea that a photographer, when given freedom, can breathe new life to an object by highlighting some aspects that his maker, all absorbed in its creation for several days or weeks in a row, may have overlooked.

Vase by Anu Penttinen

What Sussie always discuss with the artist though, is the purpose of the photo shoot and the intended use of the pictures. Is it for a magazine, for a competition, for a website? That information can be paramount to choosing the background and lighting of the photo. In the picture above, the focus is on the object itself. White background, minimum shadows: the work stands out naturally.

Luna Lights

In this photo of Luna Lights, Sussie has added a natural background and blurred flowers to put the object in a possible context like a subtle “suggested presentation”…

Ceramic by Sue Binn

Even with a neutral background, what I enjoy with Sussie’s photos is that she always tries to add something lively, her personal touch. In this photo, the background is white but Sussie has created an interesting composition.

Jewellery by Katy Hackney

In this shot, the necklace is put into movement. The piece of jewellery is not worn but nonetheless it seems alive…

Ceramic by John Masterton

Ceramic by Sarah Scampton

Silver work by Abigail Brown

The particularity of photographing Applied Art objects is that the photographer has to capture the beauty of the objects in 3D with its texture, shape, material, etc and to translate it into a 2D image. I have experienced myself how easy it is to lose all this richness with a poor picture. This is exactly where the professional photographer makes the difference: Sussie works with a Nikon D800 and various expensive lenses she cherishes. She tries to use natural light as often as possible but knows how to play with flashes and reflectors to enhance the beauty of the objects. She makes digital photos but avoids at any price to Photoshop them. The images above are striking examples of her technique: the reflection of the red bowl on the shiny surface magnifies the beautiful glossy surface of the ceramic, whereas the delicate and intriguing texture of the ceramic vase is rendered with a subtle game of lights. Abigail Brown’s beautiful silverwork was a tough one to handle according to Sussie: too much light and the striking edges would disappear, flattening the work. Too little or wrong directed, and the 3D complexity of the vessel would never be rendered.

When I candidly asked Sussie whether she didn’t find photographing objects a little boring, she was surprised I could even ask: she genuinely loves it, privately teaches how to photograph Applied Art objects and has written a book about it that I recommend: “Photograph your Own Art and Craft” (A & C Black Publishers Ltd - 15 Nov 2011).

Sussie’s book cover

Shan Valla bottle milk

I would like to conclude this portrait with this picture of a bottle of milk by Shan Valla. For me it encapsulates Sussie’s spirit: an impression of authentic simplicity, a genuine love for objects and a striking technique. Since Sussie photographed my work, I have found myself much more confident to show it around and I am grateful to her for that…

Sussie Alhburg’s  website

Tuesday 25 September 2012


Until the 20th of October 2012, Contemporary Applied Arts Gallery in London is hosting an exhibition called “Domestic matters” (website). Simultaneously they have a Focus exhibition featuring three artists. Among them is Adi Toch, a silversmith dubbed “One of the most exciting young makers“ by Corinne Julius in the Evening Standard. I met Adi when I was studying for my MA and, I have been keeping up with her work since then.

Adi Toch completed her MA at the Cass, London, in 2009 following her BA with First Class Honours from Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem. Since then her work has been exhibited internationally and is included in the permanent collections of The Goldsmiths’ Company, Crafts Council and Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge.

Adi exhibiting at Goldsmith’s in 2010

I am a big fan of Adi’s work and every time she shows new pieces I tell myself: “wow, she did it again”…  But what exactly is she doing? To try and understand this attraction, I interviewed her in her workshop and also asked a few people to tell me what they felt about Adi’s work during the private view of the CAA’s exhibition. “I want to touch it”, “it is beautiful”, “I want to hold it in my hands”, “it is very original” were amongst the comments I heard that evening.

There are some pictures of her work, beginning with her “tactile series”, as it is where everything started.

Red sand bowl, 2010. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg  

Those bowls are made of silver or other metals and they are especially designed to contain substances, which cannot be retrieved. In her website Adi writes: ”The series of tactile vessels invites the observer to touch, play and discover unexpected sounds and motion. Turning the vessels around triggers both compelling sound and mesmerizing fluidity of the particles held inside like tiny pearls, sand or ball bearings. The contained particles cannot fall out due to the special structure”.

