Porous Worlds

The Liminal Spaces of Relief

(Artistic Reflection)

Figure 1: Spring Walkers, 2021, glazed stoneware, 41 x 53 x 5 cm.

Photo by Kobie Nel





I think of relief as an odd sibling to sculpture. It seems to exist somewhere in the sidelines of sculptural practices, but also can appear in drawing and painting if the pictorial plane is carried on raised surface. It is often included, and often unremarked, in discussions concerning sculpture, even though it clearly exists as thing of its own. It is this in-betweenness of relief that I am interested in, and it´s possibilities for artistic expression.


In this project I have researched through my artistic practice the relief as a form of expression. Central in my working has been the depth of projection from the wall; to use the negative space as a compositional strategy and the narrative qualities of the pictorial plane.

The main part of this PhD project, the artistic work, comprises of ceramic reliefs I have made between November 2018 – November 2022. I have used different ceramic techniques and materials, like wood firing and Parian clay to experiment with different artistic approaches to relief, and used residencies in combination with studio work to explore my practice and methodology.





This project has stemmed from a notion of relief´s unclear position in contemporary art. Relief exists as an implicit category, although it is a form of art and a defined concept in a self-evident, unquestionable manner. Last time relief was widely popular in art was during the late waves of modernism, around 1950´s and 60´s. There are no major contemporary exhibitions, research, or publications dedicated to it, even though internationally renowned artist work with it, like Erika Verzutti and Thomas Houseago. When looking at the writings about their works, reliefs are mentioned, but not discussed.  


I tried tracking information from national and international institutions. Going through the online-archives of National Museum of Norway, Documenta, and MoMa, all show similar results. Searching in the National Museum´s collection shows around 600 works with images. These search results include tableware and other utilitarian objects with relief ornamentation, art from the 19th century, supraports, and even one hat. One contemporary ceramic relief by Irene Nordli from 2004 pops up. MoMa´s collection concentrates on art and gives less hits; only 530. Elizabeth Murrays paintings come up, original wood blocks used in printing, etchings and prints, sculptural reliefs from before 1970´s, Frank Stella´s metal reliefs from 1980´s. Random single examples occur when we dig for them, but the majority of the search results suggest an understanding of relief as a decorative and supplementary   object rather than an art form in its own right.


The most recent thorough writing about reliefs I have found in connection to modernism, which starts to look at relief as an independent work of art instead of as crafted visual elements in architecture and monumental memorials. 


When I started to ask basic questions about the artistic nature of relief, it was then that this research project started to take its shape. The research accompanies the artistic work, which is the project´s most valuable outcome. I have wanted to further understanding by asking questions like: what is at stake working with relief form today? What kind of artistic potential and expressive possibilities does ceramic relief have to offer? 




Relief is often made with a single material such as clay, wood, or stone, which is to say, from materials which can be modelled or carved. Sometimes reliefs are realized in other materials through the process of casting, taking shape in bronze, plaster and glass. Whereas a sculpture can be walked around and seen from different angles, a relief constrains the spectator´s viewpoint. It therefore can be said to exist between sculptural and pictorial spaces. The concept of relief builds on material economy; a large crowd of people can be portrayed on the picture plane through the contours on the material, pictorial illusion creating the impression that the scene extends beyond the relief´s surface.


What has inspired me to take up this topic is the ambiguous presence that relief has. It has the pictorial space of a picture, and the material expression of sculpture. It has a long history connected with architecture as more of an ornamental feature, and it occurs as art in public space. My initial thinking has been that it is this liminality that has made for its unrecognized presence in contemporary art obscure.

Jay De Feo´s (1929-89) work The Rose1is a painting project on a monumental scale, and one which took the artist eight years to make. It started as an idea of a painting with a center, but over the years it expanded, and required a wooden support structure to be incorporated into the image so as to support the multiple layers of impasto. De Feo saw it as “a marriage between painting and sculpture”, and the piece ultimately ending up weighing close to 500 kg. It was first exhibited at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1969 where in order to protect it, it was first covered with plaster, and then finally a temporal wall was built in front of it and the space was turned into a conference room. I think this was because an art work by a woman back then was not considered that important. There it hid until 1995, when a curator from the Whitney Museum took the initiative to restore and transport it for permanent display after a special support system was made for it. Since it started as a painting it could barely hold the weight of the sculptural elements De Feo had added to it. At the Whitney Museum, where it is now on permanent display, it is categorized as a painting. Something about its monumentality, its sculptural presence resembles relief to me. 

Figure 2: Jay DeFeo, The Rose, 1958-66. Painting on canvas. 327 x 234 x 28 cm.

© The Jay DeFeo Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York




The project proposal I started this PhD with was looking at deskilling and reskilling, and the meaning of skill in contemporary art practice. This stemmed from witnessing ceramics breaking gradually into the field of fine art from the craft and the material-based art field, as well as from frustration with my own ceramic practice. Over time I had grown more resistant towards what I saw as a fetishizing of the making process, which I experienced as focused around traditionally craft-related techniques. I read the publication Sloppy Craft (2015) which describes “craft that is messy or unfinished looking in its execution or appearance, or both“2, and I could not help wondering what is the role of skill and learned models of making in practices and how can I explore these questions in and through my works? After trying to practice deskilling myself, it felt pretentious and as if I were simply illustrating a theory. As such I had to change the topic: my artistic work could not be about trying to hit some predetermined goals. It would not make good art or good artistic research.


The years leading up to the PhD I made mostly pieces which explored the concepts of the vessel and containment, which I see as one the main focuses when working with clay, but also something about which there is very little theoretical discourse. Artists like Andrew Lord, Kristina Riska, Nicole Cherubini and Takuro Kuwata have literally explored the vessel by using its historical references, cultural significance and the form´s space, both negative and positive. Artist Johannes Nagel explores containment through metaphorical vessels.3 Nagel´s pieces draw on an array of influences, and I find his works highly skilled and somehow free in their expression. His objects look sharp and blurry at the same time.


During this whole time my works were playing with two-dimensional and three-dimensional containers, from the negative cavities built in clay to the metaphorical ideas about carriers. 

After deciding to look more into the relief as a form and finding out that it has a ghost-like presence in the contemporary art, I understood where my process and research had led me and decided to focus my project on it. Besides, the first thing I made when I started this project were reliefs, and I had carried out making them together with sculptures, so in a way this was a concern that had been present from the very beginning of the project. Because of the way ceramics is connected to the world, I think that the concept of containment is still associated in a way with reliefs.


Because of how the education in ceramics and around the material is structured, because of craft history, and what I would claim as unclear use of terminology, it has taken me some time to identify that clay is a material and ceramics is a process and a field. Both clay and ceramics are entangled in so many other fields from geology to paint industry, from everyday objects to sculpture, that I find it important for the development of this material and art medium to expand its understanding and presence in different fields.  


Over the course of these four years it has become absolutely clear to me that artistic research can only happen through one´s practice. The work has to come first. In the beginning of the project I tried performing theory, which meant following some external ideas and this resulted in what was merely illustrative actions. I found the final focus during the last year of this project after I learned to listen to my finished works and ask the right questions.





I situate the relief in the field of sculpture, and I review its position in this context. At the same time, I trace my movement from ceramics towards sculptural and pictorial spaces. This research project contributes to the artistic research in the fields of ceramics. Only a handful of artistic research reflections in Norway have been written with ceramics being the main process in the practice. Similarly, there have been few Nordic PhD projects focusing on clay. There is a lot more research to be done, and this project is part of the conversation about what contemporary ceramics can be.





In this project I have found understanding and developed my methodology through Pauline Olivero´s Deep Listening4, and James Gibson´s concept of affordances.5 Both of these methods have been a way for me to focus on the clay material and the relief form, and neither of these have previously been used as research methods in ceramics. I practice these methods to better understand and outline embodied knowledge related to clay and ceramics. A form of knowledge which can sometimes be hard to articulate. I work intuitively, which is not unusual at all when working with clay, and I have struggled to find satisfactory ways to approach my ways of working. I think I have used these methods mostly to understand the tacit knowledges that are related to my practice, but in doing so I have discovered that they can be used to comprehend almost anything. 


Because ceramics is both a process and an artistic medium, these uses of the term make the available literature supply variable. I find the main discussions still centered around studio ceramics and the art-vs-craft discussion. I would like to read about discourses related to clay and ceramics, I am not so interested in the materiality or the craft. Because I have not been able to find the type of art texts about ceramics or relief I would have liked to read, I have looked for texts around painting and sculpture, contemporary and historical, that I have found relevant, because for me the qualities exhibited by these mediums are also those that relief makes use of. This has gradually moved me from ceramics towards picture and sculpture, and a moving away from thinking things in a relationship to ceramics. 


The knowledge that arises through this project emerges in close connection to the artistic work. I have developed my practice, themes, and ways of working for years, and these continue in this project, but are contextualized and reflected with a new level of scrutiny. Through the original art works the artistic development unfolds, building consequently on the body of previous works.





An artist, curator and writer Lucy Cotter defines artistic research as ”...not a separable phenomenon from art itself. Rather, it is capable of communicating art as an aspiration, an open-ended process and an open-ended object, which includes, but is in excess of itself as an artwork”.6 Reading Cotter´s book Reclaiming Artistic Research resonated with what are perhaps the core experiences of my own research, how engaging with materiality and dematerialized forms of knowledge unfolded in a way that would not necessarily conform to academic prescription. Cotter has worked in Europe and USA, where I think the artistic research is modelled more along the lines of general academic requirements. This is luckily not the case here in Norway, and where the artist is given much greater freedom to conduct and define their own research, and where the artistic result is the core of the research; the research through the art.



My practice concentrates on the process rather than concepts, and in a field of artistic research that seems better suited for a concept-based approach, this approach meets challenges. Concept-based art seems much more closely tied up to academic research. I see the artist/researcher´s roots as growing out from conceptual art, connected to the question around what was considered artistic work, and the tendency to reject the commodification of the art object. With this development the artist has, since the 60s, increasingly started to occupy new type of roles like those of researcher and more managerial type of positions through deskilling. My background is very different from this since my education and practice has been based around objects. It took me a while to start trusting that I was doing was valid in its own right.





The artistic research model demands that the researcher moves between inside and outside positions; the artist who makes the works, and the artist researcher who tries to gain some distance to look at them and discuss them. I have found writing a good distancing tool.

Writing has guided my understanding around the topic of my research and made apparent the gaps in my thinking. The most difficult thing has been to write about clay. What are the important things about it? I know a lot about it, its techniques, and I probably say similar things that other people working with clay are saying. 


I would particularly like to mention Caroline Slotte´s pioneering artistic research work in Norway, and her project that she finished in 2011. Through her writing in Second Hand Stories7 she, -despite not having any models to work from since she was one of the first artistic researchers in Norway, -lucidly shows what it means to conduct artistic research through one´s own practice.


I have written throughout the research project, but the actual text has only started to take form during the last year of the research. I have written to communicate about the process to a committee and the public, as well as use it as a self-reflective tool that aims to be self-critical as well. I have decided to write in English, as part of my higher education has been in that language and it feels most natural for me to use it when discussing art. As a non-native English speaker this is somewhat challenging. I can speak well enough, but not really express myself with the same freedom and precision as I would in my native language.




Part of the written reflection deploys affordances8 from design theory, a term which was coined by James. J. Gibson (1904-1979), who claimed that world was not only perceived in terms of the shape and spatial relationships but also in terms of object possibilities for (even contradictory) actions. Affordances seek to define qualities or properties in materials or designs, and their opportunity to action, within a context of circumstances. The advantages of this is the way it allows us to fathom both the specificity and generality of things as well as their limitations and their possibilities to contain.


Literary critic Caroline Levine has borrowed the idea of affordances from Gibson, but uses it in a broader sense in her books Forms,9 looking further beyond the affordances in their most immediate sense. For example, a pot as a form affords itself for cooking and serving food, to pour liquids into it, to contain, and all this kind of rather apparent potentials. It also can be turned upside down to cover something, or used as percussion instrument to create sound, i.e. a set of affordances that are not that obvious but within possibilities. This is more broadly connected to Levine´s book Forms, where she seeks to connect art and politics through forms, to explore formalism further in literature studies. Therefore, Levine asks what kind of different affordances does different forms make possible? What do they enclose and what do they leave outside?


By considering the different types of affordances of relief I seek to trace its position and possible ways of being. The various forms of relief suggest liminal positions between sculpture and image, craft and art, object and architecture, two-dimensional and three-dimensional expressions. I am interested in how moving between these different spaces can afford new forms of artistic engagement. I use affordances as a method to unpack the material specificity of clay and the ceramic processes related to them, to map out the potentials and limitations for the project.  

Figure 3: Louhi, 2021, glazed porcelain, 22 x 22 x 3 cm.

Photo by Kobie Nel




In this chapter I write about relief´s history and present contemporary artists working with the aspects that are connected to relief. The ideas related to relief as an art form change and develop as the central topics get conceived and processed in new ways. I have contextualized the most important paths of exploration like the narrative and the negative space. I look at relief´s connection to architecture, and how this connection has impacted the history of relief.





