Friday, February 27, 2009

Experimental Studio

My eight days here in DK feels like eight weeks.

Is this a good thing?
It's late friday night at Guldigergaard and I am crafting some alone time so I can catch up with myself. Much if this week has been about adjusting to the new people and place and figuring out how things work, where things are- in the house, in the studio, and in the town. Complicated and slow for me at times because I can't read the language! Trying to make sense of studio materials written in Danish for example........

But this week has also been occupied with technical experiments in clay. I've been fortunate to be here in conjuntion with a workshop presented by Karen Harsbo of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. She is an accomplished sculptor who uses clay in unique ways, with perhaps unorthodox materials. This residency is about breaking new ground in my own ceramics, so I really welcomed the opportunity to check out Karen's tricks and techniques! I was most intersted in the work she has done with sand-casting, paper clay, and plaster.

We mixed up a batch of paper clay (toilet paper blunged with Royal Copenhagen casting slip!) and cast some random objects in sand, potato starch, even sugar. Then also added plaster to the casting mix, because this can create a very dense, vitreous material when fired. (Yes.... clay and plaster mixed together and fired.) Here are some small test pieces of Karen's at right.

Less exotic but very useful to me has been learning how to cast an object in plaster using a one, two, or three part mold. This is a very standard method of working for many ceramic artists, but something I never learned. I have been interested in creating contemporary adaptations of cast vintage porcelain tableware, and perhaps also casting those forgetable items we use every day- a disposable plastic cup or spoon for example- treated with gold luster and period decals. Kitsh!!!

Wherever it takes me in the weeks to come, I am honing a new skill.
This thrills me.
Today I made a three part mold of a diminutive Romanian egg cup ("found object" of the day?!). I am not thrilled with the casts (again, using the Royal Copenhagen slip) so far. Thankfully, I have tomorrow. And the next day...

I have bisque-fired some slip-cast sheets of the RC porcelain for testing cyanotype. Afraid I am leading myself down a frustrating path with the C.type on clay, but of course i am going there anyway! In the meantime, here is a test-drive on really crappy brown paper, working out my exposure times.

The image is very unstable because the paper is of such poor quality of course, but still useful for my purpose. And I'm getting negative images because I'm using a positive on acetate for my print...!

Big field trip to Grimmerhus yesterday, the Danish Museum of International Ceramic Art in Middelfart (pronounced something like melfard). Wow. The featured exhibit by Danish artist Lotte Glob was fascinating. LG actually lives in Scotland and the photos she exhibited in conjuntion with her large ceramic pieces were so evocative. Sculptual work which is course and raw, fired with sand and rocks, and glassy blue glaze dripping like water and the powerful seduction of the moors.

Some of Glob's smaller works here. I think the rabbit skulls on the right must be dipped in slip and fired?

The photos of Scotland blew me away and the actual location of the museum, on a bench above the sea, reminded me of people and places from elsewhere in my life, the life I only just stepped out of... near and yet far. I walked the grounds of the museum alone and thought about how easy it is to become unmoored from a sense of self and identity.

Who am I, now that I am here

and you are there...

I sense already that this theme is the undercurrent which will run through the work I create here in Denmark.

I left the exhibit and it's sea-strung locale full of longing.
And ready to make good work.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

day 3

I've been here three full days now at Guldagergaard... it is now early morning on day four as I write. The house sleeps and the wind howls across this flat land by the sea. I've had a good day.

My plan to get on Danish time (lose the jet lag!) has thus far been foiled, but here's what has been successful: setting up in the studio and beginning to work. I spent much of yesterday reading about cyanotype, an early photographic process developed in the 18oo's which creates a Prussian blue print.

I had just started experimenting with this before I left the States, trying to figure out the quirky chemistry behind cyanotype so I could adapt the process to clay. I want to make contact prints directly on porcelain, and I think it will go. Although I do work with images, I am not a photographer and am not schooled in the vocabulary of picture making. But I am learning!

My brief test run at home gave me some clues about where to begin again once I got here.

Today I started at square one, just doing some test runs on paper (because it's cheaper and faster to get the process dialed this way). Working with both the milky grey light of day and the UV light table to make my exposures. (Ah, yes- the latter is a much better choice!!) Even with the light table, the exposure was long, 30-40 minutes I think.
I made some mistakes, but they led me closer to where I need to be, and I ended up with a good result on paper. Yay!!

Beyond work..... did I mention how much adjustment this feels like, all at once? I took a break from everything to bike over to one of the beaches (Kobaek Strand)... a biting head wind out of town to the west, but worth it. The ocean always helps me feel... sorted out. Like all the chaos of new place new people new language (and so much I don't understand!), plus the added bonus of my self-imposed studio agenda... it all just fell away and I could hear myself again.
(Photo here is of the sweet bike which I've just started riding around town and beyond, has wonky rear wheel and no front brake, but cool, huh? )
The sun even came out after I took this photo- Cheers!!!

Friday, February 20, 2009


Yes, but where to begin?

On my second sleepless night here in Skaelskor, Denmark...

I haven't begun working in the studio yet. Since my arrival yesterday afternoon, I've been trying to adjust to the eight hour time difference ( I lost 8 hours somewhere en route from Durango, Colorado to Scandinavia!) and manage this feeling that is more or less like this: oh my god i am here for three months am i crazy.

Think of now. And what needs to happen now.

And catch up with myself. I remember that I have just spent a number of harried days (weeks?) tidying up my life in the States so I could depart. (No easy feat, for anyone!) What is still fresh on my worn out self: the flights from Durango to Denver to Chicago to Copenhagen, followed by rail, bus and foot to the door of this old manor house on a fjord somewhere between the Baltic and the North Sea.

A great relief to arrive at this place that has lived only in my imagination since last September (when I found out about the residency award). I am still overwhelmed by all my impressions! There are three other residents at Guldagergaard right now, so the studio and grounds are rather quiet. The mist of the harbor, and general murk of Denmark, seem to create a hushed silence about everything. Life here happens at a slower pace.

I wandered around the town today on foot, looking for a sense of mooring I think, along with an ATM machine (danes use kroner though the country is part of the EU), and market for food. Struggling with my inability to read Danish (signs are all in Danish of course, no english), and having some comical interactions with the locals as a result! Soon (like, tomorrow) I will learn to ask in Danish, "Do you speak English?", and promptly do my part to debunk the "ugly american" stereotype!

Skaelskor is indeed very quaint.
Two things I love so far: People ride bikes everywhere, in all kinds of weather.
And the bikes are left unlocked all over the place. So much trust. No one steals bikes here and I think that must be a sign that the Danes are doing something right. (More on that later...)

Okay. A third thing I love so far: no big box stores, only small markets in a sensibly-designed, pedestrian and cycle-centic downtown. Skaelskor, with it's 12,000 or so inhabitants is quaint and at once very chic. From small retailers stocking the latest in shoes and fashion accessories, to sophisticated boutique galleries featuring hand-made Danish design (ceramics and glass abound), somehow it's all here, in this sleepy town which rolls up at 7pm.

I am dying to know what these folks do at night.

I, for one, seem destined for late night solo-ing with my strongest attachment: the wifi here in my room beneath the eaves and gables. For now, I will cozy up with some back issues of Ceramics Technical. (Guldagergaard has a library rich in ceramics volumes and art miscellanea- akin to some kind of pornorgraphy if you've got a porcelain fetish!) Give in to the seduction of sleeping with the help of Tylenol PM, even though it makes me feel sluggish and stupid the next day?

It's after 2am now. It's just not ok to sleep til noon again. Wish me luck.