Jorunn Veiteberg: Ting Tang Trash
'Of all objects, I prefer the well worn ones,' Berthold Brecht wrote in a poem.
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From the Preface
He is not alone. To an increasing degree, craft makers, visual artists and designers have started to use already existing things and trash as raw materials for their artistic activities. This practice has become so wide-spread that a research group has been set up in a collaboration between Bergen National Academy of the Arts and the Art Museums of Bergen to study the phenomenon more closely. In 2008, we received funds from the Research Council of Norway for a three-year project entitled Creating Art Value. A project about rubbish and readymades, art and ceramics, abbreviated to K-verdi. The group consists of philosopher Søren Kjørup, senior curator Anne Britt Ylviåker, art historian Jorunn Veiteberg, and the research fellows Kjell Rylander and Caroline Slotte.
We chose to limit our research to the field of ceramics for several reasons. Ceramics has a rich history and is international. As a pictorial medium and utility object, it has reached all levels of society, and as a commercial commodity and valuable art pieces it has served as an important bridge between east and west. The Europeans admired Chinese porcelain for centuries before finally cracking the code in the early 18th century. Subsequently, porcelain and pottery factories were built all over Europe, but mass production and poor quality also triggered a counter-reaction: studio ceramics. It is no longer meaningful to think in terms of these opposites, since one of the two, the industry, has mostly been closed down in the West. Production is no longer the mainstay of the economy, service and information have taken its place. This can hardly be illustrated more clearly than by the Porsgrunn town council's decision of 10 February 2011 regarding the new zoning plan for Porsgrunds Porselænsfabrik's former factory premises: 'The purpose of the zoning plan is to re-zone the factory premises from industrial purposes to a "centre area" (business/office purposes) etc.'
This post-industrial situation has created a new reality for all those who work with ceramics. Some are looking to China again, and cooperate with craft enterprises and specialist environments there. Alternative forms of production have also developed in the form of a 'do-it-yourself' attitude. The raw materials for such activities are often easily accessible objects and things that surround us and that can be recycled. Still others continue to work in a studio-based practice, but have started to use techniques and work methods that used to be taboo because they were associated with industrial production.
These changes and the complex reality that gave rise to them forms part of the backdrop for Thing Tang Trash. The artists who are presented in the book and in the exhibition show some of the present scope of the field. Not everyone would agree with Brecht's praise of the used and worn, some only work with casts or new and shiny objects. But through their use of objects as raw materials and by moving them out of an everyday context and into an artistic one, they have all contributed to raising the value and status of these objects. It is this process that we have called upcycling.
Changed work methods and unconventional materials - particularly of a non-permanent nature - challenge the institutions that collect and preserve. Creating Art Value has studied the attitude the museum takes to these new practices in more detail, but we have also seen that many artists are finding the museum and collections a more and more interesting arena to enter into a direct dialogue with. Thing Tang Trash can therefore present several installations that have been made especially for this exhibition and for the premises of Permanenten West Norway Museum of Decorative Art.
The post-industrial trend that I have given a brief outline of above has stood out as particularly relevant in the 2000s, and it is one of the few trends in craft that can be seen as something completely new. It is not new in a way that represents a break with the past, however. The past is present everywhere in post-industrial ceramics, in the choice of materials and motifs as well as in work methods and themes. It has been an important aspect of the book and the exhibition Thing Tang Trash to point out these connections to the past. They highlight the changes and help us to see the challenges more clearly. But the connections to the modern material culture are equally important. The world is full of objects, so why not give them new life as art?
Bergen, 1 October 2011, Jorunn Veiteberg