The artistic work is the most important part of this research project. I attempt to bring you into my process through the works I have made during these last four years and reflect on them and around them, and how they get their titles. It is relief´s distance to the wall that has defined all my experiments. The time-space of the pictorial plane, and negative space have been the two main features that my works have dealt with varying results. I discuss the works I have made during these last four years and reflect on them and around them, and the way in which my works get their titles. 





This chapter looks at the material of clay, and the process of ceramics, and identifies elements of process and ways to work and my relationship with them, expanding on the disciplinary context of ceramics.


The bodily presence of clay embodies weight and brings forth form and scale, whereas coats of glazes melt as surface and minerals materialize as textures and colors. Mapping out of the respective affordances of clay and ceramics helps me to understand how clay materials and ceramic processes suspend the artistic expression in unique way, and are connected to the discussions and artistic research projects connected to the material in contemporary art field. Clay´s relationship to color, glaze and scale also gets addressed, and I reflect on how different approaches contribute to the sculptural expression of the relief in different ways.

I write about my relationship with clay and my approach to various ceramic processes in parallel with other artistic research projects that use clay and ceramics as their central material. 





The exhibition Porous Worlds is an in depth-meditation of the relief form, exploring its presence in the context of art exhibition through specially made architectural exposition devices. These devices make it possible to position the reliefs in these structures in different ways, hence further exploring the different spaces the form can contribute to. The selection of works presents works made from porcelain, stoneware, and Parian clay, in reduction firing with wood and gas, and oxidation from the last four years. I write about the unfolding of the planning process around the exhibition, how it has gone through different stages, and how I have arrived at the final decisions. 





This doctoral work comprises of an artistic work, which is presented to the public through the solo exhibition of Porous Worlds and an artistic reflection component, which consists of written texts and images. The solo show at the Hordaland Kunstsenter in Bergen takes place between 26.11.2022- 22.01.2023. The reflection material is delivered to the committee members in folders with appendix-material and will eventually be published and archived through the Research Catalogue online in 2023. 

Deep Listening as a Method


I remember once staying at my grandparents. They took daily naps in the afternoons and I had to keep quiet. There I was, a bit bored, and as I sat there all the sounds of their home rose to the surface to my consciousness, and I started to listen to them. The steady, hypnotic beat of the ticking closet clock was loud and became louder and louder. The more I listened to this rhythmic mechanical pulsation, the more complex it became. Gradually the depth of the sounds started to change, and the ticking rhythm turned into a melody. The space in between the beats was filled in with notes, building a bridge between them. The more I listened, the more complex was the melody I heard. I wondered if anyone else could hear this. I started to get suspicious about the fabric of the everyday, because now a seemingly mundane thing appeared as a domain for something mystical. I listened to the humming of the fridge and a similar thing happened. A body of a machine resonating with the electric current running through it, chiming its own polysemic timbre. Later I asked my grandmother about the music that the ticking of the clock made, and she told me it did not exist. 

The first time I heard about Deep Listening was sometime in 2020 from my friend and colleague Karen Werner, an artist working with radio. She had participated in one of Pauline Oliveros´ Deep Listening courses where the participants were encouraged to listen to the mind of the person sitting next to them. I thought this sounded fascinating, and at the same time somewhat unconventional, fueling my curiosity to find out more. 


I now listen to this ticking of a clock through a memory and claim this to be my first time practicing Deep Listening. A formative phenomenological experience, a distinct sensation of me being in the world through listening, and listening shaping the plasticity of my relationship with the world.  



In 1988 Pauline Oliveros and with her colleagues Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis had an improvised playing session at the Dan Harpole Cistern10, an empty underground container with a capacity of two million gallons of water, built fourteen feet underground near a US military base in the Washington State. They played improvised music together in this cavernous place, making use of the 45 second reverberation that the environment offered. This meant that their played sounds were repeated back to them, adding layers of echo to the performed melodies, and so creating a massive body of sounds. This resulted in a record that came out in 1989 which they decided to call Deep Listening11, pun intended. This was the beginning of The Deep Listening Band.


Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016), an avant-garde composer and a musician, developed Deep Listening. Deep Listening “explores the difference between the involuntary nature of hearing and the voluntary, selective nature of listening. The practice includes bodywork, sonic meditations, and interactive performance, as well as listening to the sounds of daily life, nature, one’s own thoughts, imagination, and dreams. It cultivates a heightened awareness of the sonic environment, both external and internal, and promotes experimentation, improvisation, collaboration, playfulness, and other creative skills vital to personal and community growth.”12




Deep listening is a process where the aim is listening to learn. It is rather about the experience of perception than listening in the strict meaning of the word. Oliveros has made scores for Deep Listening, like this Sound Fishes (1992)13which is comprised of poetic instructions ´for any orchestra of any instruments´, and operates to guide the listener towards a receptive, almost altered state of consciousness, listening for what has not yet sounded. I find this particular score as offering a comprehensive description of the essential idea of the practice.

Sound Fishes (1992) 

Listening is the basis. Listening for what has not yet sounded —
like a fisherman waiting for a nibble or a bite.
Pull the sound out of the air like a fisherman catching a fish,
sensing its size and energy —
when you hear the sound play it.
Move to another location if there are no nibbles or bites.
There are sounds in the air like fishes in the water.
When the water is clear you might see the fish.
When the air is clear you might hear the sounds.

understand Deep Listening as an embodied experience that builds upon a chain of experiences. To me it affords a state of concentration and the experience of being present that steers my mind out of a rational state. It is an active mode of being where experience, subconscious and imagination meet onward, and for me this is where art can be made. Or rather, this is where I want to make art. Oliveros encourages us to listen to our thoughts; it is inside one´s head where the listening happens. Deep Listening attunes us to the intensity of this experience.  




Salomé Voegelin, an artist, writer and researcher, has explored listening as a strategy for research. She too has explored listening not as a physiological fact but as an act of engaging with the world. Voegelin writes about the connection with listening and therefore ´seeing´, a different world, an act of engaging with the world14. “Deep Listening is listening in every possible way, to everything it´s possible to hear, no matter what you are doing.”15, writes Oliveros.


To achieve a psychological space of creative potential one has to let everything flow towards oneself, shifting the focus from what one is doing to what is about to emerge, allowing the unexpected to turn up. Judgement needs to be suspended and one´s mind opened up to receive whatever information presents itself. In this way one allows listening to perceive and reshape the very moments that listening itself makes available. Deep Listening can guide the creative decision-making process and our actions. 


Working with clay is a way for me to engage with the world. Its malleable solidity and mute density form an interface to both my inner world and the physical environment in which I find myself. Deep Listening affords the mental state through which my works are born, where the conscious and unconscious overlap and operate at the same time. When Oliveros asks: When do you stop hearing the sound? When does the memory begin?”16I think of how much the mind shapes the listening, how it connects what is received to previous experiences and bridging associations to make sense of what is. I find reading Oliveros and practicing Deep Listening fruitful, because it resonates with my own experience of making art, but I also understand I can practice it consciously without making anything with my hands. 





Listening differs from hearing as watching differs from seeing. ´Listening´ and ´watching´ refer to conscious, voluntary action where attention is directed to perceive and receive. What can be said about the difference between listening and watching? The two different biological systems create sensory input that helps us experience and navigate different aspects of the world and gather information about our surroundings. I have experienced how the tactile experience of interaction with clay goes into my body. Listening and watching are different ways to perceive. Is it possible to bridge this distance, to claim to Deep Listen to my pieces that are about to emerge? But how does one listen actively to a relief that is in the process of becoming?


I spend time thinking, reading, writing, watching, and listening at my studio. It is a physical space that anchors my head space, the room of my own with older works sitting on shelves and hanging on the walls, and my tools and materials at hand. I do not read Deep Listening scores, but I have my own listening practice. I start by outlining a slab of clay on the table in front of me. I draw with my finger, plow the soft clay around. I detect a presence of something, and I start to listen to that presence. I listen to the contours of the pinch marks, focus on how they resonate with me, and my mind starts to anticipate the shapes that they might take next, the shapes that have not emerged yet. I feel things hanging on the edge of my consciousness, and I concentrate on these threads – on what associations start to appear, and which of them resonate with me. I observe how my thoughts and feelings trail when I move the clay further, how the tone of expression changes and transforms along. Gradually things become something else, something new. When I listen with my hands, with the tips of my fingers, I am present in the process, listening to my thoughts at the same time. I feel the energy of the works through my hands. My fingers process what I hear through clay, and I watch how the shapes in the material shift while I listen. Multiple realities are present simultaneously, and listening informs me, guiding my attention, and concluding when I need to move. I feel like I am connecting with all that there is. Listening opens a portal to creativity that helps me to connect with my subconsciousness. When I move clay, my thoughts move. 




“If you are an artist, listening leads you to your material and to shape the material”.17, writes Oliveros. Through Deep Listening my artistic process is grounded in the situation where it is happening, forming an awareness of the relationship between surroundings and oneself, and it is this awareness that I harness in order to guide my creative practice. This process falls into somewhere in between of intention and receiving.  It is an exchange of energy between me and my hands that work with clay. Whatever I feel, think, remember, dream of, is part of the listening experience. 


I do not sketch my pieces. I am not even very interested in coming up with ideas to execute, because I find experiencing the making process itself most exciting: not having a predetermined plan to work with, but acknowledging that whatever is taking place, is through an awareness of something new, bringing a focus to things I would not otherwise necessarily notice. When I have not evaluated in beforehand if a piece or an idea of it will be good or bad, there is room for unexpected things to emerge. I try to move out of my comfort zone, which is not easy, and this is one of the reasons I use Deep Listening. This is the opposite of what I have learned and what is generally taught in ceramic education, which concentrates on the end results and developing the skills to get there. Deep listening also opens another aspect to tacit and embodied knowledges which is not about the mastery, but proceeding by letting your skills flow.



I do not make my works in one single session, but over a course of weeks, or even months. When pieces are wrapped in layers of plastic and I cannot see them, I forget about them because the connection to the process is on pause and not active. When opening one of these packages after several months I cannot re-enter to that previous listening space anymore, so I start to listen anew by studying the forms and marks on the clay. Here the judgement cannot be suspended, and I have to remove the parts that are not resonating with me anymore. The pieces then become like a palimpsest18a new listening process starts overlaying the previous one, where traces of the removed clay are visible and make a foundation for the new.


Inside the parameters of relief, I experience tremendous freedom to tune into the process of creating art. With Deep Listening I can access the deeper layers of my consciousness, which border with the unconsciousness, and pay attention to the state of flux of the creative flow. This flow is suspended in the clay in un-anticipated ways. It is a very particular type of listening.   





Deep Listening is well known within the fields of avant-garde music and visual art. However, when it comes to artistic research, Deep Listening most often unfolds in the field of sonic studies. As far as I am aware of, no other artistic research project in clay has used Deep Listening as a method.


One example of artistic research that uses Deep Listening is found in the work of Norwegian sound artist and composer, Alexander Rishaug. He writes in his research exposition about his toolkit of listening strategies, with Deep Listening being one of them. He recounts a Deep Listening experience while performing Olivero´s composition at a memorial concert dedicated to her in 2017, and describes her listening technique omnipresent and impressive. He recalls the concentrated listening which took place while performing; “I remember that small changes in the room, people moving, a door opening, secretly gave instructions to the performers of sound making.” (Rishaug. 2022)19 He describes how he focused simultaneously on the exchange of action and non-action through being present and attentive. “I was really focused on listening instead of playing, this stands out as a shift in my career, that listening becomes prominent, something of importance.”


In this account of the concert situation and the impact it made he illustrates the power of Deep Listening. Even for someone who works with sound, Deep Listening offers a way to create focus and practice a concentrated perception that is aware of its physical surroundings. A lot of Rishaug´s practice deals with soundscapes of sites and places, acoustic qualities and psychoacoustic states. Whereas Deep Listening Band concentrated on performing and recording in resonant or reverberant spaces like cathedrals and the previously mentioned cistern, Rishaug tunes into the Norwegian post-industrial landscapes, exploring and monitoring existing acoustics by listening to their vibrations and resonance. 


Listening to the thoughts of the person next to you, listening to air-conditioning instead of hearing it, listening to clay. It is possible to listen to anything, to embrace all kinds of listening. The heightened state of awareness of listening leads its practitioner to notice what they are listening to. It creates another kind of understanding of being present in the moment through a focused practice that is open to all. 

On Relief

Figure 1: Relief of Icarus from the 17th century.

The Fall of Icarus', 17th century, Musée Antoine Vivene  (last accessed 25.12.22)

“Carving shape. However abstract, is seeing belonging essentially to a particular substance . . . a figure carved in stone is fine carving when one feels that not the figure,but the stone, through the medium of figure, has come to life.”

