Alice in Wonderland
For the 2017 Summer Season, Officine Saffi presents a chorus-like exhibition promoted by the Danish International Ceramic Research Centre, Guldagergaard. On show Stephen Bowers, Jim Cooper, Malene Hartmann Rasmussen, Sergei Isupov, Sten Lykke Madsen, Kadri Pärnaments, Mara Superior and Lileng Wong.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad."
"How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.”
- Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland was first published in 1865, in a period in which reflections on art had begun to erode the concepts of realistic depiction and narrative, in other words the references to a coherent, ordinary world. This occurred both for the exterior traits of the Medieval revival, equated with “that strange sort of deformed sculpture and sculptural deformity,” that “thing so large, so strange a collection of different forms” (in the words of Bernardo di Clairvaux), and for the interior paths of reflection. The time was ripe for art to claim its own independent use of the very foundations of space and time, and the fact that it was up to the artist to decide whether he or she wanted to create new meanings rather than transcribing existing meanings. This is no coincidence. The world of Alice is an alternative, mobile form of reality, elaborately evocative, whose value far exceeds that of just the fable.
The apparently light-hearted and non-committal game presented in the exhibition “Alice in Wonderland”, which originated at the Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Centre in Denmark and that was later shown at Officine Saffi, has a dual role. The first was to invite eight different artists, born on dates varying from 1937 to 1973 in different locations including Denmark, Malaysia, New Zealand and the United States, to work on Carroll’s text, developing various reflections on it, from iconographical to conceptual. The second objective was to use this provocative approach, which at first sight seems merely skin deep, to stimulate them to declare their degree of agreement with Carroll’s statement “we’re all mad here.” It can be applied to the whole of art, which after all is a precious form of madness, in which you can escape from the tired forms of the ordinary. The participants were thus invited to produce a reflection and a declaration on their own status as artists, and more specifically their identity as ceramists.
Stephen Bowers (Australia, 1953) lays out a game of chess inhabited by figures immersed in the caricature-like world of popular tradition.
Jim Cooper (New Zealand, 1956) adopts the most radical position: his interpretation is a sort of grotesque nativity scene in which lewd iconography and kitsch postmodern juxtapositions are displayed with brutal, bold, provocative presence.
Malene Hartmann Rasmussen (Denmark, 1973) starts from appropriate technical and formal values to create visions that are at first sight ordinary and reassuring, but that in actual fact are fuelled by a constant interplay of significant exceptions.
Work by Sergei Isupov (Russia, 1963) is closer to a stylized fantasy, while Kadri Pärnaments (Estonia, 1968) uses an approach of iconographical relevance, including the direct citation of the illustrative tradition, though in a flavoursome, alienated montage.
Sten Lykke Madsen (Denmark, 1937), who without doubt drew inspiration from the brusque expressive abbreviation of CoBrA and its circles, along with distilled suggestions of art brut, stages a theatre of different personalities, encompassing the specific meaning of the individual shards of narrative and expanding them into a post-surreal feeling.
Mara Superior (United States, 1951) adopts the approach of the jeu d’enfants, with an alienated, reinvented taste for bibelots, almost a tribute to the time and place in which Alice first appeared.
Lileng Wong (Malaysia, 1967) works on a gentle imagery with traits of infantile intimacy.
So, very different expressions, though all of them are, like it or not, iconographical approaches. However, the fundamental concern is not so much Carroll as a pretext, but rather the figurative power of the ceramic medium.
GULDAGERGAARD:Guldagergaard is an international artist-in-residence center for professional artists and it’s purpose is to promote ceramic as an art form. The centre is a non-profit institution with state funding from the Danish Ministry of Culture and the municipality of Slagelse. Guldagergaard ['Gool-aya-goh'] means Golden Acre farm and has been the name of this place for more than a century. It used to be a fruit farm owned by the same family for nearly 100 years. In 1997 the International Ceramic Research Center Guldagergaard was established and it’s goal is still to offer international artist-in-residence, well equipped studios and technical staff ready to help to put their visions into clay.
Alice in Wonderland
22nd June– 14th July 2017
Opening: Tuesday 21st June 2017, 6.30pm-9.00pm
From Monday to Friday 10am–1pm, 2pm-6.30pm
Sunday by appointment