Tamer of Clay
At 26, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts graduate Alexandra Nilasdotter’s hand-thrown ceramics display a sophistication, maturity and integrity far beyond her age. Like a young Ingegerd Råman, Sweden’s grand dame of ceramic design, Nilasdotter sculpts clay into pieces where function and aesthetics reach an indissoluble state.
In the very first of our ‘Meet the Maker’ interviews, we spoke to Nilasdotter about her obsession with industrialism and why she doesn’t like to follow the rules.
Text: Magnus Wittbjer and Micha van Dinther
Photography: Micha van Dinther
Work is often a reflection of whom one is, and perhaps this is especially true among curatives. What moments in your upbringing and background manifest itself in your works?
At the age of 10, when my parents decided to extend our house, I found myself surrounded by architectural drawings, materials and samples, which acted as inspiration for the structures of Legos that I erected with a strong conviction to become an architect. Now, sixteen years later, I am not an architect. In high school, I came across a potter’s wheel and was intrigued by the sheer difficulty in mastering the wheel and the clay. I felt compelled to become good at it, which has held me in a firm grip since. My initial dream to make architecture my profession still manifests itself through the shapes I make as a ceramicist. Most of my work is heavily inspired by technical drawings and architecture.
You also mention Scandinavian culture and industrialism are other sources of inspiration. Why is industrialism, with the mass production it implies and the juxtaposition to hand made ceramics, of interest to you?
I consider myself the tool, and my studio the factory. The factory workers, that used to produce everything by hand before machines took over production, are the real craftsmen. I am fascinated by the mechanics that goes into hand-producing 200 identical cylinders in a short time. I find beauty in the bleak, quiet melancholy ingrained in Scandinavian culture – it is something I want to be sensed in my works.
One of the challenges that you mention is stretching the physical limits of the clay itself. How do you do that?
My objects, which are quite streamlined and minimalistic, could easily have been casted instead of thrown. But that removes me from the material and the creation, and prohibits me from pushing the boundaries of the clay and the fact that I, in the process, force the organic properties of clay to become geometrical. Different clays have different inherent properties. It takes time to learn how to execute specific components of the process using different clays. Since I employ the least possible amount of tools in my manufacturing, I keep a close bond between my hands and the clay.
The low ‘Cylinder’ mug [pictured above] is your signature piece. In what way does it signify you and your work?
Since I tend to want to do things the other way round, the ‘Cylinder’ mug is a perfect representation of that. The perfect cup is considered to be tall and narrow in order to retain heat. I wanted to try and make the opposite and take its proportions as far as possible without sacrificing functionality. From an aesthetic standpoint, I could have taken it further, but then it might have lost its purpose as a cup.