This series started with a “happy mistake” as Adi calls it. She was participating in a one-week workshop in the Czech Republic “Bohemian Paradise” area, where precious stones are found and she described to me how there were lots of little garnet stones on the benches carelessly stored in plastic cups. Adi was amazed to see how they were treated like coarse gravel and stored in disposable containers. She loved the fluidity caused by this type of grouping in large quantities. She wanted to find a way of setting the stones but at the same time giving them some freedom of movement. And came this amazing shape, which is now recurrent in some Adi’s work.

A pinch of salt, 2008. Courtesy of the artist     

This gold plated “Pinch of salt” piece uses the same idea but this time the hole allows two fingers to grab a pinch of salt.

Adi’s pieces usually start with a shape and not with a function in mind. She makes a quick drawing and moves strait to the metal, starting from very basic forms. She lets the shape develop so the object grows when making it, the metal sometimes “tells” her where to go as she describes. She doesn’t like the word inspiration but she reckons that she collects a lot of objects or bits of things in her cupboards. They are somehow stored in her mind as well and they reappear randomly when she works on a piece. Two things are always present in her work: containers and tactility…

Sound vessel, 2009. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg  

This picture summarizes perfectly what one is tempted to do when seeing her work: hold it in your hands and cuddle it. “My intention is to provoke interactions,” says Adi. And it really works: the round shapes are inviting, the size fits perfectly in your palms and the matt surface makes it irresistible. Adi is fascinated by the idea of capturing the inside and outside by creating vessels and containers. Watching her 18 months old daughter playing, endlessly filling and emptying all kinds of vessels at home is very inspiring too as it reminds her how our early world was defined by this simple task of testing how to contain things. For Adi, a room is a container and the palm of your hands or the body are imaginary containers.

Body Autobiography. Ear. Courtesy of the artist   

This piece is an early work done during her BA in Israel, but it revolves already around the concept of containers. Here a plaster mould has been made trapping the gap created between the head and the shoulder and then Adi has raised the form in metal by hand. This project was very personal and intimate but it started her reflection about inside/outside and her love for working with metal as well.

When asked if she could work with another material, Adi says she is really open but she seems to have developed a very intimate relation with metal. She likes the idea that metal has character:  It is like an old friend” she says, “you expect what will happen next but at the same time you might be surprised”. She also loves the fact that metal becomes warm when you hold it in your hands and reverts to cold when you leave it aside. “It is like fresh linen in your bed. The first impression is coolness and progressively it takes the temperature of your body”.

Oil drizzler, 2012. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

When asked about techniques and how important they are, Adi considers that they are only here to serve the shape she wants to make. The piece above shows how skilled she is, but that is not her technical skills she wants to advertise. I have seen her at work, and I found the finish of her pieces particularly interesting: she can spend hours removing the fire stain (NB: when heated and soldered, a layer of oxides forms on the surface of silver) and obtaining the right surface finish on a piece of silver. She even jokes about it comparing it to a mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder… The result is however always striking and worth the effort as the bowl below can testify.

One drop plus one drop makes a bigger drop, 2009. Photo: Simon Armitt  

To my great surprise, Adi has also developed a body of works where randomness plays a serious part. After putting the hours obtaining the right finish, Adi sometimes patinates some of her pieces with a result that can’t be predicted. For one of her piece, the process of patination took her only 30 seconds.... “You need guts to do it,” she says “but in some ways it counterbalances my obsession with the finished surface”. The result is somehow psychedelic with a palette of amazing colours.

