A Commentary on My Work
Balance
What Form Has Emptiness?
Exhibition in Gallery "Daugava"
Valda Podklane's Supreme


A Commentary on My Work
    Valda Podkalne

In my sculpture, which I call "Nests of thought", emptiness or my order out of chaos are created which is transformed into form.

The material I currently use is porcelain, because this seems the most suitable to me, with which I can implement the transformation of my imagined forms into the material in a differentiated and multi-edged way. More and more often, my life development processes are punctuated by the thought that nothing is constant and eternal. Maybe it is for this reason that the union of porcelain and wax seems so organic. The hard, cold and yet so fragile porcelain in "encased" with the warm, soft and easily hurt wax, as with a skin. And they become as inseparable as a tree and its bark. In this way this snow-white porcelain, which reminds one of a paralysing whiteness, gains completely new associative possibilities.

The wax seemingly conserves the sculptures. The transparency of this covering offers the chance to sense the whiteness or another "applied" colour of the porcelain below.

And so the emptiness created in the gypsum fragment forms, in conjunction with the material (porcelain), gains a positive outpouring, which can be seen, felt and (if bees' wax is also used), smelt.


   
"Balance"
    Roswitha Schild, Kunsthistorikerin (Zürich)

Exhibition in "Kunstforum Kirchberg" (CH) September 2002.


   
"What Form Has Emptiness?"
Daiga Rudzate (Visual Arts Magazine "Studija", Lettland, 12.2001)


Valda Podkalne's minimalist pots are an integral part of Latvian design of the 1980s and were a favourite choice of architects and interior designers when planning the modern home. "The artist's works reveal the dominance of a quite masculine mind in the rational understanding of form. The clear geometric dimensions of the porce-lain, cylinders, balls and rectangles har-monise with a laconic decoration of lines, checks or crosses. Here, in many expres-sions one can find a reflection of Bauhaus design culture and it seems that Valda Podkalne is one of the most sensitive and bold practitioners of precise expression in Latvian ceramics. Here, a love for geometry does not, however, tend towards a stiff technicality but transforms into the fun of playing," thus Janis Borgs in 1988. At the end of the 90s Podkalne surprised the Latvian art world by being awarded the Westerwald Prize (1999), considered to be the most prestigious in European ceramics. The next year in Riga's Bastejs Gallery, Podkalne exhibited spatial and sculptural objects that for many viewers bore no rela-tion to the artist of porcelain of refined mini-malist forms.
Podkalne once commented on her works, "My sculptures, which I call "nests of thoughts", are shaped emptiness or ordered chaos transformed into form". At the opening of Valda Podkalne's and Harold Jagodzienski's exhibition in the Daugava Gallery in June 2001, their friend Bernard Sordet's letter was read: "Valda Podkalne's sculptures are just as much thoughts as they are an invitation to think. They are laboratory notes. We must perceive their significance, we must think about the alchemy of the Universe for the living as did the most ancient of civilizations. She enriches the ties between beings and forms."
In 1997 when the world-famous architect Frank O. Gehry completed his most gigan-tic project, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the world's press was full of admira-tion not forgetting to add: it was difficult to believe that it was possible to build some-thing like that.
This summer, the jury of the Nyon Porcelain Triennial awarded Podkalne's works third prize but could not work out the mecha-nism by which the sculptures had been cre-ated. The jury had been surprised by the monumentality uncharacteristic of porcelain.


Have you tried to formulate your current status - ceramicist, installator, sculptor?

At this time my language is sculpturally abstract. Probably I am working in what is called sculpture. What kind of ceramicist am I if I don't know how to work with the wheel and I am not an expert in glazing techniques? I have learned it all but it has never really interested me. I have reverence and respect for the outstanding masters of my craft, for ceramicists who have profes-sional secrets, who are experts on kiln con-struction and firing temperatures... At one stage you stood out with your minimalist and laconic design object forms, with a kind of sophisticated beau-ty that many remember to this day and sometimes cannot accept your current language of art.
I made pots that could not be bought in the shops and that pleased me - making things that I would happily see in my surroundings. But then I travelled to Germany and saw an enormous number of marvellous porcelain things in the shops and I could no longer see any reason for trying to surpass some-thing so outstanding... Other artists are unable to recall the pro-fessional secrets of the creation of your sculptures...
I "raised" them in the porcelain factory in Ksiez in Poland. I made the form from the clay shards of the negative moulds of sani-tary and practical porcelain that were lying in the yard. Lavatory bowl forms are perfect but broken up they lose their associations with the original. I have been given com-plete freedom to build my own towns. I cre-ated a "library" on the shelves of my studio and in the process I select the shard that I need.

