Sunday, July 30, 2017

Exploring Local Design


Denmark has a rich intellectual and artistic heritage. The Danes are a happy and proud people and have a special relationship with their country and their flag. The Danish flag is everywhere and has a name: “dannebrog”, which means “Danish cloth”. Legend has it that the flag fell from the sky during a battle of the Danish army against Estonia, when they were praying to God to save them from defeat – which worked. I think it’s a quite pretty flag. Its bold red and white colors look great on the background of a clear blue sky. Equally as important to Danish culture is the country’s arts and crafts. Danish artistic sensitivity spans into everyday life transforming architecture, furnishings, tableware, décor, and textiles that become functional art objects.
A visit to the Design Museum in Copenhagen provided an extensive look into the last century of Danish design. Of particular interest was a permanent exhibition entitled The Danish Chair, an International Affair. A diverse collection of chairs told the story of how Danish Modern became an international brand and trendsetting trailblazer. A stunning display of 100 Danish and international chairs line a hexagon-shaped room from floor to ceiling. Each chair is framed in its own clean white box, shown as a series of individual art objects. An homage to domestic design and craftsmanship, the exhibition emphasized 1920-1970, the pinnacle of Danish furniture design. Materials including wood, plastic, metal, and fabric make up a variety of chair styles such as armchairs, dining room chairs, folding chairs, lounge chairs, and rocking chairs. The design and fabrication of each chair was inspiring, yet gained a greater context and presence displayed as a collection. It staged a look into how design trends changed over the years and the many approaches to the modern chair in the 20th century.

“The chair is the piece of furniture that is closest to human beings. It touches and reflects the body that sits on it, with arms, legs, seat and back. It is a designer's touchstone and design history's favorite object. And the chair is one of the most culture-bearing design objects.” (Nikolina Olsen-Rule)

Journeying to the other side of the world without leaving the museum, the exhibition Learning from Japan, highlights the connection of Japanese art as a continued source of inspiration for Danish arts and crafts. Japanism has been a catalyst and important precursor to the modern Danish aesthetic that branded Denmark into a design nation in the 20th century. The exhibition includes 400 works of furniture, ceramics, painting and woodblock prints, textiles, sculptures and lamps. The idea for the exhibition is based on the book, “Influences from Japan in Danish Art and Design 1870-2010,” by exhibition curator and art historian Dr. Phil Mirjam Gelfer-Jorgensen. Inspired by elements of nature, intentional design, and quality craftsmanship, the connections between the two cultures are long-lasting and surprising. A shared commitment to form following function, simple lines, and timeless style in elegance, make apparent the thematic threads that tie these two design icons together. The strongest relationship I observed was both countrys’ belief in the beauty of things to make life better. From this concept stems the source for the aesthetic correlations brought to light by the exhibition’s juxtaposition of these two cultures.

Scandinavian design and its famed art objects are not bonded to the artistic institution in Denmark. Examples of Danish style can be seen in everyday architecture and décor, especially within domestic spaces. Described as being fairly minimalist with clean lines, Danish design is highly functional with effective style that is devoid of heavy elements. Only what is needed is used. Deriving this philosophy from inter-war art movements, Scandinavian design is sometimes referred to as democratic design, because of its aim to appeal to the masses through products that are accessible and affordable. However, in an effort to achieve balance, the designs were not stripped of their beauty to make them as easy to use as possible. This theme and continued examples of Scandinavian design where visible as I explored Copenhagen and Skaelskor. The studio and resident house were inspiring specimens of the country’s design sensibilities and histories. Being immersed in these spaces for six weeks had a profound effect on the designs for my ceramic work. Designing through experience and observation seemed effortless when surrounded by constant examples of good design and timeless beauty.

The Danish Flag is hung for national holidays and special events.

Japanese Textile, Design Museum, Denmark
Bridge Set, Design Museum, Denmark

Learning from Japan, Design Museum, Denmark

Learning from Japan, Design Museum, Denmark

Permanent Collection, Design Museum, Denmark
The Danish Chair, An International Affair, Design Museum, Denmark

The Danish Chair, An International Affair, Design Museum, Denmark

The Danish Chair, An International Affair, Design Museum, Denmark

Kitchen, Guldagergaard Resident House

Living Space, Guldagergaard Resident House

Library, Guldagergaard Resident House

Sunday, June 25, 2017

2017 Warren Mackenzie Advancement Award: Residents in the Kitchen


In everyday life food is never presented or served in isolation. Food is always placed in a container either disposable-like packaging or indispensable such as a plate or a bowl. My investigation of plating and platewares has led me to a residency at Guldegargaard International Ceramic Research Center in Skaelskor, Denmark. I started my research investigating the formal elements of dishware, such as color, size and shape that psychologically influence the way in which food is perceived. This commonly neglected element of a meal can affect everything from how we perceive the taste of food to how much we eat. Of particular interest are the socially constructed notions of the likely 
taste and flavor of foods contained in ceramic wares.

  • Size, Shape, and color have an effect on the flavor perception of food. 
  • Blue = salty
  • Red = Sweet
  • Green = sourness 
  • People are happier with smaller portions off of a blue plate
  • Color contrast illusion – look it up, grapes look redder on a blue plate
  • Plate = background (could this be foregrounded?)
  • White is best for dessert plates.
  • Law of opposites, round food needs a square or rectangular plate
  • Aesthetic choices can inform how the diner responds to the dish
I choose Guldegargaard for the opportunity to work with an international population of artists that have an appreciation for the hand and the acceptance of the individual elements in life, both in living and making. As well as for the evening meal rota they practice there. The residents of Guldagergaard take turns cooking a family meal each night. I planned to use the evening meal rota as research and development to document shared meals from different cultures. Each day creating a food memory drawing composition inspired by a dish or ingredient from the last night’s meal. The formal elements of the drawings will inform visual connections between the basic flavors of a meal and individual flavor experiences. I look forward to being inspired by new people, familiar and foreign flavors, and fresh possibilities.