Reflection bowl, 2009. Photo: Simon Armitt  

Passage, 2012. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

Oil drizzler”, “berry bowl”, “oil and vinegar” or “bowl with hollow handle” are amongst the names Adi has given to her works. I couldn’t help thinking function was important to her even if she claims the contrary. When asked about this apparent contradiction, she stuck to her motto: “function never drives my work. But you are somehow right as I want my pieces to have a purpose” she replied. “Purpose can be simple things as to hold, to see, to move. When I make my oil drizzler, I imagine oil pouring. But the shape always come first and then I want a dialogue with the person through the pieces. So, yes they do have a purpose

Oil drizzlers, 2012. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

Oil and vinegar, 2012. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

Berry bowl, 2010. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

Bowl with hollow handle, 2012. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

I would like to finish this portrait with some of her newest works, which surprisingly incorporate balloons. One can wonder why balloons? Again it has to do with Adi’s fascination with containers. Balloons contain air and define a space. And contrary to the metal, they are very flexible and also perishable. Shapes are changing according to the amount of air you put inside and with time they inevitable shrink, leaving space between the piece and the balloon, as she explains. Those are fascinating ways of defining space.

Balloon vessels, 2011. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

Room to grow, 2012. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

Her last project is called “room to grow”. Adi describes them as a way of “questioning where the container endsWhen you look at a hemisphere, you can imagine the rest of the shape. The balloon completes the shape here“.

There again you might want to hold those pieces in your hands and cuddle them as if they were little creatures. I think I now understand better why I am so fond of her work: her pieces are seductive and they wait for you to take them in your palms. In my post about “Blobjects and Bachelard” (post), I mentioned some quotes from Gaston Bachelard’s book “The poetics of space”: “everything round invites a caress” or “the round being propagates its roundness, together with the calm of all roundness”. Adi has managed to transfer this feeling of roundness to her work and her objects play amazingly with our emotions. 

If you want to see and “cuddle” her work, she will be exhibiting at Goldsmiths' Fair from Tuesday, October 2 to Sunday, October 7.

Adi Toch’s website

Saturday 26 May 2012


It is the second time I write about COLLECT in my blog. This year I have decided to follow my instincts and pick objects that were attracting my attention without trying to understand why.

Back home, I did some research about the artists I had selected. After having carefully read about the objects I wanted to write about, I was amazed to discover that they are all linked by a theme that I am currently researching with my own work: giving objects a second chance. The 9 artists featured in this article use different strategies but what they have in common is to use or reflect about “found” or “second-hand” objects and give them a new existence.

In his introduction to “Thing Theory”, Bill Brown proposes an interesting quote about them: “we begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us”. Julian Stallabrass in his essay “Trash” leads us into similar territory: “Commodities are of course signs in a system of value, both monetary and social, which is lost when they are abandoned. When objects are seen together as trash, relationships of a more poetic and intrinsic interest emerge. The qualities of the thing itself begin to appear in sharp relief like pictures in a developing tray. […] their arbitrariness and alien nature are suddenly revealed.”

Some artists collect objects, pick up trash in urban landscapes or the natural environment, pace up and down flea markets. Their works use, distort, incorporate or are inspired by those “found objects” and a new story appears where the object itself disappears to give way to a new subject-object relation.
Some of them use different strategies and create objects in the first place but then allow the works to live a second life by altering them.

The first artist I have chosen is Heidi Bjorgan in Galleri Kunst1.
Heidi is a ceramist and she collects. “Overlooked objects, a lamp, an old bread tin with an interesting shape or knick-knacks of low value which have been discarded as trash or have ended up in a car boot sale, that is what I collect. I give these forms a second chance in a new guise, in a new context and sometimes I even add a new function. As a maker my aim is through sampling and remaking to explore the aesthetic potential of the shapes of these objects”, she says about her work. Her works featured at COLLECT are porcelain vases cast from a plastic lampshade she found in a skip. Other found objects have been added: a bird and little ceramic bears are bound with the vase and both have been covered by glaze (pink or blue) to transform the two parts into a whole. In Heidi Bjorgan;s work, worthless discarded objects are transformed into beautiful and valuable craft.