So for you pieces of clay, shards, offer the rules of direction of the creative process.

When I entered the factory territory for the first time having just "climbed out" of the crockery cupboard and knowing nothing about myself, I saw this mountain of plaster shards and I had this thought: what would happen if I poured porcelain into them, what form would the interior space take? I felt a strange reverence for this shard mountain in whose interior surprising new connections of forms are created quite nat-urally. Already then I had this sense that there was something hidden there...

Are you not bored of these endless experiments whose end results are unpredictable?

When I was making pots I had a complete feeling of security because I always knew what the result would be. I made a mould, poured in the porcelain, fired it and obtained something very concrete. Now the most interesting thing is the finale. When I take out an object, I created myself, from its plaster shell, I sometimes feel like an archaeologist who, while carefully extricat-ing buried objects, can only guess at their shape. Every occasion brings a new won-der and it is this surprise in the process that is so tempting. Initially my forms were con-structed and clear. Now my thoughts are clear but I make use of the principles of deconstructivism.

What you are actually doing is reproduc-ing emptiness in material.

I have always been enthusiastic about nature's forms. There was a time when I tried to copy nature in my works - I would walk by the sea and make plaster casts of the impressions left by waves in the sand. When I saw the huge piles of broken plaster moulds I remembered the Teplic cliffs in the Czech Republic. Walking around the town of cliffs I realised that it was impossible to copy something like that. And so I built towns of my imagination into which I want-ed to place a charge of energy just as pow-erful as that offered by nature or exception-al architecture. Sometimes they are simply memories or travel impressions that I try to preserve in this way. A friend once told me that the sculptures made him think of M'zab in Algeria. I'd like to go there.

. In the photograph, the M'zab cityscape looks quite constructive. M'zab and other towns of ancient civilizations are actually growing structures and seem to be so self-evident. Their architec-ture is characterised by many niches, arch-es, and plateaux that have also taken over my sculpture.

You like the world of architecture?

At the time when I was working in design, architects were the ones who commented most favourably on the forms of my pots. We understand "one another" to this day.

You obstinately stay with porcelain. You could achieve the same result with other materials...

They always say that porcelain is a royal material whose characteristic elements are translucence, fragility and a gold rim. Actually, a real porcelain artist would never recognise my current works. But for me this unwritten code does not seem important. What is essential is the thought that I am creating very heavy and fragile works at the same time. The moment when I said good-bye practically to my pot forms, I also aban-doned the traditional assumptions and tried to approach porcelain from a quite different, unknown side. I tried to pretend that I had never learned or known about it…

Lately instead of glaze you have been using wax, a material that powerfully stimulates the senses of touch, smell and association...

I want to create the feeling that the wax is like a skin stretched over my works and thus they are alive, breathing, soft and also vulnerable. Just like all living beings they have a scent. Touching them one feels warmth. Through the wax one can sense a "body" - the whiteness or colouring of the porcelain.
Actually it takes years to understand that nothing remains constant and eternal. Perhaps that's why I think the combination of porcelain and wax is so organic. It allows the development of a completely new flow of associations that breaks down people's preconceptions of porcelain as a stiff white and cold material.

Your first wax-dipped sculptures are also called "Bee Houses".

The idea of the "Bee Houses" was also born in Poland. In winter on my way to the factory, every morning I saw these small snow-covered coloured houses. I built them, painted them and yet, the mood I had experienced in reality, was lacking. And then I had the sudden idea that I could immerse my sculptures in wax.