Adrian Stokes, The Stones of Rimini 20

Art critic and theorist Rosalind E. Kraus describes how “Relief thus makes it possible for the viewer to understand two reciprocal qualities simultaneously: the form as it evolves within the space of the relief ground and the meaning of the depicted moment in its historical context.”21. She suggests, that the combination of physical experience of substance and intelligence expressed through drawing or composition, are the same view of the work. The illusionistic background of the painting that opens up a virtual space through which the forms and figures can move, and the potential merging from background to the foreground can be used to sculpturally project temporal values and narrative. 


I approach relief as a set of parameters, from which I try to outline a space wherein I work. This space exists somewhere between a sculpture and image, containing features from both of mediums but still enjoying its own autonomy. Relief affords projection from the wall, which opens up for the possibilities and problems associated with the pictorial plane. Able to convey both pictorial and sculptural expressions, the representational potential of relief is apparent. Relief shares commonalities with painting, it has affront and a back and, unlike most sculpture, it cannot stand upright without support. Yet like sculpture, relief is usually modelled, carved or cast from traditional sculptural materials and its expression is three-dimensional. Relief exists in between these two different mediums, and in this text, I aim to describe the qualities that make it unique.


Relief has an economic approach embedded in its relationship with volume. It is most often realized through a single material, and its form is effected by modelled or carved elements that are unified with their background, but at the same time raised above the plane. “Relief, as we have seen, suspends the full volume of a figure halfway between its literal projection above the ground and its virtual existence within the “space” of the ground. ...the ground of relief operates like a picture plane, and is interpreted as an open space in which the backward extension of a face or a body occurs.”22




The Cambridge dictionary defines relief as “the building up of parts of a surface to form a picture or design that be seen above the background, or a work of art made by this method23. Relief has an ancient provenance. The form most likely developed from petroglyphs; stone carvings typically found on cave walls, of which the oldest are estimated to date back 30 000 years. Along with painting, this represents one of the first mark-making and creative explorations of humankind. A more determined action than drawing with a stick in a sand, the petroglyph required its creators to shape a resisting material. The oldest found reliefs proper are estimated to be from 11 000 years ago.24 Discovered at an archeological excavation site in Turkey, and they depict narrative scenes with humans and animals.


As with any artistic medium, the relief has gone through historical metamorphosis in different regions and different time periods. Nowadays, relief can occur embedded in the façade of a building or be realized as an independent art object. Its materials are plastic for modelling, or hard for carving, and, by definition, relief is composed of one unified material. The last couple of hundred years of the form´s material history is linked to terracotta, wood, limestone, marble, alabaster, plaster, bronze and other metals. From the turn of the 20th century the relief form has been explored through the use of other materials, like Picasso´s still-life constructions of wood and found objects from 1912-13,25 works which can be understood as straddling the borders between the relief and wall-hanging sculptures. Works like these are sometimes termed multidimensional art,26 a phrase which takes in 3-dimentional art objects realised in any of variety of material. Lee Bontecou, for example, used plexiglas turret from a World War II bomber, steel frames and conveyor belts in her 1964 commission for a large wall relief at the New York State Theater27. However, as mentioned, for all intents and purposes, distinctions are usually made by defining relief as realised throught a single material. Understood in this way, we remark that the form tends to occupy little space in contemporary art practice; where sculpture has, over the last six decades, embraced the expanded field,28 relief has shown few indicators of such a development.

Figure 2: Sumerian cuneiform tablet from ca. 3100-2900 BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Figure 3: Stone reliefs by Asbjørg Borgfeldt from 1934 at Rådhusgaten 25 in Oslo. The building housed the Shipping association which explains the sea-theme. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen



In 1969 Robert Goldwater noted how sculptural reliefs in the past were generally tied to an architectural setting, with the subject already decided: “The sculptor has been called upon to create a work for particular, predetermined spot, and asked to make it fit in appearance and spirit.”29 However, with the advent of modernism, (as soon Loos declared ornament as a crime,30 this practice declined, and the relief was freed as an autonomous form, “unconditioned by specific requirements” of the architectural.

It is the material physicality of relief which makes it sculptural. And it is these sculptural connections that draw echoes from art history as well as forming a connection to craft and physical work. I find it interesting how relief moves between different categories and expands its presence from that of the mere object. When relief is mounted on buildings, it is designed to work with the architecture and to conform to the building´s overall design.


When Goldwater notes how the declining relief´s declining use of relief in architecture has had the effect of elevating its status more as an independent art form, I am attempted to wonder how this has in a way reduced its area of occurrence, narrowed it appearance in the eyes of the public.


Ceramic reliefs have not been used a lot here in the Northern Europe, because they are more prone to the wear and tear of the weather outdoors, than, for example, stone and therefore are less often used.


The depth of volume and the degree of projection have traditionally been the basis for the taxonomy of the three different types of reliefs.31 Relievo, meaning raised work in Italian, is divided classically on three different types. Alto relievo means high relief, where figures stand projected from the background in a sculpture-like fashion. Bas relief, or basso relieve, means low relief.

Here the projection from the surface of the relief is as low as possible. Mezzo relievo falls in the middle between high and low.Although these categories seem to belong more to the past than the present, and are very seldom used when talking about contemporary pieces, it is within these three different levels of projected depth where the special volumetric potential of relief lies. The spectrum of expression can be expanded by moving between these different levels, as well as through recombining them with strategies concerning color and material choices, and also through exploring how the work´s display allow different possibilities for how it might be contextualized.



Figure 4: A low-relief on a building wall in Kecskemet, Hungary, 2020

Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen

Figure 5: LaKela Brown: Composition with Round Bamboo Earrings Overlapping, Impressed with Gold, 2019, 73.7 x 54.6 x 5.1 cm

Photo: Matt Grubb Courtesy of the artist and 56 HENRY, New York   

Figure 6: Erika Verzutti: Van Gogh with Eggs, 2015, Bronze and acrylic. 52 x 46 x 9 cm. © Erika Verzutti. Courtesy of Alison Jacques Gallery, London



While the readymade paved the way for sculpture to extend its activities into the expanded field, sculpture, as an artistic form, has remained distinct; sculpture continues to have something specific to offer. Relief has not gone through a similar evolution, and perhaps that is why it can be seen somehow as more connected to a historical continuum than contemporary one.


In her works, the contemporary artist LaKela Brown plays with the historical resonance of the relief form by deploying it´s artefact-like qualities, and in this way summoning more archeological reading.32


Brown casts and imprints objects like door-knocker hoop earrings and Nefertiti heads, symbols of African-American culture which are yet, in their reworked appearance, reminiscent of fossils impressions or cuneiform tablets. Some of the hoop earrings are covered with golden paint to suggest a more precious material presence, a painted embellishment that makes the object to stand out. Brown´s use of plaster, a relatively cheap and fragile material, also carries connotations of reproductions of art historical fragments, and a material of copying and multiplication. Brown ties cross-temporal connotations together with objects that create a strong feminine narrative and take a stand in locating an African-American (popular) culture aesthetic within the art historical presentation of relief. Brown has taken the materiality of relief as her point of departure, creating new histories and presentations of black culture, and marking up the fact how it has long been an unacknowledged element in the western art historical canon.


Reliefs can be painted, glazed or left untreated. The use of colors can help the figures and forms to appear more defined, and heighten their pictoriality, rather than everything being the color of the material. This painting helps to distinguish the figures from the backgrounds in low reliefs thus making these forms more defined and lively, although the use of color depends on the artist.

Brazilian sculptor Erika Verzutti chooses to call her relief works “sculptures of paintings33They are made first from solid clay and then casted in bronze and painted. Through these material choices, the classical, historically loaded material explicitly brings forth evidently the qualities of sculpture, although the pieces are hanged on the wall.


The vivid expression of Verzutti´s fingermarks can be seen on surface of the works, adding on the sense of instantaneous expression and sculptural work. The pieces are either rectangular or square, combining the metallic sculptural material with that of the painted medium not just through the shape of the pictorial plane but also with the use of acrylic paint that adds vividness to the surface through the eloquent use of bright colors. Her pieces are abstracted, carrying associations and themes that often have their origin in something everyday, like an eye-shadow palette, or the found forms of different fruits.



It is the economy of the material and the limited depth of projection that enables relief to occupy both sculptural and pictorial spaces. Unlike sculpture, relief contains pictorial qualities. The pictorial space encloses a perspective in itself, presenting sculpted forms and figures with an impression of receding depth as experienced from a single viewpoint. It is the frontality that forces a certain positioning upon the viewer. The background helps to structure the narrative for the viewer and, to quote Rosalind Krauss, “since this ground behaves like the illusionistic background of a painting, it opens up a virtual space through which the figures can appear to move.”34 Think of the large crowds of people depicted in the Parthenon marbles,35 or the scene of the flying Icarus depicted in the fig.1 with perspective establishing the sky and land.

Sculptural expression and proportions can realize perspective in different ways. The most traditional way is by presenting a foreground and background, and here Kraus notes that this makes it possible for the artist to project a temporal narrative, and this is of course especially the case when it comes to reliefs that consist of a sequence of several panels.


Steinar Haga Kristensen´s exhibition Fortvilerser i Leire (Despair in Clay) from 2011,36 included a relief that was more than two meters tall. The work looks like a ceramic panel work that blew up in the kiln. It´s shattered pieces are cast onto concrete blocks which are stood upright, so that together they form a wall-like construction. The artwork is part of a larger installation which also consists of ceramic elements that resemble a table with some cups on it, the artist riffing on the theme of domestic landscape. Seeing the wall element as an architectural structure, it is possible to understand the work as offering a commentary on the history of relief´s ornamental potential within decorative arts. 


If Kristensen is taking the relief´s historical connection with architecture into account, his expressive vigor contrast and challenges the preciousness of the craft practices related both to the relief form and the ceramic processes. Kristensen works across painting, ceramics, sculpture, weaving, video and installation and draws influences from a large variety art-historical styles. Nora Joung writes of him: “One of the things that make Steinar Haga Kristensen unique is the way in which he does not use art history as a reference, but as a reservoir, and the extent to which he possesses the various modes of expression he does not use art history as a reference, but as a reservoir, and the extent to which he possesses the various modes of expression he employs.”37 With this notion in mind, one can see how by taking the fragments of the broken relief and incorporating structural wall elements Kristensen comments on the historical narrative of the form.

Figure 7: Steinar Haga Kristensen´s Fortvilerser i leire (detail) 2011, at Kunsthall Oslo. Courtesy of the artist.



In sculptural practices the negative space can be seen as special kind of spatial volume that needs the physical boundaries of positive forms to define it; it exists through its absence. Within relief this can occur as a void that forms the background, or it can be a cut-out of the figure, formed by the surrounding material. It is a compositional strategy in which a silhouette of space is defined through its outlines. The material language of sculpture turns suddenly into thin air, creating another kind of vision of depth. The viewer can choose how to perceive; either focusing on the positive space, or making sense of the negative by outlining its material borders.


Lucio Fontana´s (1899-1968) works reflect the formalist tendencies of the last mid-century, famously breaking the plane in his Concetto Spaziale, (Spatial Concepts) -series through which the Argentinian-Italian avant-garde artist tried to realize a fourth dimension.38 The Concetto Spaziale- series consists predominantly of paintings, which have been cut in gestural fashion. By piercing the canvas, Fontana wanted to attack the two-dimensionality of the picture plane by opening it up to a third-dimension. This void was emphasized by lining the back of the painting with a black fabric, so that when looking through these holes the spectator would only see black, emphasizing their emptiness. Without this the viewer would have been looking at the gallery wall through the painting, which would have not necessary felt like breaking the fourth dimension.

Lucio Fontana wrote the White Manifesto (Manifesto Blanco) in 1946 where he set out his aims for spatialist art. "A hole is the start of a sculpture in space. My works are not pictures, but art concepts".39 Considering his works as concepts rather than objects, Fontana can be seen as making some of the earliest approaches to conceptual art. Fundamental to these works was the spaces they created, which became part of the art work itself.

When this concept is transferred to the material of clay, as in Il Pane (The Bread), I understand this as entering to the terrain of relief – an understanding. it must be said, that is probably quite foreign to how Fontana conceptualized it. The general rawness of expression on the surface of unglazed terracotta, markings punctured with a stick-like object, and the lively signature at the bottom create an association to ancient clay tablets.


Figures and architecture play a main role in the works of Betty Woodman (1930-2018)Starting her career as a potter, she gradually moved away from the utilitarian object, continuing to explore the metaphorical possibilities of the vessel while expanding her practice to painting. Her painterly expression is influenced by the Italian majolica tradition in terms of the colors she used, as well as by the maximalist attitude of the Pattern & Decoration movement, which did not distinguish between background and foreground. Her multi-media installations marry surface and form. They consist of ceramic elements with slabs and thrown forms, as well as paintings on paper and canvas, and all of this is held together with flat elements that resemble table or shelve-like structures.  The combination of different materials and different dimensions are unified by the painted marks across these different surfaces, in this way making everything part of the same artist´s expression. 