Heidi Bjorgan. Galleri Kunst1. Photos Isabelle Busnel

For Graziano Gianocca, represented by Gallery SO, the creation is confrontation, an exchange between its internal world and the outside world. He is interested in the day-to-day objects, which he transforms to confer them a new identity. In his project “With Other’s Eyes” he uses anonymous photographs he has found on the web or in flea markets and carefully integrates them on the back of empty white or pink shiny square brooches. Only a second glance can reveal them. They function like 19th century lockets, which were pendants that opened to reveal a space used for storing a photograph or other small items such as hair. But the photos he uses are anonymous and with Graziano Gianocca’s work, one can wonder if those “found images” have the same emotional meaning than portraits of people we love?

Graziano Gianocca. Gallery SO. Photos Isabelle Busnel

Caroline Andrin’s work immediately caught my attention on the WCC.BF stand. At first, I didn’t actually understand what I was looking at. By getting closer and discussing with the artist, I started to understand that the “animal” trophies hanged on green backgrounds were made of clay cast in gloves. Caroline’s work questions our relationship with the objects we wear or use. She collects found objects such as gloves or woolly hats and uses them as moulds to create new shapes like those animal trophies. She believes that a shape can contain another shape and her wish is that her works keep the tracks of the objects used to create it. Each mould is used only once and destroyed when the work is turned out. From a certain distance they really look like animals. Get closer, and the viewer discovers that ears, noses, or chins are moulded from parts of leather gloves sewn together. Another very interesting manifesto about giving a second chance to objects…

Caroline Andrin. WCC.BF. Photos Isabelle Busnel

At Lesley Craze Gallery, Maud Traon’s rings were eye-catching. Combining materials such as Fimo clay, electroformed copper, synthetic stones and found plastic toys, her rings are exuberant and intriguing, oscillating between chaos and magic. In the exhibition booklet “Also Known as Jewellery”, Michael Rowe perfectly describes Maud’s approach: “In her work, she confronts us with issues of preciousness, value, durability, wearability, sensuality - explored with particular reference to consumerism, social aspiration and taste, attitudes to cultural differences, childhood and adult life. […] In some pieces we become aware of toy cars, animals and other plastic models embedded in the clay and we sense a poetic intent, those objects seem like fossilised toys, symbolic of time passing perhaps, remains of a childhood locked in a mysterious conglomerate ooze”.
In Maud’s work, found objects are meant to be reassuring: for the viewer, by incorporating iconic and childlike objects in apocalyptic landscapes, and for the artist by creating a starting point to avoid facing the blank page syndrome.

Maud Traon. Lesley Craze Gallery. Photo Isabelle Busnel

Maud Traon. Lesley Craze Gallery. Photo Isabelle Busnel

Maud Traon. Photo from the artist’s website

Maud Traon. Photo from the artist’s website

I already mentioned Caroline Slotte last year in “My Picks From COLLECT 2011”. I find her work thought provoking and effective despite its apparent simplicity. This year she exhibited two plates in Gallerie Sofie Lachaert. In her website she describes her practice in a very interesting way: “The most humble object can function as a key to the past, as a key to our inner. The poetry of everyday objects, with all the memories and associations that these objects contain: that is the starting point for my artistic practice. In my work I examine the memory-bearing aspect of second-hand objects. […] What role do the objects in our surroundings play in the creation of continuity in our existence, and in the construction of a continuous life story? The manipulation of existing material is central in my work. I rework found objects, mainly second hand ceramic items, so that they take on new meanings. I’m interested in how the interventions direct or obstruct the associations of the viewer. The manipulated objects are characterised by a tension between the recognisable and the mysterious, the familiar and the unfamiliar. I rework the ceramics by cutting directly into it, by sculpting and sanding, and by combining elements from different objects. In this way, the work process becomes a way of questioning the material and highlighting stories contained in the objects”.
The two plates hung on the wall could easily go unnoticed. The surface has been sanded leaving no colours and no drawings but a small Asian-style house in a corner. The viewer has different strategies possible: imagining what the plate looked like before being reworked by Caroline or wondering if they would have notice this little house when the plate was fully coloured and painted. As stated previously, a poetic interest emerges from what was previously a simple commodity.