Exhibiting your works you tend to hang them by rope or place them on high metal plinths regardless of their weight or fragility…

I have always wanted to get away from the ground. As a child I jumped from the barn roof with an umbrella and my health still reminds me of this escapade. When I was making pots I would exhibit them on fragile vertical glass plinths to achieve an unreal feeling of weightlessness... In my last exhi-bition in the Daugava Gallery I really did hang my works in ropes in three-dimension-al metal frames. This was to give the viewer a clearer understanding of my flow of asso-ciations in its context. The ropes served not only to hold the works, they also formed their own line and drawing in space, high-lighting my thought.

You were interested in the viewers' reac-tions in the exhibition hall?

In Germany when I exhibited my group of works "Haribo Region" (Haribo is a brand of sweets) in bright, somewhat shocking colours, they were surrounded by a whole group of youngsters because their world-view and thinking recognised a partner. I'm interested in how viewers comment on my works. I'm interested in what they see in my objects. When I told one of my friends about the name " Bee Houses", he didn't understand what I was talking about because in his thinking, these forms had already taken on the shape of "heads". I looked and understood that these sculp-tures could be perceived like that just as well.


   

Exhibition in Gallery "Daugava". Bernard Sordet - Riga, Paris. Riga, 6. Juni 2001.

Valda, you are an alchemist of the Universe, the form and living things. Bernard Palissy has always fascinated me, and if I lived in the 16th century, I would willingly have supported Catherine de Medici and perhaps we would have escaped from the Bastille. He was the alchemist of matter and all living things. He created species of animals in an imagined universe. Today I am fascinated by the action of Valda Podkalne. She enriches the connections between beings and forms. And if forms, instead of imprisoning, could liberate!... We can enter the Universe of optimal variations, in the formation of constructions, fragile constructions, which is in truth actually porcelain, but as a break with the existing, global society…

The alchemist shows our character in relation with nature, he synthesises it, he goes through various stages, as Rousseau said in his philosophy. There are no surprises, whether it is in the "beehive" world of many configurations in which we would have imaginative freedom to create our Universe. Behold - the new Babylon with the artists and architects of the COBRA movement, but without doctrine. It renders space for the progressive, developing, adapting construction.

There the person would allow forms to be improved, so that their thoughts and being could progress in society.
Valda Podkalne knows that our ecosystem must be thought through, and she invites us to do this. Her sculptures are both reflections and also an invitation to reflection. They are laboratory notes. We must understand their significance, we must think of the Universe of the alchemist for the living, as did the most ancient civilisations. (I remember my discoveries about the Mzabu in Algeria). Valda's work is an invitation to freeing the system of thought, which is its main imprisonment.


   

Valda Podklane's Supreme
Inga Steimane.

Let us imagine a scene: In the Ksjaza Porcelain Factory in Valbziha, Poland, there is a large pile of utilised plaster moulds. In the midst of this pile stand six men who are smashing it to pieces with sledgehammers. Standing a little further away, a woman is viewing the scene. She is waiting for the work to finish before heading over to it. She is an artist, and her name is Valda Podkalne.