In the 1990´s Betty Woodman started exploring negative space through her Kimono-vase series. With these works she started to fully utilize the negative space in between; the triptychs were formed between two ceramic objects and the negative space between the two silhouettes formed the third form. Woodman considered the spaces in between as just as important as the pieces themselves. A decade before, she had already been moving her works to the wall by creating architectural settings with relief-like elements. She utilized the leftover parts from her sculptural works and arranged them on the wall. By referring to the works as “wallpapers”, she again acknowledged the domestic space that has always been at the center of her oeuvre.


Both Fontana´s and Woodman´s works demonstrate interesting relationships to spaces. They make me wonder how far the space of the relief extends. Fontana called his pieces concepts and sought to realize another dimension. Woodman kept her works in the realm of independent objects, and used the white cube itself as a form of negative space.

Figure 8: Lucio Fontana: Conzetto Spaziale, Il pane.1950. Terracotta.42 x 33 cm

© Fondazione Lucio Fontana, by Siae 2023       

Figure 9: Betty Woodman: Aspen Garden Room. 1984. 8 x 10 x 11 ft. Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, fabric. Installation view at Aspen Art Museum, Colorado, 1984. Courtesy of the Woodman Family Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Figure 10: Betty Woodman: The House of South, 1996. 159 x 246 x 9 1/2 inches. Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, paint. Installation view from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2006. Photo by Eli Ping. Courtesy of the Woodman Family Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.



Although it is difficult to say for sure, it would seem to me that relief is enjoying something of an upswing. When an art form has as long history as relief does, these waves of popularity come and go. After the decades following in the wake of conceptual art’s dematerialization of the art object, the art world seems once again to be experiencing a new interest in materiality. This has also bought into focus techniques and materials that are traditionally associated with craft, and the borders that previously prevented these fields from entering to the art field are dissolving. 


In this chapter I have concentrated on the qualities of relief and how the form occurs in art. The more ancient forms of relief like petroglyphs are considered part of the sculptural practices of prehistoric people and operated as a means to communicate in a non-literal manner. 


Verzutti´s painted bronze reliefs like Van Gogh with Eggs or Girl with the Pearl Earring reference both sculptural and painting traditions, making the cross-over potential of the relief form clear and opening a terrain that has been little explored. I find that this affirms the fluidity of the relief, and how it is possible to approach it with various strategies, adding to the versatility of a form which nonetheless still manages to exist autonomously. Though artists today work with relief, there is a clear lack of writing and theorizing around it. I would like to see a thoughtfully compiled large survey exhibition that recognizes the form and which explores the artistic possibilities that relief affords. With its formal features and historical resonance, relief offers a great deal of potential for an artistic exploration that combines sculptural and pictorial convention. 


Artistic Work – The Reliefs

Figure 1: Listening to a broken relief, 2019.
Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen.


Relief is something I have been instinctively rotating towards few years before this project began. As an alternative to sculpture, which has always been the art form I most connect with, the possibilities of relief feel intriguing and open. Engaging with aspects like perspective, drawing with the material, and experimenting with other artistic possibilities that pictorial expression has to offer has been compelling to explore. All of these approaches are somehow connected to reliefs projection from the wall. These approaches derive from the time-space presentation that take place on relief´s background surface, the negative space of relief as a compositional approach, and the removal of the background and presenting objects as spaces themselves. 



When I started my PhD the question to suddenly start working with picture space seemed exiting. It felt natural to move towards more representational expression to better explore the relief´s potential of narrative space. Previously when working with abstract sculpture, I had the precision of the forms and the presence of the volume in the same physical space with me. Now, when working flat, I have felt that a more abstracted expression is less resonant, mainly because of how volume has shifted to the pictorial space. 

Previously when working with sculpture, experimenting with figurative expression felt somehow strange because, even though these sculptures were non-representational, I experienced the works as bodies. 

I have discovered that abstract ceramic relief is difficult to make well. It always seems to be in danger of developing towards a decorative tile or a plate. This sort of gradual sliding over a vaguely defined concept-based border is hard to describe or measure. The more abstract the work is, the more I find it draws attention to its materiality. The exhibited reliefs have their focus at the intersection of the projected, narrative space and the flattened volume of sculptural expression, which oscillates between the flatness of low relief and the sculptural qualities of high reliefThis is possible through clay, because its materiality affords the whole variety of these languages when I work with it.


These four years´ focus on relief and on the pictorial space that it affords have transformed my expression from non-representational to something more pictorial. Applying Deep Listening as a method has also contributed to this, by guiding me to be more receptive to my own thoughts and to let the process flow.


It is the in-betweenness that attracts me to both to the material of clay and to the relief form. There is something in the way that clay arrests gesture and holds expression that I find profound. To me relief affords a relatively simple form with a certain set of boundaries, and inside this space I am free do what I want. I have the size of the kiln which tells what I can fit in, I have the concept of relief, and some clay. 



My practice has always dealt with sculptural objects, because I find dealing with them interesting. They exist as real things, and they have the material capacity to last and to create an impression. They form their own narratives and connections to the world and, as a spectator you can have a direct, one-on-one relationship with them. I find treating relief as an independent object logical, despite its historical function as ornamental feature and adjunct to architecture. monuments, and ornamental feature. I seek to approach the relief by communicating about the experience of working with it and experiencing it.


It is not my attempt to take relief to the expanded field, but rather to look at it as a thing in its own right, as an independent work of art, as a sculptural object. The display strategy of my exhibition Porous Worlds seeks to emphasize this. I have approached relief from

different angles, created disparate experiments which are at times flat and painterly, while at other times the works´ frames are so heavy that they are able to stand by themselves.

Figure 2: Upbound & Downbound, 2021, glazed porcelain, 17 x 17 x 2 cm. Photo: Kobie Nel

Figure 3: Sun & Death, 2020, glazed stoneware, 32 x 28 x 5 cm.
Photo: Kobie Nel



The projection of the relief´s surface makes me think of them as portals. This is another aspect of the liminal space that I refer to, thinking about the works as portals, as entry points from one space to another. This notion provided the idea for Porous Worlds, to convey the experience of another space through the works. The frame becomes part of the realm, revealing the porosity between the inside and outside, acting like a vessel that contains. Ever since I learned the basics of painting and drawing, I thought of a picture as a widow opening up to some other dimension and that the things I drew or painted started to exist somewhere else. Now I think it may be the other way around, that I download and transmit visions which then take forms of ambiguous narratives.




Relief are often understood as pictures with a positive profile, with a surface that builds up, but reliefs can move in the other direction as well. Counter-relief or intaglio is worked by carving or removing the material, so that the surface realizes the highest point and the portrayed picture is sunk inwards. In my works I have dealt with this negative space by extending it further through piercing the plane and creating holes in the works. The flat works with a solid background seemed to fit best on the wall, while the ones with the negative spaces can, if they are not flat against the wall, open up visually to other spaces. Many of these patterns of expression overlap with each other. The exhibition strategy is built around the notion of negative space, and the wooden structures hold space inside of them. If my working with clay is defined by the size of the kiln, my reliefs are then affected by their distance to the wall. 




Clay and relief both have long lineal descents deriving from various historical civilizations and cultures, and this lends to the form certain associations. I find this multi-temporal presence interesting to work with and I make my pieces so that they are not easily connected to any specific time. I like to work with a quasi-ancient vibe and like to pretend that some of the works are from another time period. Perhaps it is because of the clay that has such a long life-span, but my representational works do not connect to any particular time, rather they connect to themes that are timeless.



I have worked in different places; in 2020 at an art residency in Kecskemet, Hungary, Senter for Keramisk Kunst in Ringebu, and participated in the Kohila wood firing symposium in 2021. This change of physical place, working in a new studio environment has undoubtedly had certain effects on the works. The most significant effect has been on my working tempo; the stopping and starting again. This changes the creative dynamics and creates pauses in my thinking and listening. To start working in another place means re-orienting myself and finding my way back to working. This can create subtle changes in the works, and over longer periods of time introduce new influences that start to gradually develop out of these adjustments. It is the increased awareness of time that comes through the changing of spaces and which is then reflected in the process of thinking through the material. 

Figure 4: Onion Rising, 2019, glazed stoneware, 37 x 55 x 2 cm. Photo: Kobie Nel



The virtual space of a picture, which contains capacities of foreground and background, is also something that relief affords. This is the base for relief´s narrative-pictorial space that makes possible the movement of forms and figures, and which allow them to be presented in a relationship to one another in more specific way. It opens up a temporal space in the work; the sun can rise behind the mountains or shine at the high noon. For a sculptor, these represent new possibilities to explore.

To approach a pictorial plane through clay can be helped by approaching the clay slab as a canvas and imagining it as stretcher whose width and depth can be expanded simply through adding clay. Here the tactility of sculptural expression can take place, but only the frontal perspective of the forms is visible. When I work with my reliefs I work with the plasticity of clay, building up the surface. Because of the physical qualities of the clay, its weight and malleability, I work with it flat on a table.


In November 2018, one month after the the start of my PhD, I began to make low reliefs from stoneware. At first, I was thinking about a relief that would open up spatially like a scene, that would have the tension of a canvas. My attempt was to make these reliefs as flat as possible, resembling pictures. They would be perfect to mortar directly onto the wall, their thinness making them resemble tiles. 


Two of these works, Burned Summer and Old Worlds, have surfaces that resemble metal-like substances. The glazes have visual weight; a bronze glaze, and a glaze that looks like copper patina, supply a metallic heaviness. The bronze glaze used on Burned Summer has a very high metal oxide content and this gives a highly reflective metallic shine. Using high amounts of metal oxides in glazes can create metallic saturated surfaces that, even while consisting of glasslike minerals, still manages to realize a thick and metallic presence. It is as if the material is trying to be something other than it is, something other than ceramics, something forged, and unbreakable. 

Figure 5: Day & Night, 2021, glazed stoneware, 24 x 22 x 2 cm.
Photo: Kobie Nel

Figure 6: Old Years, 2018, glazed stoneware, 43 x 25 x 2 cm.
Photo: Kobie Nel

Figure 7: Burned Summer, 2018, glazed stoneware, 43 x 25 x 2 cm.
Photo: Kobie Nel

Figure 8: Forenoon´s Drop, 2018, glazed stoneware, 60 x 47 x 2 cm.
Photo: Kobie Nel


This relief is a ceramic tile that was on display in the Middle Eastern section of V&A Museum in the summer of 2018. It is an architectural element that was used as window screen, allowing air to circulate in and out of the room. Highly ornamental, the arabesque pattern is made with a shallow depth perspective; some of its features coil to the front, and some recede, in this way creating a decorative pictorial space. I remember looking at it and being impressed by the idea that one can look at the space behind an object, through the object. Now I connect this thought to the ideas around a portal; a connecting surface between inside and outside, letting air flow through. 

Coming across this tile when browsing through my image bank two years ago, I started to think about the potential of space going through a piece and then continuing beyond it, and of a relief rejecting the wall that it is usually connected to. Negative space is a compositional technique that has been applied to both sculptural and pictorial spaces. By shifting between positive and negative space one can build trans-dimensional volume. The negative enhances the positive, inner connects the outer, that which is touched touches back. Through positive and negative the visual weight shifts, creating a compositional effect.


I had cut holes in some reliefs before but the work White Night Wanderer from 2020 anticipated an artistic turn, a point of developing my artistic expression so that experimenting with negative space became a central concern. Similar to low relief, the work has higher walls of clay which lend it a greater physical and visual depth. I have carved away clay from the background, so it is no longer a solid slab of clay, yet at the same time the lines that create the work´s visual structure also act to hold it together. Being in a hurry I speeded up the drying process, resulting in the piece to breaking in two during the bisque firing. 


The work depicts a figure similar to that found in hieroglyphs. It has wing-like limbs, and a posture that implies intended movement. The work is almost square in shape, with small spurs sticking out from its sides.


The Shino glaze40 stays rather white and united on the top part of the lines, while breaking into orange in the recesses of the work, an arrangement which builds up the depth effect. The un-evenness of the coloration gives a vivid visual effect. White color comes through the background and I think of its presence as the ray-like display of light in the virtual space of the relief. This is reflected in the title of the piece, which refers to the northern summer nights when the sun does not set, and the night-time experience feels unreal.

Figure 9: Frit-ware tile from Iran, ca. 1200. V&A. The collection of Victoria & Albert Museum, London.


Figure 10: White Night Wanderer, 2020, glazed stoneware, 44 x 42 x 3 cm. Photo: Kobie Nel



In the fall of 2020, I start to make two pieces that are as wide as I can fit in the 1500 liter kiln of KMD. I recognized how their weight would make the works difficult to hang, and that making them stand upright would also pose challenges. At the same time, clay objects have an inbuilt bottom or backside through which they connect to the world. This enables them to extend upwards. I made a solid frame construction which held the weight of the piece together and defined its outer limits. A frame suggests a pictorial space, and these resembled door frames. Their depth lent more volume to the relief space, expanding the possibilities for high-relief work. 