Caroline Slotte. Gallerie Sofie Lachaert. Photos Isabelle Busnel

I have spotted Stuart Cairns’ work at the National Gallery Ireland’s stand. He is a silversmith and in his vessels series he mixes pristine silver shapes with twigs, nails and buttons. On his website he describes his practice as: “concerned with the exploration of materials through the objects of the everyday, specifically those around the familiar experience of dining at the table. These forms are re-imagined to investigate their narrative possibilities using a variety of materials, processes and found objects. Setting the play between materiality and form in the everyday experience I seek to touch upon the viewer’s sense of the familiar and divert it into an alternative narrative and association”.  In Stuart’s work, found objects are accessories that, added to functional objects, distort their functions and force the viewer to reconsider the obvious.

Stuart Cairns. National Gallery Ireland. Photos Isabelle Busnel

Diana Hakim’s jewellery exhibited at Gallerie Louise Smit gives another interesting manifesto about found objects. On her website she states: “Familiar everyday commodities are often in use in my work. I transform them and give them a new meaning which offers the opportunity for a critical reflection. I choose these objects because they are loaded with meaning and have a cultural or associative presence. […] My jewellery collection comments on our society condition as a Fear Society. We are constantly afraid from the "other", from crime, terrorism, epidemics and more. The materials used are connected and related to and with safety, such as: nets, filters, ventilation covers, light reflectors, working gloves etc”. What I find interesting in Diana’s work is that using “fear related objects” to denounce our “Fear Society” could seem too obvious and simplistic but thanks to the awkward and fascinating aesthetic of her jewellery, it works. Her found objects become monsters that play in an unconscious level with our most intimate fears.

Diana Hakim. Gallerie Louise Smit. Photo Isabelle Busnel

Diana Hakim. From the artist’s website.

 Diana Hakim. From the artist’s website.

Diana Hakim. From the artist’s website.

Anne Fischer, Juliane Scholss, Ja-Kyung are three artists exhibited at Galerie Rosemary Jaeger. They don’t work with found objects but give a second chance to pieces that they have created themselves. They describe their projects as: “Each of us made a classical candleholder comprised of 3 parts. Next, the 3 parts were separated and each one of us obtained a base, one handle and one socket each from separate makers. Then we built the candleholders from these parts. Each of us works very much in her own style. The decision of parting with one’s own work was not an easy one. It involves confidence and the ability to let go, but in the process there was also much spontaneity, joy and playful pleasure”. The result is quite original and it takes its inspiration from those games where somebody writes a word on a paper, folds it and passes it to another person, generally resulting in an amusing piece of gibberish. The 3 objects below seem chaotic but when associated with their story, they reveal their humanity. One cannot always choose who we are but we have to do with what we have. And it works… Those objects have a real second chance to exist.

Anne Fischer, Juliane Scholss, Ja-Kyung. Galerie Rosemary Jaeger.
Photos Isabelle Busnel

The last artist I would like to mention is Hugo Meert featured in the WCC.BF stand. On the gallery website one can read: “Hugo Meert observes everyday objects, diverts and distorts them. He keeps up a taste for objects bearing cultural or visual messages. His work pieces question on their own nature, this way a vase self-wrecks, a set of everyday objects becomes functional only once smashed. Over the past twenty years, this master of "shape and irony" has created an intriguing ceramics collection, characterised by a subtle "terrar" touch”. I particularly like this “tea set” which is a non-functional object until it has been smashed in pieces. Was the artist inspired by Marx’s quote: “a product becomes a real product only by being consumed. […] Only by decomposing the product does consumption give the product the finishing touch”? The second chance in this case is what makes the object useable. But once broken, what is its value? The scars it carries on the surface where the parts have been separated are the only proof it has once been a non-functional object and an artistic manifesto. So how to display such an object: broken or unbroken?  At COLLECT Hugo Meert has chosen to show both.

Hugo Meert. WCC.BF. Photos Isabelle Busnel

This is where my journey at COLLECT 2012, through works that give a second chance to objects, ends. Julian Stallabrass wrote: “when the commodity form is stripped away, something may be revealed of the social relations which are immanent in the objects and which bind people of their fate”. What a fascinating subject for applied arts… It lies at the core of craft practices and I will come back to it in my “Thinking Through Things” reflection process.