Marielle van den Bergh, March 2022

/ Instagram: mariellevandenbergh

Last year, 2020, we did a ceramic residency at Guldagergaard in Denmark, where we fired some wood kilns. I focused on mountains and icebergs, built from porcelain. At home in the Netherlands, I pursued the mountain theme further, which eventually resulted in a maquette based on a painting in the Chinese Shen Shui style of a mountain. The painting had been very ‘flat’, with the mountains as a backdrop, lined up one after the other and not very spatial. I needed to make a 3-dimensional mountain to be able to build the paper mountain I planned to make. The porcelain model was converted in a huge hanging paper mountain: “Cliff Hanger”, which was on show for half a year in the Paper Art Biennial 2021 in the CODA Museum in Apeldoorn.
Ans van Berkum wrote about this show in the Art Magazine “Beelden” #4, 2021

In Kecskemét, in Hungary, I started out by researching frozen animals that had been released by the melting permafrost in Siberia. Time has always fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Now that the acute climate change is heating up the permanently frozen tundra, strange animals are woken from millenniums of sleep. Recently two lion cubs were found in rock caves, close together. They were called “Sparta” and “Boris”. The girl and boy looked like siblings, but it turned out that one was 44.000 and the other 28.000 years old.  Yet they looked like they both would wake up soon together and start their daily foraging.

Susan Hall

Building with paper clay and using wet clay to express rough surfaces were directions I wanted to explore further. I threw out all existing work plans, since this was the place and time to research paper porcelain. I wanted a limited theme, that I could vary over and over again, while learning how to improve myself. So I started to make busts, figurative sculpture, by building the base, continuously using the heat gun to dry what I had done and search for anatomically correct forms and the right expression, one that would reveal the character.
I focused on figures from the Korean costume dramas I was watching at night on Netflix. In a film you will see a character from different angles and their expression carries the story, so I could use that. The disadvantage is that you have to memorize what you have seen. Building from paper porcelain was quite difficult. As a material, porcelain is quite unforgiving. I liked to use soaking wet porcelain for finishing parts such as hair or garments, but often the top layer would not attach well enough to a drier base or parts that were too wet would cause the base to collapse. Often, that resulted in big cracks or collapsing heads because of the amount of moisture in the porcelain.

When I succeeded in building the busts – and if they emerged undamaged from the biscuit kiln – the next problem was the glaze. Glazing a mountain or iceberg is something else than glazing a human portrait. There is no way you can find the answer in books or by looking for examples in other people’s work. There is only one solution: you have to do it yourself and be ready to sacrifice each work you managed to keep standing, in order to create the intended facial composition and the right expression. Glazing can destroy them in a moment: open the kiln and disappointment is your share. You have to learn it this way – do the whole thing over again and try another way of glazing. Sometimes you will be lucky and the kiln, especially a wood kiln, will help you with extra effects and unexpected presents like ash deposits and fire marks.

We fired the Fred Olsen wood kiln and the Soda wood kiln. Firing a wood kiln is a complicated procedure and takes many hours. There are not many places in Europe where you can do wood firings. Guldagergaard in Denmark and the ICS in Hungary are two of them. Both centres were founded many years ago by devoted ceramic artists. Both places can be proud of the accomplished, famous artists like Nina Hole and Priscilla Mouritzen in Denmark: Instagram: @priscillamouritzen and Mária Geszler-Garzuly (HU):

Loading the soda kiln
Loading the soda kiln
Starting the fire
Firing at night

The best piece I made during this residency was ’the Viking’. It had an internal construction since the head was quite heavy and needed support. The glaze was a white shino, but overglazed while spraying, which caused contraction of the surface in beaded upper parts and a strange orange glow in the retreated, lower parts.
I donated this piece, the Viking, to the Collection of the International Ceramics Studio in Kecskemét.

In 2022 I will continue making paper porcelain busts, but I will focus on certain groups of people. I am thinking of socially or politically important persons or just friends, artists, children, fools, road workers, retired sun worshipers, or whatever takes my fancy.