This research will inform the design and fabrication of five slip-casting molds. The forms will be a line, or related series of individual ceramic pieces. This line of functional tableware will be intimate in scale, suitable for one or two person utility. Asymmetry and clean lines will characterize the resulting forms. From a mind and mouth perspective I will interpret the five universally recognized basic tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami (savory). Through form, color and texture I will visually translate these biological flavor perceptions into sensorial ceramic objects.

A scene from Copenhagen, Denmark. Copenhagen is historically a maritime city and harbor. The residency is  two trains, a bus ride, and short walk to the resident house in Skaelskor, Denmark from the Copenhagen Airport.
Skaelskor, Denmark is home to the residency as well as loads of wide open spaces. It is the perfect destination for peaceful respite from fast paced city life and uninterrupted studio time for creative development.
This is Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Center. The studio use to be a farmhouse for a fruit orchard. The ceramic residency is celebrating its 20 year anniversary in July.
There is typical 6 to 13 residents and staff living and working there at one time. The stay duration range greatly and artists come and go on individual schedules. It also seemed a common trend to extend the stay time. I stayed an extra half a week, and this figure sculptor from New Zealand, Jim Cooper, came for a 6 week residency last September and has stayed for eight months. The studio manager calls Guldagergaard the "Health Farm" because its such a quiet and restful place, and the residents are taken care of and well feed.
One of the main reasons I choose this residency out of all the wonderful international options for residencies is the evening meal rota the residents participate in. Each night the residents take turns cooking for the whole house. Meaning that about once a week I took time off from studio for half a day to make a large family meal for dinner. As much of my form research is food focused, I decided to use these meals as an avenue for research.

I wanted to investigate the relationship between plating and plateware on the multisensory perception of food. I used the evening meal rota as research and development to document shared meals from different cultures.
The morning after each meal I would create a quick food memory drawing using the visual and sensorial elements of a particular dish from the night before. The formal elements of the drawings will then informed visual connections between the basic flavors of a meal and individual flavor experiences. This drawing was meant to capture a Danish delicacy Sister Bread made with beer. Sweet and grainy characterizes its flavors.

 This drawing was inspired by a black rice, sweet potato, and ginger dish made my Joe, a Chicago native artist.

A memory of cucumber salad with pomegranate and mint. The early drawings captured more representation elements based on the color and shape of the food. The later drawings became more abstract.

A memory of a nut loaf bread made by Danish Artist Dorte. She had the most interested baking methodology I have ever seen. She threw ingredients together in a large mixing bowl relying only on instinct of a recipe that had been made time and again. There was no measuring or concern for proper dissolving of the yeast. The resulting bread was perfectly soft and fluffy; it tasted earthy, round, bold, and savory for the myriad of nuts in it.

Traditional ancient nut and seed bread. This Danish delight is made without any flour which yields an incredibly dense yet thinly sliced bread. The Danes are wild about their baked goods.

Each day my collect of food memories grew and I posted them in my studio space to influence the formal elements of dishware, such as color, size and shape that psychologically influence the way in which food is perceived.

A former orchard, Guldegargaard is celebrating its Twentieth Anniversary this year. The land surrounding the residency is a vast municipal park and often town’s people walking by peak their heads in the studio to see what’s being made. The town of Skaelskor is a quaint seaside town in the Slagelse municipality on the Danish island of Zealand. The town has a population of 6,532. And is home to one of Denmark's largest breweries, the Harboe Brewery. Some days the wind would shift and the whole town smelled like brewing hops.


Spence, Charles, and Betina Piqueras-Fiszman. "Chapter 4: Plating and Plateware: On the Multisensory Presentation of Food." The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2014. N. pag. Print.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Weisman tour

This year has flown by, and the MN NICE group had their final field trip to look at the intimate but well-curated collection at the Weisman Museum on the University of Minnesota East Campus. The museum is located in a Frank Gehry building that is located on the Mississippi River Bluffs. Everyone had fun identifying and marveling over pieces by artists we have discussed in class over the past year. It's a lovely collection of both contemporary and historical ceramics.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Leach Apprentices Talk!

The MN NICErs were lucky enough to attend a panel of four of Bernard Leach's apprentices at the charming Almelund Town Hall. Warren MacKenzie, Clary Illian, Roelof Uryles, and Jeff Oestreich brought pots from their time at the pottery and discussed what it was like to study under Leach. Jeff organized a post-lecture tea with homemade scones and jam and real Brittish clotted cream--all served on antique silver and cut glass trays. Amazing!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Made Here MN

Brenda Ryan, a 2016 MN NICE graduate, took part in Made Here MN, a project of Hennepin Theater Trust that temporarily exhibits the work of Minnesota Artists in empty storefronts. Brenda filled the window with a tree, cut stumps, and an amazing trompe l'oeil saw that grew out of her class materials research project into adobe and paper clay.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Field Trip Bonding

After a thoughtful and informative visit to Emily Murphy's home studio, the NICErs bonded while fixing a flat tire. Lots of learning today about building a ceramic business and as well as where to place a jack on the car chassis.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Plaster Demo

Joel Froehle joined the MN NICE group to demonstrate mold making and slip casting this week. This was a hands-on accompaniment to last week's technical lecture on plaster and casting slips. Great questions and great discussion.