A frame sets up a different kind of spatial dynamics. The support is visible, and serves to hold the work, while at the same time puncturing the pictorial plane. There is something incredibly solid in the presence of work this size, which takes it out of its usual, everyday object-scale and pushes it towards the monumental. Giving a bronze glaze underlines this solid appearance and makes the piece look less like ceramics and more like sculpture.


I made a pine tree together with some funnel-shaped mushrooms. The relationship they form with each other maybe an exchange of information, since the trees and fungi are known to exist in symbiotic relationships. It is as if the piece is divided between low and high relief. This is the most figurative work for me at this point, which I think might explain the approach.

Figure 11: The Scales Told the Spores, 2021, glazed stoneware, 100 x 60 x 12 cm. Photo: Kobie Nel

The two largest works, The Scale Told the Spores and Encounter with Frog Spirit also started a period of further exploring the frame structure, which enabled me to experiment more freely with negative space. With these two large pieces the question of their display and their relationship to architecture became pressing. I started to think about having the works lean against the wall. This arrangement would act to realize another physical space behind the works, instead of being directly on the wall or floor. Since the form is traditionally connected to the surface of a building it felt important to mark the works´ distinction by leaving some space behind the pieces, offering them some air. This was a new way for the relief to occupy the space, not by hanging on the wall or standing up straight, but by leaning. I think about the frame and how the space can continue through its negative spaces, projecting both in front of it and behind itself. The negative spaces structure their appearance and take on the visual weight of this work. It took almost five months to finish these piecesThe Frog Spirit work I find less figurative, more decorative, and less successful. Visually it is too noisy, and its qualities slip away.


After my midway evaluation in February 2021 I continued with smaller frame works. I liked how these works become like a group of sculptures and considered this as a tentative idea for the HKS exhibition. The frames have the thickness they have to ensure that the works do not become too fragile. Like sculptures made of clay, the works too need to be able to hold their own weight, especially when leaning and distributing their weight between the edges of the frames. 

Figure 12: Group of reliefs leaning together, 2021 at KMD.

Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen

Figure 13: Encounter with Frog Spirit, 2021, glazed stoneware, 100 x 60 x 12 cm. Photo: Kobie Nel



These works The Vessel Must Explain Itself and Fontana came in to being when I tried to work with relief as if it were a sculpture. None of these works have a background that could open a time-space narrative about the object´s relationship to the world, but since the space which depicts the object is a narrative space nevertheless, it can tell stories that take place in the object itself. Very much like sculpture. When the narrative space of relief is diminished or removed altogether, the reliefs start to exist in this world differently, connecting with us in another way. 

Figure 14: The Vessel Must Explain itself, 2020, 14 x 24 x 2 cm, glazed porcelain.(left) Photo: Kobie Nel

Figure 15: Fontana, 2020, glazed stoneware, 27 x 25 x 10 cm (right) Photo: Kobie Nel

Figure 16: Dripping Sunlight, 2020, glazed stoneware, 29 x 27 x 3 cm. Photo: Kobie Nel

Figure 17: From Water Plant Rises, 2022, painted porcelain, 54 x 85 x 8 cm. Photo: Kobie Nel





In the From Water Plant Rises, 2022, the negative spaces take multiple shapes. The base of the work was built with extruded tubular shapes, these forms were born out of an unsuccessful attempt to find a way to hang the work from the ceiling. I retained these shapes, opening or extending them. The blue lines define spaces of their own, and blurs the volumes formed by the low clay walls. The expression is almost cartoonish and the overall appearance of the work is so organic that it is hard to say what else it depicts other than a knot of associations.


I was hand-building with porcelain, and judging by the scale of the works I should have added some paper to strengthen their structure. I find working with porcelain generally unnecessarily difficult for my needs, but there is certain appeal in how bright all the colors turnout against the white background. I mixed some ceramic color pigments into the clay body which created faint areas of color. The blue painted underglaze lines unify the surface of different depths. The piece is not glazed, which leaves the surface deliciously matt. 


Porcelain enjoys possibly the highest status when it comes to clays and is the material of china. The painting of porcelain is associated with amateur crafts; my grandmother used to paint flower motifs with a small brush on undecorated tableware. It is about ornamentation with skill, a desire to make things pretty. I was interested in playing around with the idea of this craft-technique because of its connotations. After I had modelled the works from porcelain, I painted on them with underglazes and high-fired them without glazing, because I wanted to move away from the glossiness of the transparent glaze. I ended up doing flower motifs and other plant-based narratives on larger scale.

Figure 18: Clove Pink Blues, 2022, painted porcelain, 31 x 49 x 5 cm. Photo: Kobie Nel




For me, the process of representation is more important than the meaning of the figures, symbols or the theme of what is depicted. My affinity for symbols derives from how I perceive them as open containers, carriers of multiple meanings. These marks and signs emerge from the listening experience when I create an intentional form that can contain an abstraction of the received experience. Different symbols open up and connect in diverse ways with diverse people, sometimes even meaning completely different things. What I concentrate on are the different resonances they allow, what they afford, and what possibilities they open towards. Multitudes of images, like porous worlds, glide through each other, touching and forming a new image.


Figure 19: Lucky Hand I-III, 2019, various dimensions. Photo: Kobie Nel



The process of exhibiting helps to title the works. Sometimes these are already present in the making process, with some phrases rolling of my tongue, others come about with the greater distance that comes about when looking at the finished work. I try to make the process of forming titles as enjoyable as the making of the work, and perhaps that’s why they tend to be a bit playful. I think of the titles as giving a possible nod towards the potentials that did not materialize in the actual making, but which were still somehow present during the process. They offer one possible approach to the work, that may resonate with the viewer, help them to connect the dots in their own process of making meaning. 

Some of the titles are on the short side, often consisting of two words like a sparse poem. They are intended to allow the pieces mood and expression to resonate. One-word titles are only used with pieces which feel more like formal exercises. Sometimes the titles have more potent narratives, and can add clear story-like layers that make sense when looking at the work, layers that would otherwise go unremarked.


I fetch the inspiration from everywhere I can: from lived experiences, things that have for some reason left a mark on my memory, to overheard details. Coming up with song titles generally are not that far removed from thinking of titles for the art work. Since song unfolds in time and cannot be comprehended without hearing the whole thing, the title´s function is to evoke images, to create an interface where some level of identification can take place and introduce the general vibe or content to the listener. The act of identifying is something I see as a central form of aesthetical experience in my work. An inherent, primitive kind of happening, which builds on previous occurrences lived through and perhaps joins them, maybe making a small link in the viewers chain of association. 

Figure 20: Wort Wounds, 2022, glazed stoneware, 53 x 30 x 3 cm. Photo: Kobie Nel

Figure 21: Speaking in Tongues, 2021, glazed stoneware, 52 x 43 x 6 cm. Photo: Kobie Nel

Clay & Ceramics

One might think that difference between clay and ceramics is clear, but for some reason these terms are often confused. All ceramics41 are made of clay42, making clay a ceramic material. But there are also other ceramic materials, like glazes, which solidify and transform their chemical substance during firing, and these are an integral part of working with ceramics. Clay is a general term for a naturally occurring or commercially produced mix of minerals that have the consistency of a plastic material. Ceramics is a general name for objects made of clay which has gone through the process of firing to become ceramics. Clay is a material, ceramics is process, and we have seen that the latter is has started to establish itself as an art medium as well. Both clay and ceramics have processes and ways of fashioning which are typical to them. 

Figure 1: Relief from 2018 that was never firedPhoto: Pauliina Pöllänen

Figure 2: A sketch from 2021. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen



Clay is part of the geology of the earth, and it is used in architecture, sanitary elements, medicine, paints, cosmetics, and space technology. It gives form to concepts; animated anthropomorphic beings have been shaped from clay in Jewish folklore, Norse mythology, and in the Bible. Existing around the planet in abundance, it is characterized by its humble status. 


Understanding the affordances of clay can help me to understand potentials its use makes possible in my artistic practice. The narratives around different ways to use the material, from finding out what it is physically capable of, to its cultural associations, are all processes that help me to fathom how different meanings are connected to an art material through different ways of handling it. My attempts to delineate these notions around clay can help to grasp what kind of knowledges is connected to it.



I think of clay as a somehow limitless material, a pile of particles that you can arrange as you like. Assisted, it moves to all directions and suspends the arc of that movement. You can add or subtract, the particles can join and separate endlessly; whatever the size of the lump, the material holds itself together. It can take any shape, render any expression. My relationship with clay is based on the freedom of expression that it enables me to have. 


I have worked with clay for the last twenty years and I keep looking for new ways to interact with it. To me clay affords, or rather demands, continuous making and reworking. Clay can be slapped, rolled, pinched, centered, turned, trimmed, drawn on, pushed, poked, pulled, stretched, wedged, thinned out, folded, colored, poured, crumbled, soaked, dried, fired. Unlike wood or metal, it does not come in a standardized shape or form, and I purchase it in heavy plastic bags. At the studio there is an ongoing cycle of modelling, drying and firing, alongside the more repetitive chores of mixing glazes and reclaiming clay. The continuous work-flow creates a certain tempo. Circulation of different work phases provides variety and creates pauses in the art making. These pauses, when works are wrapped away in plastic, create a distance and help me to understand the work differently when I later return to them. There are certain stages when working with clay that need to be carried out at specific times. If I work on a larger sculpture, these being hollow structures with a relatively thin material thickness, I need to wait until the last round of added clay has dried somewhat, ensuring that it is stiff enough to carry the weight of the fresh clay I apply on top of it without collapsing. By touching the clay, I know how soft or hard it is, and what kind of movement it can take. 


Very soft clay takes up the movements of the fingers very easily and is more difficult to control. The more it dries, the more it loses its softness and becomes less responsive and more resistant, and more pleasant to pinch. If the clay is too dry I need to be careful to not to push too hard so that it does not start to crack. Different stages of softness afford different stages of working. Sometimes things dry too much and I need to add more water carefully. There is a cycle of endless wrapping and unwrapping clay pieces in and out plastic sheets while trying to balance humidity and dryness. 


My approach to this is to work in sets or series, formed of between two and seven pieces. If I try to juggle with more than seven works that at once, I cannot keep it together, and the process becomes scattered. I begin by outlining a number of slabs on a horizontal surface such as a table, and start to work with in random order. The works are often made with the same clay but not always, and the sizes are usually similar. The pieces are not connected with each other thematically, but share some affinity, a similar sculptural expression, for example. As the working proceeds and the clay starts to dry, I cover the pieces with plastic and work with one uncovered piece at time. This creates a certain rhythm to working. I shuffle the pieces based on their dryness/wetness, and how they resonate with me. There is usually at least one piece which is at the stage of optimal softness/hardness and so can be worked while the rest are packed away, waiting for their turn. The works in the sets affect each other throughout the process and exist in relation to each other as a group but are not connected in an orderly manner. They are not a sequence, rather they are siblings.

Figure 3: A set of two coming up, 2021. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen

When I am in the process of making, I try to refuse any preconceptions and listen to the shape of the outlined clay slap. I am instinctively aware of the things that I have seen and know of, works of great artists, historical pieces, stories and dreams. These things are somehow present in my creative process, although I do not consciously think about them when I work. The years I have spent building volume continues to impact my art making and thinking, even now working more pictorial.

Figure 4: Working at the ceramic workshop space of KMD in 2019. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen

To me the most excitement causes the work that is in the process, about to become, not yet finished. The position where the possibilities are still open and the work is still taking its shape. After a piece is finished, I am probably thinking of something else already. That is why it has been so interesting to stop and spend some time with the finished works from several years, during this project. As I explain in the Porous Worlds exhibition -text, the process around planning the exhibition strategy has been useful in that thinking further the work, to listen to them after they are finished.


My relationship with clay and ceramics officially started through vocational education, in studio ceramics, which covered all the possible ways of making pots. This meant that the focus was on the material transformations and techniques, how to handle clay so it becomes ceramics. In a way, my whole knowledge base around ceramics is founded on this. It has encouraged me to approach different clay materials in different ways. Technical knowledge enables advanced level of proficiency to handle ceramic materials. It can, for example, help to prevent damage to the kiln equipment. Sometimes however, this knowhow can predispose one to a dogmatic type of thinking that insists that there are certain ways that things should be done, for example, that ceramics should not be painted but glazed. Over the years I have found other perspectives to making, but these foundational years continue to inform the way I understand the material and work with it.



I see my practice as a space in which I operate and can trust what I do, even if I do not know how the piece will turn out. My technical knowledge-base allows me to concentrate on the creative process, since I have absorbed a lot of the technical knowledge related to modelling, sculpting and hand-building I do not have to think about it. Paulus Berehnson (1933-2017), a dancer and a potter, put it well: “..technique by itself tends to lead to dead ends. It comes alive through a person, when it is from a living source.”43 I interpret this to mean that the technical readiness affords creative working, and this is the most important. Berehnson´s friend, a poet and a potter M.C. Richards (1916-1999) writes in the introduction text of the same book how “To find one´s way with clay is to integrate one´s inner search with one´s outer practice.44 Her views reflect more broadly the holistic tendencies of craft-based ceramic education, that she was involved with since her days at the Black Mountain college.45 I find this resonating with Deep Listening, which places the motivation to experience and learn before anything else.





