Bornholm, the very first UNESCO World Crafts Region, hosts the fourth edition of its biennale for contemporary glass and ceramics. Because of the presence of a rich clay soil, the island has a renowned history of regional craftsmanship. Today, the remote isle is marked by a growing number of both local and international artists, ensuring that it doesn’t remain solely a local resource for clay, but also a social, cultural and educational center for ceramic crafts. This ambiguity is also present in the exhibited work of 100 artists from 31 European countries, as it is outlined by remarkable views on issues such as tradition, environment, politics and gender.

 Stubborn Short Tail, by Tamara van San (Belgium). Photo by Sofie Lachaert.

 The Green lion Devouring the Sun, by Yves Malfiiet (Belgium). Photo by Sofie Lachaert.

Tamara Van San is best described as a ceramic sculptor, shaping objects that are highly expressive and allows observers to interpret her work in a personal and emotional manner. Although both rich in details and colour, the contrasting work of as well Belgian artist Yves Malfliet consists of joyful porcelain statuettes, often prompting to fool its observers into the assumption of looking at traditional figurines. The beautifully composed objects by Sarah Oakman, each one unique in shape, colour and surface, reminisce of a ceramic still life. They are the result of continuous experiments, highlighting the broad possibilities ceramic material still has to offer.

As Susanne Jøker Johnsen, Head of Exhibitions and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, stated: “This year, it is evident that there is a general concern about the environment, and about how things are evolving politically in Europe. In terms of ecological sustainability, there are a lot of works that show the desire by artists to get closer to the materiality of ceramics, influencing them to start working with raw clay or even in situ.” For instance, Phoebe Cummings’ installation at the Bornholm Art Museum is using local clay from the island’s soil, and is designed on site. The strikingly detailled sculptures do not only surprise by their extraordinary accuracy, partly modeled upon local plants and leafs, but also by their ephemeral nature. After completion of the moulding, the British artist allows the moist clay to completely dry out by natural evaporation, thus resulting in a gradual disintegration of the sculpture. 

Designed Objects with Cork, by Alexandru Murar (Romania). Photo by Alexandru Murar.

The work of Polish artist and designer Maceij Kasperski is a set of ceramic objects alluding to training dumbbells. Their inability of being physically used for weightlifting combined with their breakable materiality almost seems to mock the fetishized bond between heavy sports and masculinity. This poetical inefficiency can also be discovered in the utilitarian household objects by Romanian designer Alexandru Murar. The set of bottle-shaped containers demonstrates once again how traditional ceramic artistry can easily be reinterpreted, if not to say bend, to cheerful contemporary design.

The Diamond Reef, by Heidi Hentze (Denmark). Photo by Sofie Lachaert.

While porcelain and ceramics are by its own nature associated with fragility, the Danish artist Heidi Hentze pushes the material boundaries in her diamond-shaped objects. By skillful and time-consuming techniques she succeeds in creating meticulously paper-thin slabs, constructing them into geometrical shapes that take inspiration from kirigami and architecture.

The European Ceramic Context 2018 proves that present-day ceramic artists are far from being conventional. Marked by reinvigorated techniques and exceptional designs, both local as international artists display the broad potential that ceramic arts and design upholds to offer.

Detail of the fascinating integration of water inside the Bornholm Art Museum. Photo by Sofie Lachaert.

European Ceramic Context 2018, Bornholm Art Museum, until 11 November.