She is a woman who could easily be imagined carelessly sprawled on the deck of a yacht, or spending time in beauty salons. She has a daughter, Dana - a 17-years-old budding fashion designer - a husband, Harold Yegodziesnky, a recognised German artist - and a cat, Pea. She drives a super-stylish car, about which colleagues jealously remark: "You can afford to drive that, you are from the West." This is a subtle irony that demands explanations. For two years her business card has read: Living and working in Latvia and Germany. But the place where she was born and has worked with porcelain for 20 years is Riga, Latvia. For exactly this reason, the story about the yacht and the beauty salons is a metaphor that helps us get closer to Valda's portrait.
In answering the journalistic question of how she plans to spend the DM 10,000 Westerwald Prize, Valda, a lecturer in the Visual Communications Department of the Latvian Academy of Art, replies with parallels: "I will use this to support a particular artistic family, and a particular young female artist. All of the last academic year was my creative vacation, thanks to this I could afford to work freely, to absorb myself in the process rather than for two hours a day, sometimes for even 16 hours, which, amongst other things, was demanded by my new working technology. As the result of all this, a work was created which received a prize."
Valda Podkalne possesses that healthy irony which characterises the strongest, if it can be said, of the Eastern Europeans, who are aware of how very much the socio-economic changes of the 90s have affected their lives. "I can calmly and without sorrow look at what I have once done, but it has undoubtedly given a great deal to the present moment," says Valda. By the way, this was what she said about her new works created in the Polish porcelain factory, which differ from everything made before, and yet are founded on the experience of working with porcelain design forms in Riga. Our conversation about art can easily be transferred to the field of human relationships. Artistic products, even if they are based primarily on aesthetic principles, always retain a connection with the most varied contexts of our lives.
The decision of the Westerwald competition jury characterised Valda Podkalne's work Homes of Thoughts as a powerful personal approach to space and the solution of sculptural volume, transforming emptiness into the material. Traces of the non-traditional technological process remained visible in the final result, creating the impression of clean and spontaneous forms. The bright colour was used not as a decorative element, but has become part of the materiality. The assessment emphasised that the monumentality of Podkalne's ceramic sculptures is not connected with their dimensions - they are about 50 cm high - but added that it would be tempting to see these works in larger formats.
"It is a good idea not to listen to professionals who seemingly know the material," says Valda. This has been her experience since presenting her bachelor's work on graduating from the Latvian Academy of Art in Riga in 1979, when she completed the Industrial Design Department with a set of porcelain china. At that time, factory experts told her not to pour a right-angled tray, because nothing would come of it. But Valda risked it, and since then right-angled trays and clean mould china have become popular in Riga. About three years ago, Valda arrived at a porcelain symposium in Poland without her precise and pedantically worked plaster forms. Entering the factory, she was fascinated by the enormous pile of used plaster mould scraps. "What would be if a porcelain mass were poured into this structure, and what would be the result for this vacuum and inter-spatial ingot?" Resolving these questions, Valda came upon the idea of finding forms. She created a library - on shelves meant for the pouring of porcelain, she lined up the broken plaster form elements and then read her mould. Also this time, factory specialists walking by said: "Horror!" thinking that some technical misfortune had happened. They didn't consider this approach to be suitable for working with porcelain, but this didn't worry the artist.
Eclecticism, which is traditionally associated with the concept of discovery, does not have the decisive role in the quality of Valda's new work. Rather, we should look at this discovery from a philosophical viewpoint, from a point where the discovery is actively sought, not as a coincidence. Valda Podkalne's new technological process for porcelain forms is actually close to traditional porcelain technology, which utilises plaster forms and porcelain mass. However, there is a principle difference: the ideal form of the work is not created as a real, tangible plaster module, as it is in china making, but is stored in the visual space of the artist's fantasy. This could be said to be said to be Valda Podkalne's innovation in porcelain. Her porcelain wall piece, prepared in Kal, Germany, after an order by a factory director, is possibly the largest porcelain ingot in one plaster mould prepared with this technology - its volume was about 650 litres. Asked how risky this process is and whether many results had to be liquidated, Valda answers: "Until now I have worked error-free - I have thought, felt and done." We hear something of the characteristic nuances of the latest technology in this description, even if only in the form of parallels - imaginative space, precision, creativity. The time has come to talk about ideals, and the fact that this conversation is appropriate is indicated by the title. Using the concept supreme for describing Valda Podkalne's porcelain forms, we of course think of one of the brightest and most ambitious expressions of Russian early 20th century modernism - the suprematism of K. Malevic, which as is known found its embodiment not just in the black cube but also in architectonic forms. One of Valda's newest works consists of four white elements - home, as the author herself calls them, and they remind us of the functional objective of the architectonic form - to designate space. This is the direct relationship between Podkalne's work and the aesthetic principles of 20th century modernism. Unlike Malevic, who made these forms as positives if we use photographic terminology, Podkalne starts from the negative inner space, which forms in the inside of the plaster mould and, on being poured to porcelain, takes on its ideal form. This is the final form, the artist does not work it after firing (supreme - higher, bigger, final).
Re-reading an article written in Latvia about Valda Podkalne, I find some figurative passages by a Latvian artist. At that time this artist was enthused about discovering crystal structures, and was convinced that their description - their final structure - could fully be applied to Valda Podkalne. It seems that a bit of the mystic can be found in every artist's life and work. Even if these receive prizes and are deemed to be significant by a large number of people.