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Is Clay Here to Stay? (Norwegian Arts)

This article was written 5 years ago.

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As Norwegian designer Marit Tingleff’s work is included in a major exhibition about contemporary ceramics, Katie Treggiden investigates the resurgence of this ancient material among Norway’s artists, designers and craftspeople.

From 14 May, Salisbury’s New Art Centre will host Material Language: New Work in Clay, an exhibition of ceramic art, including work by Norway’s pre-eminent ceramic designer and professor of ceramics arts at Oslo National Academy of the Arts, Marit Tingleff. The exhibition reflects a growing movement towards the use of clay among contemporary Norwegian designers and makers.

Norway’s ceramics history is comparably short – whereas elsewhere people were using clay as early as 29,000 BC, Norwegians traditionally made domestic objects out of wood and iron. It wasn’t until potters from Germany and Holland arrived in Norway in the 16th century that the first potteries were established.

Porcelain factories, such as Porsgrund Porcelain Factory, began to appear on a larger scale in the 19th century, preceding what ceramic artist Anja Borgersrud describes as Norway’s “glory years” in ceramics 1920 – 1960. Nora Gulbrandsen was the country’s first female industrial designer and, from 1928 to 1946, head of design at Porsgrund. Tias Eckhoff designed the iconic det Riflede tableware at the same factory. Porcelain manufacturer Figgjo opened in 1941, quickly followed by earthenware factory Stavangerflint AS in 1949. Contemporary artists began to make ceramics in the Leach tradition – and in the 1960s young people opened workshops all over Norway.

“Because of this special history, Norwegians do not connect strongly to any particular ceramic tradition, which is liberating,” says Tingleff. “But it also means there is a limited knowledge about ceramics.”

Recent exhibitions such as 100% Norway at the London Design Festival and Structure during Milan Design Week suggest that that’s changing. “Young people want to develop their intellect and experience working with their hands, and clay has so many possibilities for this,” she adds. “Our students are exploring the material in radical ways, free from tradition and expectations, which is really interesting.”

Christina Peel is one such artist. She works with thin flexible porcelain sheets, which she folds into tessellating origami-inspired forms. “I love working with clay,” she says. “I love the diversity of the material, the textural qualities and the fact that it lasts forever.”

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