As a material, clay affords to me plastic malleability, and is therefore capable of suspending artistic expression in exceptional ways. Anybody who has a functioning limb can make their mark on a piece of clay; it´s responsiveness makes it is easy to work with it. Unfired, raw clay can be reclaimed and recycled endlessly. Direct interaction leaves fingerprints or tool marks behind. This tactile subjectivity makes possible the intuitive relationship with the material I am interested in. When working fast and energetically, clay arrests this speedy flow of movement, responding to emotional expression with heaviness. I work towards precise expression as quickly as possible, as in this way I am able to maintain the flow and use the time window of certain stages of the clay´s stiffness, before I water it and put it back in its plastic.

Tools help me with efficient building and artistic working at the same time as they expand expressive possibilities. Anything goes for mark making in clay, which turns positive into negative. In 1950 Danish artist Asger Jorn famously spread clay on the ground in Italy, and then drove a Vespa around it. His spontaneous and scaled up incursion tested clay´s ability receive and hold more robust gestures of motorized mark-making tools, renouncing a fiddling with details. These clay panels ended up as part of a 30m long mural, and in this way the scale of the tool correlated aptly with the physical scale of the work. Clay is a material that communicates about the experience of its own handling, and this process associates itself with something which is embedded in all art making: the question, what happens if I do this?  


I use a mix of specialized tools and common household utensils, like forks and pin-rollers, as does everyone else I know who works with clay. There is a strong D.I.Y. sensibility that comes along with the craftmanship, and at least I was taught in school to make my own wooden tools for throwing. The most important tool is the kiln, which dictates the making process; I can only make pieces of a size that fits in the kiln. The only measure bigger than that is the gallery doorway. 


Clay has a material trait that resembles a memory, and which can create uncertainties throughout the making process.46 In this material phenomena, when clay is heated above certain transformational temperatures, the particles remember the movement they have been disposed to and try to recover back to this. This can create stress to the material and  cause cracking in clay during drying and firing. Even if a piece does not crack in the bisquefiring, it can still crack in the glaze firing. If I pinch clay from both sides simultaneously while working with it helps to keep the form, as well as ensuring slow and even drying processes.




There are different types of clays, each with their own material affordances. Low fired clays, or earthenware, maintain a great deal of their porosity after firing, which can make them appear more vulnerable, even cheap, with their lighter weight. Even when earthenware is fired solid, I do not find the interstice of the substance to be sufficiently stable. Lower firing temperatures enable a brighter color palette, as the color pigments hold their color better. Earthenware clays, like terracotta, are associated with flowerpots and folk pottery, which are usually treated with specific slip decoration or other techniques like majolica painting, which may be connected to certain aesthetic styles and cultural language. Vitreous47porcelain can achieve partial translucency in firing when it is thin. Porcelain is the most expensive and most challenging of the clays to work with. Its white color, incredible hardness and durability after firing is achieved through the balanced combination of feldspar, kaolin and quartz. Because of the whiteness of the material, all other colors look more intense and vibrant on it; it works like the canvas. For centuries Europeans tried to discover how the Chinese made it, its secret origins only adding to its mystery and appeal. 


Some orientation around the different qualities of clay bodies is recommended to understand the properties of clay, and how they affect the artistic processes. It is not just about reducing the number of technical problems that could occur, but also looking at the aesthetic experiences the physical properties are connected to and what they can bring forth through their materiality. I prefer to use different grogged stoneware bodies in hand-building. Stoneware has a wide firing range and often a good resistance to thermal shocks, it comes in a variety of colors, and is the most versatile of clay bodies. It is a good, all-around clay that is easy to use. The impurities and different minerals usually mean that stoneware is grey or brownish, and different added minerals like iron oxide or feldspar can create different effects in the firings. 


I have found out that I like experimenting with different types of clays and seeing how they affect my working process and enriches my expression. This creates diversity in my artistic work, but also a visual inconsistency that can appear unfocused to someone else. Many people who work with clay seem to, after trying out different things, decide upon working with a specific type of clay and with specific type of glazes and then commit to this one area of expression. This is a very practical approach, since having the same firing range for the works and therefore consistency in the processes makes the working more convenient and less complicated by reducing technical problems, among other things. 


When I travel to work in residencies I use the materials and equipment that are available there. Perhaps this is due to my education, that I feel comfortable working with different things. Because with my knowledge base and skills related to all kind of techniques and materials I have no problem working with any type of clay. It may also be because I like variety and exploring the new possibilities that the different approaches can offer. In the clays I use I am looking for good malleability and hand-building qualities, since these are the features and technique I use most. Color of the clay, firing range, or kiln atmosphere does not matter that much. 

Figure 5: Studio space in Kecskemet, 2020. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen

Figure 6: Preparing to load the gas kiln in Kecskemet, 2020. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen


Firing ceramics is one of the earliest technologies that humans have developed, creating a democratic material that anchors our everyday lives. Once the clay dries and is fired, it becomes ceramics through the process of sintering.48 A dry, fragile, crumbling mix of earthy minerals turns to stone hard, and becomes a new material when the particles are fused together by heat. This transformational process defines a lot of the other processes around it.


Firing makes it possible to introduce glazes, which are fused to the clay body as a permanent coating. Glazes afford colors and texture on clay, although those can be added through underglazes and slips as well. In the glazing process, the capillary voids of the porous bisque-fired surface absorb liquid into itself. This makes the glaze coating to fuse together with the clay´s surface in the firing. The percentage of porosity that remains on the glazed surface varies depending on the material, and cannot be totally gotten rid of. 

Figure 7: Unfired and glaze-fired work. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen



In the heated process of firing the particles are transformed in a way so that they now form one solid, connected mass that is now possible to carve, cut, drill, to break. These techniques are employed by Caroline Slotte in her research project Second Hand Stories. Slotte applies to fired ceramic objects techniques from more traditional sculptural practices like working with wood or stone, using mostly old second-hand plates as her material. She writes, “I have wanted to push the limits of the material – to see how far in expression I could go – what narratives, angles and themes I could cull from this material.49

Slotte´s practice also stands out with its sustainable approach to art making; in the world overflowing with ceramic things, using found objects as a material is a sustainable concept. Often working with ready-mades involves playing around with the sign-value of the object, but Slotte takes the materiality of ceramics seriously by carving and manipulating, layering the existing cultural references as part of her works and making the objects to refer back to their own life stories.

Figure 8: Caroline Slotte: Unidentified View nr. 7, 2010. (right) Photo: Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum

Figure 9: Caroline Slotte: Unidentified View nr.7 (detail), 2010 (left) Photo: Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum


Glaze is a ceramic material of its own, and an integral element in making ceramics. Fired glazes form glassy surfaces with a range of possible textures and chemical consistencies. They form a colored hard layer that seals the surface with varying consistencies, and are especially useful when it comes to surfaces that needs to withstand water. 


I think about glaze as a surface, a physical layer like a skin or a hard crust; it´s impact on the ceramic form is apparent. Glazing conceals clay´s surface even when the glaze is transparent, as its glass-like coating rounds out sharp edges. Glazes afford color, texture, and layers to ceramics. They can be matt, coarse, bubbling, foaming, glossy, runny, drippy, crystallized, pooling, stiff, flaking off, metallic, crazing, crackling, pinholed, lustrous, shiny, glassy, opaque, transparent. Glazes are substances of their own, like paint. They have with different colors, textures, variations of shine, and viscosity. They can be applied in a painterly manner or as a single unifying coating. Colors afford an intuitive approach is because we associate them with feelings. Like colors, the glazes have an effect on the viewer, and they either contrasts or compliment the other glazes. The transparent, subtly colored celadon types can create the illusion of depth, and thus intensify or mute the effects of other colors. Being experienced working with different types of glazes and understanding some of their potentials, like how they work in combination with each other, I continue to look for new ways to approach them. 

Glazes consist of clay minerals that create a body for the glaze, fluxes, glass agents, and metal oxides that give the color. Adding copper gives a full palette from turquoise to green and red. Nickel oxide, gives lovely mattes of yellow and green and is one of the more toxic oxides.50 Red iron oxide contributes to everything from the translucent, subtle tones of turquoise celadon glaze to earthy reddish browns. Simply put, multiple complex chemical processes can take place on one object´s surface depending on the kiln atmosphere and the other materials used. Layers of different glazes effect each other in the firing, often some of the more stronger metal oxides like copper or cobalt leach through the layers. 


Glossy glazes afford a melting and mixing of the colors. A longer soak in the top temperature of the glaze makes the glaze drip and drool, revealing under glaze layers, and adding richness to the palette. Matt glazes do not fuse to the extent of other glazes as their melting is more controlled. To achieve a certain kind of effect is to control the melting point of the glazes by programming the kiln. Around five or six years ago I worked with abstract sculptures that I covered completely with colorful glazes. Thick coatings of oozing saturation, colors melting past each other, the full-on materiality of the glaze´s bodily presence. The rawness of dry clay, dusty and porous, disappears in first firing. The bisque-fired object is always in a transitional stage, not yet having reached its full potential. Glazing can be a small re-birth, making the work alive and anew. It can make or break the piece. 

Figure 10: High-fired surface of glaze, 2020. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen

Figure 11: Glaze lab of KMD, 2020. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen



I do not often have very specific ideas when starting to choose glazes to use. Sometimes I end up with what is readily at hand, sometimes I spend a lot of time browsing recipes and trying to imagine the outcome. Color is the material of painters, but I, like many others, find the process of glazing akin to painting in the dark. Liquid glaze is opaque with the consistency of thin slip and the material bears no resemblance to the fired outcome. You might know where your hand is applying the glaze, and you might know you are using a teal blue glaze, but the result only becomes visible after firing. The alchemic processes of shrinkage, flux, crystallization, melting and sintering, take place inside of the kiln and reveal themselves only after cooling down. 

I do not work systematically enough to always know what results I get from the kiln. Using glazes that I don´t test produces hits and misses, and the misses demand re-glazing of the pieces. I adjust my expectations accordingly and anticipate surprises. Sometimes, when I have fired a piece a number of times, the surface is overworked, and I realize I should have stopped some firings back. I am not sure how the success ratio is aligned with the rounds of firings, but I just know when my glazing has not been successful, it has come together in a way that it does not need anything else to be done with it. Most of the times I get there, on some occasions I do not.

Being orientated around the chemistry of glazing allows me a certain level of regulation in the process of creating colorful substances. The wealth of technical knowledge here contributes to the expanded artistic possibilities.


I do not develop my own glaze recipes, so recently I have used recipes from John Britt´s books for mid-range and high firing, and Jeremy Jernegan´s book about dry glazes, in addition to searching formulas from glazy.org-site. From a former colleague Karin Blomgren, I got a copy of a file titled “Leksand glasur”, a bundle of glaze recipes from a vocational folk high school in Sweden. This compendium does not have any images of the glazes, offers little information on firing atmosphere, and hardly ever supplies the firing temperature. But what it does offer is a cross-generational creation of tacit knowledge. The glazes are given names like “Bab´s transparanta” and “Klas´ Temmoku”; these are recipes that have been developed by the staff and students, and have been shared, experimented with and developed further. This shows an educational community´s ability to generate specific material knowledge and share and update it with a new generation of students. This type of learning and sharing is inherent to craft-related practices, and central for ceramics. These days the ceramic networks operate increasingly as global online with platforms such as glazy.org and Digitalfire, which gather, share and further generate knowledge about the materials and glaze recipes.

Figure 12: Glaze tests from gas firing, November 2020. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen



Kilns are expensive and they take space and require a connection to a fuel source like electricity, gas, or wood. Depending on the fuel source, there are two types of kiln atmospheres: oxidation51 and reduction.52 

In this project I have used both; reduction firing with gas and wood, and the electric kilns for oxidation. Typically, wooden kilns are fired in more rural settings, because of the fire hazard and the firing exhaust gasses, whereas electric kilns don´t have this type of preferences.

Having access to kilns is always a question of resources. The cost of acquiring a kiln, together with the cost of its running and maintenance along with expenditure on fuel, means that ceramics is not the most economically accessible of materials to work with. Many resolve the economical question by sharing resources, building and firing kilns together, which is yet another reason why the ceramic community is so closely knit. 


The firing process is connected to the many other aspects of the making process; the works made of clay need to fit inside of the kiln, and the firing temperatures also guide decision making around which clays and glazes to use. Firing in the electric kiln is made relatively easy by programming the firing in advance with a kiln controller. Firing with gas and wood require more skills and knowledge and safety measures around them, but they also provide a more flexible and varied approach to the firing process itself. 

