FORM SENSE AND SENSUAL FORMS                                                                                             

by Karen Kjærgaard, curator and architect

Borderland. Exhibition Catalogue. 2011


After several years where the concept of design has gradually been depleted to the point of becoming so insipid and watered down that it applies to anything from a supermarket plastic bowl to user-driven innovation, craft has undergone a renaissance because it reminds us of the part of us that cannot be packaged or controlled.

While design revolves around creative management, process, perfectionism and the cool side of the Scandinavian tradition, craft, with its multi-facetted, handheld mindset, is not afraid to unfold completely different aspects of the design concept.

Craft is authentic; it contains human and historical references, asks questions and plays with the materials and – with us. The imperfect, which characterises the individual and explorative nature of craft, forms a perfect counterbalance to the standardised and serial elements in our everyday life. In this sense, craft, the man-made, has become a barometer for the current spirit of the times with its preference for the unique, the narrative and the sensory, and it has come to set new standards for our perception of quality.

Danish craft in general and ceramics in particular have had ten great years. Fantastical, provoking and commenting works have demonstrated the potential and the power of New Craft, and the influence of this development is still evident in many new everyday products. A new ceramic idiom has emerged in the cross-field of art, craft and design that has been liberating and inspiring – also for the designers. One example of this trend is Mariko Wada’s Soft Ware – vases from 2006 that represent exactly this new wave where ceramicists use their medium, clay, in a narrative and sensual manner.

Mariko Wada works slowly, carefully and in close dialogue with the material. The key focus of her work is the interaction between visual and tactile qualities. With a variety of hand-modelling techniques she explores the artistic means of expression in a ceramic context. In this process, in an ongoing exchange between form and expression, the clay is compelled to reveal human qualities, and new sensations arise. In an approach akin to Danish dogma film-making, with few or no sketches, she arrives at new ceramic images during the process that seem carefully considered, although they are not based on prior planning or design. 

Her expression lies in the zone between artistic intuition and a professional awareness that includes alertness to the hidden experiences arising in the space between inner and outer forms.

A characteristic quality in Mariko Wada’s ceramic works is the apparently random deformation of the objects’ bodies. Yet the process is only apparently random. A look at her ceramic landscape reveals that the shapes are natural and given. The anthropomorphic abstractions are facilitated naturally by a decorative layer of fine-grain terra sigilata, whose clay colour is carefully polished and refined but in a way that leaves intact a delicate impression of the hand and the fingers. The naive and almost unceramic colour range intensifies the impression of the simultaneously real and unreal universe that Wada is constantly exploring with her ceramic creatures. In a sense, despite their abstract point of departure, the objects take on a strong narrative character, telling of great strength, unique fragility – and humour. 

The larger jars – or cylinders – are delicately thin, considering their double-wall volume, and they are testimony to a treatment of the material that is unrestrained with regard to the art of the possible. And one is fascinated by the simultaneously casual and precise handling of the material.

The more recent ceramic installations address spatial qualities and architecture, and thus Mariko Wada continues her ceramic voyage of discovery. Seemingly on a spontaneous quest to analyse their surroundings, the aspiring, serpent-like creatures move forward, determined and erect. By entering into a spatial context the works take on an altered perspective, direction and scale. As in architecture, the works are affected by their context. 

With the installations Mariko Wada progresses from the personal conversation and dialogue with her works toward a greater understanding of the physical potential of ceramics in an interaction with man, space and object.

 But more than anything, Mariko Wada playfully engages our perception of the familiar and the taken-for-granted. By laying her jars down or by squeezing the vases to give the impression that they are as soft as rubber. Or by partially flattening the ceramic cylinders, later resurrecting them in groups of disquieting beings.

As a beholder, one is carried along by these soft beings that speak of the emotions in the borderland between interior and exterior. Despite their essential differences, the vases, cylinders and cups all belong to the same family.  Born from Mariko Wada’s calm process, where the senses govern, and forms are definitely not pre-determined.

Translation: Dorte Herholdt. Silver

Photo: Jeppe Gudmundsen Holmgren / Ole Akhøj

© Mariko Wada 2019