Figure 13: 1500 liter electric kiln in KMD, 2022. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen

Figure 14: Anagama in Kohila, 2021. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen



Wood firing, like any reduction firing, affords the use of specific types of glazes like, like for example, Shino, or Temmoku. In wood firing there is the additional element of ash flying inside the kiln, landing on the objects´ surfaces and forming a coating which creates effects of its own. Usually, the wood fired kiln is fired around 1280 – 1350because this is the temperature where the ash starts to melt and form effects and glazy surfaces on the fired objects.53 Different kiln models regulate the ash-flow differently. The color palette is often muted with very earthy hues. The running joke is that all the works come out of kiln in different shades of brown. Instead of a bright color palette, it is possible to get objects that have flame marks on them, like shadowy prints of toasty movements. If I think of my making process as a way to concentrate specific energies into the material, then wood firing is similar to this. The objects that come out of the wood kiln are like recordings of the firing process, you can see which spot the flame has touched or where the flames have created their impressions and shadows on the objects. These markings evidence of the melting, transformative energies of the kiln. I find it difficult not to get romantic about it all, the tradition, knowledge, ritual, and the work related to it.


I participated in two anagama firings during this project. One in Estonia, at the Kohila Wood firing symposium, and another one in Torbjørn Kvasbø´s firing in Venabygd, Norway. Anagamas are usually fired longer than other types of kilns to get the different effects brought about by ash melting at different temperatures on the pieces. Both times we fired for between 3 and 5 days, sometimes which requires the shared effort of teamwork. 


Even though the wood we used in the firings we off-cuts that would have been otherwise thrown away, firing a kiln of 5-7m2 that rises up to the temperatures of 1300 oC inevitably produces a deal of pollution. A lot of emission particles are formed in the fire. Wood firing is considered a natural and traditional way to fire ceramics, and of course it has this dimension to it too. Some potters like Steve Harrison have explored alternatives to create more sustainable methods by introducing combustible elements in the end stage of the firing to a electric kiln.54

Figure 15: Alexandra Engelfriet: Trenchée, 2013, Lorraine, France. Courtesy by the artist. Photo: Guillaume Ramon



Seen quick, it looks like an open wound in the landscape. The land has been cut with a loader or a similar equipment machine, and the bulging clay mass looks organic and alive. Alexandra Engelfriet´s Tranchée55 is a 10-meter long, 2,3m high monumental work, located at Le Vent des Forêts, a sculpture park of 5000 hectare of forest, in Lorraine, France. The outdoor art space was founded in 1997 and currently holds over 200 works of art. Lots of the pieces are site-specific, and often utilize materials from the area.


Engelfriet has made the Trenchée from local earthenware. The piece consists of two tilted walls that are manipulated by body and form together a trench that can be walked through. When working with clay, Engelfriet works with the full capacity of her body. Through gestural, performative approach she works her way through the material. The markings of her body create a scale-marker and locate her in a landscape that is much larger. The focus has not been in the details, but working with a mass of clay, creating an immersive landscape that recalls some primitive, occult architecture. The monumentality of the piece echoes the movement of the body, resonates with the tendencies of land art, and succeeds in positioning ceramic work in the expanded field.

The work is modelled and fired on site, with a massive kiln built around it. Anyone who has loaded a kiln can understand the extensiveness of this task. What I think is so impressive with this project is the way Engelfriet pursues the logic and demands of working site-specific, and forces the ceramic firing process to conform to that. The limitation of the kiln size that usually controls the size of the work, is now reversed. With the help of a team of very skilled professionals building the kiln and ensuring a successful firing process, the whole arc of the drama of the firing is recorded in the clay: the flame marks imprinted on the banks, and remains of ash and temperature changes color the clay. It resembles of an architectural pit-fire.


1.     Figure 16: Simone Leigh, Anonymous (detail), 2022. Glazed stoneware. 184 x 136 x 110 cm. Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery. Copyright Simone Leigh.




Just like any large-scale sculpture, large-scale ceramic works too require more time, money and space, as well as adjustment to the new processes. It needs bigger kilns with larger kiln shelves, longer drying and longer firings, more clay and glazes, and the firing itself requires more energy. Finally, one needs the right equipment to move these larger pieces about. Unarguably, larger scale works realize a greater physicality and presence, but at the same time, the technical challenges are also scaled up. 


When I started studying ceramics in 2002, large scale ceramic sculpture meant the works of the likes of Peter Voulkos and John Mason, who started as potters in the 1950´s, but soon expanded to produce robust large-scale sculptures associated with the heroic gestures of Abstract Expressionism. They were going big, in a display of skills and strength, demonstrating how larger scale changes not just the scale of physical expression and the length of movement, but also how the work will act to dominate the surrounding space. The presence of machismo in their works was at the time hardly discussed. 


Recently at 59th Vennice Biennale the large, totemic sculptures of Simone Leigh56 portrayed narratives related to the historical marginalization of women of color. Working across mediums, Leigh has said how she wants her works to empower black women. Gabriel Chaile´s majestic mud-sculptures combined ancient and modern traditions and doubled as ovens, objects which are connected to rituals around food and community. 


If in the past there were not so many large ceramic sculptures around, and the ones which were, tended to be displays of individual technique and artistic marvel, this recent turn indicates that a large-scale ceramic sculpture can also gather, rather than just distance the viewers, and that it can elevate communities and groups of people. This possibly reflects the larger shifts of currents in the art world. In the last few decades, the status of clay as an art material instead of mere craft mud, has been accepted and acknowledged: twenty years ago the chances that ceramic sculpture would be exhibited at a high status biennale like Venice were very slim indeed. 





In recent years there has been a growing trend among the artistic research projects in connection with clay and ceramics to locate their focus in clay´s materiality. In Norway, Katrine Køster Holst, in her project Mineraler og naturfenomener – kunstneriske uttrykk gjennom regelbasert forskning (2014-2019),57 investigated how ceramic art can be developed through techniques that make use of nature's form-forming principles. She collaborated with a geologist to dig deeper into natural processes such as erosion, sedimentation and weathering, areas which she also explored through her artistic practice. By engaging with clay from the perspective of another discipline, she looked at the clay´s entanglements beyond art, to understand its properties and relations in more profound way.


Marte Johnslien´s research project Materiality of White58, continues her engagement with titanium oxide, which began in her doctoral project Circumstantial Sculpture (2016-2020). Johnslien started looking at titanium oxide in connection to her ceramic sculptures and expanded further to look at its connectedness to our everyday lives. Titanium oxide is used in ceramic glazes, but also in food, paint, paper and technology industries. Discovered and patented in Norway, the industry that developed around this material has a strong presence in Norwegian society and history, as well as in the local landscape. Johnslien asks ethical questions related to our acquisitive material-based society to which art making is connected.


These research projects establish a wider understanding of materials and their connectedness, including aspects from material criticism and material´s socio-historical relationships. They help us to understand materiality in a more connected and participatory way rather than concentrating on the mere substance itself. This is aligned with the art field´s increased interest in materiality, and the awareness of a new materialism and its ontologically tuned discourses in artistic practices. The current state of the world demands that we look at the conditions and connections in which we make art in, and asks us to become more aware of the environmental impact of the ways we work.

Figure 17: Katrine Køster Holst´s exhibition presenting the results of her research project in 2019, Kunstneres Hus, Oslo. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen



Unlike with some other sculptural materials like plaster, I have found that clay´s every day, non- art connotations dominate how viewers perceived it. In my experience, people seem to think of ceramics as fit mainly for pots, a perspective which makes it easier to overlook its potential as sculptural material. In recent years discussion about materiality in art has aimed for a wider understanding about materials, their connection to everyday lives, and to ask questions about their embodiment and participation, as well as their role in artistic production. With clay and ceramics these aspects have been somehow always been present within the discussions related to it.


In addition to clay and ceramics existing as material and process, particular types of ceramics are also seen and discussed as an artistic medium. The artistic concept of medium is identified by the type of art works that are developed through it, and which belongs to this category so as to build up theories, vocabularies, and terminology to better grasp the possibilities, or affordances that each art form contains. Ceramic art can consist of anything form majolica pots to installations made of raw clay. Everything gets mapped to the c-file.59 If clay and ceramics were discussed mainly as materials, and the notion of medium would be rather connected to potential strategies by which to approach this medium, as is the case with performance or sculpture, and it would perhaps make it easier to delineate clear discourses related to the art works.


A performative happening in 1958 in New York was titled Clay Things to Touch, to Plant in, to Hang up, to Cook in, to Look at, to Put Ashes in, to Wear, and for Celebration. This experimental experience was carried out by M.C. Richards who, during the course of the happening, sold the pots she made. Art historian Jenni Sorkin writes: “Created one year before Allan Kaprow's 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (1959), and three years before Claes Oldenburg's sculptural environment The Store (1961), Clay Things moves Richards to the center, rather than the periphery, of experimental practice.”60 The title instructs its audience in different ways of interacting with the pots, mapping out their possible affordances. This clashed with the general anti-object stance of the postwar performance scene, and this along with perhaps the inherent sexism of the art world of that day, caused the piece to be overlooked. Richards demonstrated in a concrete manner the potential of ceramics as a socially engaged medium and the affordances of pots through the form of performative happening. Reading Richardson´s happening as merely as ceramics would ignore some of its pioneering potentials. Still, it touches upon all the discussions around containment, as well as the concrete and metaphorical use of the vessel. The phrase, “to Put Ashes in” suggests the use of an urn, leading towards an idea that the pots might, rather than being things we hold, be the things that one point are holding us. Just as sculptures seem to deal somehow always with bodies in the space, so too does clay.


I see clay as an artistic material that can be used in many ways. My approach is to use it as a sculptural material, and I seek to connect it with the wider discussions around sculpture, and within this particular project, around the relief. I see my education and experience with the material as a resource which affords me freedom and control working with it.

The Porous Worlds Exhibition

The final presentation for the artistic work of the PhD project, the Porous Worlds exhibition, is open for the public at Hordaland Kunstsenter in Bergen between 26.11.2022 – 22.01.2023. The exhibition is an in-depth meditation on artistic exploration of the relief form.


The exhibition consists of 32 different-sized ceramic reliefs from November 2018 to November 2022. These are mounted on seven same-sized wooden-structures, or exposition devices, which stand on wheels. The reliefs are made of porcelain, different types of stoneware, and Parian clay, and they have been fired in reductive atmosphere with wood and gas, as well in oxidizing atmosphere.

Figure 1: Installation view from the exhibition in 2022. Photo: Courtesy of Hordaland Kunstsenter, 2022



One of the big questions to me throughout the project has been how to present the works. This is vital, since the presentation defines to a great extent the experience of the art. For example, exhibiting the fired ceramic on plinths, - a practice popular in the 1960´s – acts to underline the solid and static nature of fired ceramics, but this is a strategy which has come to appear somewhat dated.61 Placing the ceramics directly on the floor also, I feel, brings with it its own problems, as only sculpture beyond a certain size is capable of generating any real presence when displayed in this manner. The goal has been to come up with a feasible presentation which would elevate the qualities of the ceramic reliefs and activate their potential. Thinking about the connection relief has to architecture and the different positions it can occupy, I feel there should be room for variation. It was clear to me that the contextualization should happen around the relief form itself, since exploring the forms inherent liminality has been at the heart of the project. If I think of my works as containers, then the exhibition space can be a container too.


Relief, of course, is not a self-supporting form, and this has led me to thinking about the physical affordances of hung-relief. Another important consideration is that the larger works don´t have any internal hanging mechanism, and a lot of engineering work would have required to exhibit them directly on the wall. I also found their presence too sculptural for that, they needed another kind space than the wall. I wanted to set these works up in a way that the viewer would be able to experience their negative space from both sides, and in this way to underline their prominence as portals.





As these things tend to, the process of planning the exhibition went through different phases and ideas, The different artistic approaches that I have taken with clay and relief work have moved between the pictorial and sculptural, and it is important that aspects should be reflected in the presentation as well. After my mid-way evaluation, I considered placing the works with frames to be placed on the floor leaning against the wall. Touching the both the wall and the floor in this way would serve to emphasize how they exist in the in-between space separating standing sculptures and leaning pictures. I thought about lighting the space so as to bring out the negative spaces of the works, and also to create incorporeal layers of shadows in the space, a landscape of visual echoes.

A year later, at the same time I was painting the porcelain reliefs, I contemplated using different colors of paint to highlight and contrast different aspects of the works, drawing attention to other kind of spaces around the pieces. This was at the same time I was painting the reliefs made of porcelain. Hanging the works on the walls was another possibility, one which would have created a more static viewing experience. Perhaps this would have granted the individual works a more self-contained identity, and, following from this, led to a greater distance between the work and its spectator. This may have further strengthened the associations to the 2d mediums that are traditionally presented in this way. Naturally, as the art I was making at the time developed and altered, so did my plans around its presentation.

Figure 2: Testing out blue light and reflective film. Estonia, 2021. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen

Figure 3 & 4: Estonia, 2021. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen





The main affordance given by wooden support structures I have employed is to emphasize the voluminal, sculptural qualities of the works through their being brought into the middle of the space. The negative spaces both in the works and in the supporting structures create different compositions when viewed from different angles, and other works in the space can be perceived through these openings. To me this arrangement marks relief´s affinity and associations with architecture, while at the same time allowing the works to exist as a modular constellation of movable structures. This presentation strategy also allows the viewer to enjoy a real proximity, and in most cases, to inspect them from every angle.


I also wanted to reassess how I use the gallery´s white cube. I want to draw the focus to the volume of the wooden constructions and colors of the ceramics. The main gallery room of HKS mostly impacted the planning when finalizing the size and the number of the exposition devices. When I started the mounting of exhibition I just had only the basic constructions with the four supporting vertical beams holding the top one, and a pile of cut wood. All the decisions about the hanging were made on-site, with an eye to the totality of the space. The works were grouped together intuitively and positioned so that something new unfolds at each turn. To experience everything, the viewer has to walk around the entirety of the room.



The exhibition consists of wooden structures that are built to support the reliefs in different ways, which are here referred to as exposition devices. Two sizes of wood planks have been used, 48 x 198 mm and 48 x 98 mm, together with 7mm plywood plates. The constructions are simple, and the regular measurements lends to these objects a standardized feel. The basic supporting structure is identical in all of the devices, but the presentation afforded to each one is unique. An art student from KMD, Odin Austefjord, was hired to create the structures based on my original design.


Referring to the structures as exposition devices recalls to the concept of exposition in the context of artistic research.62 While the originally the term originally refers to the exhibition of goods for sale, and also takes in the description or explanation of an idea, when it comes to artistic research exposition can be understood, as Michael Schwab and Henk Borgdorff remarks, as the means of exposing the practice of research so that it can enter the academia.63 The way the knowledge emerges and the mode in which it is communicated serves to effect the relationship that research takes to knowledge.

Figure 5: Installation view from the exhibition, 2022. Photo: Courtesy of Hordaland Kunstsenter, 2022



This model of the structure, two lines leaning against each other forming an A-frame, which is most likely one of the earliest models of architecture, resembling as it does a tent. It is rather simple to make, is economical in its material usage, and rather light. The A-frame affords tilted surfaces on to which works can be mounted, leaned or hung. The shorter, triangular sides remain open, and in turn, another negative space is created between the outline of the work, and the sides of the exposition structure. The vertical top beam supports the weight from the sides, and is itself held up by beams of the same size, tilted at a 10 degrees angle. The tilting means that the works are held in place by their own weight. This form of exhibition serves to effect a certain distance from the conventional wall-based hanging often associated with pictures - and often too with reliefs. Wooden beams at top and bottom are holding the pieces in place. The wheels with breaks underneath are not only practical, I want them to accent the temporality of the structures; they seem to materialize in the gallery room only to get wheeled out in the next moment, and this emphasizes their contrast to architecture and the exhibition space itself. The exposition devices suggest the possibility of the movement but are not interactive, like Rebecca Warren´s air-dry clay sculptures built on podiums with wheels.64




The measurements of the first built prototype were taken from a well-served, old pottery rack from KHiB. These types of racks can be found in pottery workshops around the world where the basic construction is two supporting vertical forks on which one can place planks like shelves. This affords the placing of average sized pottery that is meant to be stored on shelves. For the final devices I widened the width to 150 cm so that there would be a greater surface to work with. This also lent the structures a more solid presence, fitting better to the proportions of the gallery space. The devices are 175,5cm high, which makes them approximately the height of an average man.

Inspiration for the exhibition display came after visiting Moderna Museet´s permanent collection in August 2021. Towards the end of the exhibition I encountered Siri Derkert´s (1888-1973) relief display which I felt dominated the space. A sturdy, maybe two and half meters high, three meters wide wooden stand, paintedoff-white, was built to exhibit works. Derkert´s casted concrete reliefs on metal frames looked heavy and were undoubtedly challenging to install. They were half-hanging, half-propped against the support structure, which was itself support by struts extending from the back. I believe this solution was dictated by the physical challenges of exhibiting this type of work; there being a limit to the carrying capacity of a wall. Even though slightly tilted, to me the stands resembled to a wall with its display front and the support beams on the backside. The open nature of the backside of the stand created open spaces and also made the structure visually and physically lighter.

Figure 6: Pottery rack from KHiB, at KMD in 2022. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen

Figures 7&8: Siri Derkert´s reliefs from 1956-1960 on display at Moderna Museet in August 2021. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen. Published with permission from Moderna Museet.

I wanted to keep the general look of my devices as plain and elementary as possible, so that they would not take too much attention away from the work. Their role was to support and supplement the reliefs. With this in mind, the screws were applied diagonally on the backside to minimize their visual impact. The wood itself, though slightly planed, was untreated; the idea being to produce the impression of a plain ´honest´material, which would draw a little attention itself. These wooden beams perform the duty of supporting the works both aesthetically and physically, bringing out their principle qualities. The fact that the devices are all the same dimensions affords a great deal of flexibility when mounting the exhibition. The device function like a form of non-permanent architecture, housing the works.


The devices turned out as planned; a simple presentation model that, with just a few supporting elements, allow for a range of approaches. The open spaces found in the reliefs are not closed down by a supporting wall, but instead remains open. In some cases the backsides of the works can be viewed, and are sometimes even displayed openly. Looking at the backsides of some of the works reveal certain aspects of the working process. This is especially case in the wood-fired pieces, where the ash markings on the backsides are often more attractive than those on the front.



I wanted to show the works in conversation with each other, to explore through means of an exhibition what kind of spaces these works can realize together. Through the careful positioning of the works, placing them in different ways is my way of exploring the different dimensions of the expression of the relief form. In two of the devices, vertical plywood panels that are the width of the space have been placed between the supporting beams. They are thus meant to suggest a wall construction, and in this way underline the connotation of the pictorial plane, so drawing the works closer to two-dimensional picture-based mediums. These panels grant to the works a small separation from the rest of the display, and mark them off in a space of their own, creating a different relationship between the works and the negative space that usually surrounds it.

Figure 9: Installation view from the exhibition. Photo: Courtesy of Hordaland Kunstsenter, 2022

The positioning of the three works on the lower placed panel can raise associations for more ornamental reading. Rather than realizing themselves individually, these works appear to form a dense group, as if through their congregation they might supplement something which would otherwise be inadequate. But one only needs to raise one´s gaze and the space continues again. Behind this panel White Night Wanderer (image 2, page 5) lies flat on the base of its device. It is resting horizontally like a sculpture to be viewed from above. Now the relief appears at its most object-like, most like a self-standing body – even though it is not exactly standing. The work is not attached in the structure, nor does it appear as if it relies on its support, rather placed like a plate on a table. One must move close to the work and look down to see it fully, again causing the viewer to move through the exhibition space in different ways.

Figure 10: Installation view from the exhibition. Photo: Courtesy of Hordaland Kunstsenter, 2022

On the day before the opening when all the works were finally mounted on the structures all that was left was to wheel the devices around in the space, until I arrived at a visually balanced composition. When the visitor enters the gallery space they are met with the backside of one the largest works, a friendly suggestion to move around the space in order to properly experience it. Through the combination of the works´ content together with their considered arrangement I have aimed to realize a narrative quality which describes a moment suspended in time, and this marks the culmination of this PhD project. 



The exhibitions title, a word pairing with multiple meanings rose out from my reflection text.I wanted the title to create connections on several levels and to provide a way of thinking about the liminal spaces through a unifying metaphor. The use of liminal in this context refers to a space that is bewixt and between, defined by indeterminacy.65

The metaphorical porosity of relief affords sometimes a movement towards a sculpture, sometimes an approach to the pictorial plane. In my world, craft and art overlap and form complex connections between each other, the different modalities not being treated as exclusive but rather co-existing, seeping into each other.


The title is also a nod towards the material specificity of ceramics, the physical attributes that enables the processes that take place in and through the medium. I think of porosity as the material´s ability to receive, to accommodate and access voids and spaces so as to access something more. Even fired ceramics are, to an extent, porous, although this quality is not immediately apparent to the naked eye. This makes me think how things we perceive as solid might still have holes, some secret cavities, like the ticking of a clock.

Figure 11: Installation view from the exhibition. Photo: Pauliina Pöllänen, 2022

Although the works derive from the same place, I think of each piece in the exhibition as a small world of its own. The reliefs act like portals that open towards my unconsciousness.

The works are chosen based on the success of their execution, keeping in mind the full scope of my exploration of the relief form. At the same time, smaller conversations take place inside this wider exchange. Depending how the spectators position themselves it is possible to construct a viewpoint which brings different pieces together. The works contain multifaceted stories which are open to multiple readings.


Porous Worlds describes my relationship with being in a world which contains multiplicities. It reflects my embodied making process which incorporates the practice of Deep Listening, something that I hope the visitors is able to pick up.



When I first started to scout for a possible venue for the final presentation of my artistic work, I only really had one place in mind, a place that I had been wanting to exhibit at for a long time. Hordaland Kunstsenter, or HKS, was established as a joint effort by two local political artist organizations; Norske Kunsthåndverkere Vest-Norge (NKVN) and Bildende Kunstneres Forening Hordaland (BKFH) in 1976. It was the first Art Center founded in Norway, and in an era when the fields of craft and art were most often understood as distinct, the venue offered these disciplines a space of collaboration. HKS has a varied program, exhibiting diverse selection of artists, ranging from conceptual art to more craft-related practices. Since my project is in the liminal space of craft and art, I find HKS´s democratic position rather fitting. I also really like the gallery space itself. It was the ideal size for this type of exposition and the lay out and proportions meant that I was able to consider a variety of different presentation strategies.


To exhibit in Bergen felt important. In this way the exposition would accessible for my colleagues, my students and the for the community I have been a part of for these last four years. It was also a practical decision; it meant that it was possible to visit the art center often and to familiarize myself with the gallery space, seeing how the other artists were using it while at the same time developing my own ideas. The Bergen location also made processes of transportation and exhibition simpler and cheaper. 


Although all the final creative decisions have been mine, I have had fruitful dialogue with the director of Hordaland Kunstsenter, Mathjis van Geest, that began early in the planning stages of the exhibition. Studio visits and conversations with him have been insightful, and have encouraged me push my ideas further, one example being the decision to go ahead with the exposition devices.

This conversation continued during the installation period, and the day before opening we were wheeling the structures around and discussing how the different positioning of the works affected the space. Mathjis also suggested to leaving out the years from the accompanying print out, so as to frame the exposition as a large body of work from 2018-2022, a change that served to highlight the interconnectedness of the works I developed over this time period. I am very grateful for all his help and for letting me exhibit at HKS.

Summing up

As the project has come now to its end, I feel that I have achieved what I hoped for. The result did not come about in the way I envisaged it, but reflecting now on how it has turned out I am content with the progress that has taken place and end results. Yet even now, after four years of work, it feels like I have only just started to explore the form of relief and its artistic possibilities. There is much more left to explore.

There has been a clear shift over these four years when concentrating on the pictorial space, and I have become more aware of the possibilities afforded by the relief’s projections. The pieces have developed more towards a representational rather than abstract expression. This has marked a clear shift in my works, which no longer deals with negative space and containment realized by a vessel. I do not count this shift as progress in itself, although of course it is an element of the visual exploration. Rather it points to a change of mood. In the past working representationally has not interested me, and now I have gradually discovered its potential by listening to the process. Symbols and signs have appeared because of this, and I have had to reflect on the meaning of these things and their potential to contain.


My artistic practice does not easily lend itself to research. I work intuitively, following impulses that arise from the working process rather than setting clear goals to work towards. I do not follow any themes or try to convey any specific ideas. I have struggled on many occasions as how to proceed, but eventually found a way to continue when concentrating on my works, and through making the theories and methods growing out of that, not the other way around.

Another issue has been how far I should have pushed the experimentations with relief. Since the research conducted cannot be separated from my artistic practice, I have only taken steps that has occurred naturally, followed the natural development of the works which has sometimes felt slow and insufficiently experimental. I have not steered the works towards the expanded field, but instead concentrated on the area where controlled and small movements happen.

I am not totally sure if I have managed to answer the questions I have set out for myself, but maybe answers are not so interesting. If there are answers, I would like them to be as porous as clay like open-ended possibilities.


I am content with how the exhibition turned out. I think the exposition display puts the works at the center, and provides another way to look and experience the reliefs. It has been rewarding to look back on this time period and detect playfulness, experimentation and improvisation taking place, even though in hindsight it is very difficult to pinpoint these exact moments. I have found new expressions to explore, developed my own visual language through exploring the sidelines that were previously unmapped.

I feel like I might still have some blind spots when it comes to ceramics as a field. Due to the critical approach this research project has helped me to internalize, I will continue to look out for them. Over the years, the way I see my works has gradually changed. I used to call my works ceramics, as I saw everything in relationship to the material, but now I see them as either sculpture or relief, and I keep listening in between these concepts, letting them resonate with each other.