Heidi Bjørgan


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No Two Alike
Solo exhibition at Galleri Format, Oslo, Norway | April 16th- May 16th, 2015

'I’m mak­ing pots for art’s sake, God’s sake, for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, and for my own satisfac­tion,' claimed the ec­cen­tric Amer­i­can ce­ram­i­cist George Ohr (1857-1918). He said this over a cen­tury ago, but up to the late 1970's al­most none of the fu­ture gen­erations of which he spoke knew of his works, which were stored in a garage in his home­town of Biloxi, Mis­sis­sippi. Since then the sit­u­a­tion has changed con­sid­er­ably, and his pre­dic­tion has come true: ‘When I’m gone my work will be prized, ho­n­oured, and cher­ished.’ Heidi Bjør­gan’s ex­hi­bi­tion can be seen as a con­fir­ma­tion of this. In the sum­mer of 2013 she took a study trip to Biloxi, and her en­counter with Ohr’s art made an ob­vi­ous im­pres­sion. The ex­hi­bi­tion’s ti­tle is a quote from Ohr, but Bjør­gan’s works are also in­spired by his ex­pres­sive vi­sual lan­guage. Par­tic­u­larly from 1895 to 1910, this ‘mad pot­ter from Biloxi’, as he called him­self, made ce­ramic works that were with­out par­al­lel at the time. His goal was not to cre­ate two iden­ti­cal works, so for him, con­cepts such as ‘per­fect’ or ‘uni­form’ had no sig­nif­i­cance. Many of his vases seem to have melted in the kiln; his pots have edges that buckle and curl, and the colours – well, that would need a whole chap­ter. Es­pe­cially shock­ing was his use of metal­lic and lus­trous glazes.

In her new works, Bjør­gan en­ters into di­a­logue with Ohr’s art, in par­tic­u­lar, with his work method. It’s not about copy­ing, at least not in the sense of mak­ing some­thing de­riv­a­tive or sec­ond-rate. A more rel­e­vant con­cept of copy­ing would be ‘to em­u­late’ or ‘elab­o­rate on’. The Latin ex­pres­sion copia can be trans­lated var­i­ously as plenty, abun­dance, vo­cab­u­lary, in­ven­tory or archive, all with pos­i­tive con­no­ta­tions. In An­tiq­uity, when a speaker sought to con­vince oth­ers with rhetoric, he was ad­vised to de­velop copia, to re­pro­duce the best pat­terns and for­mats avail­able in any given sit­u­a­tion.

Ohr has be­come Bjør­gan’s role model, and the di­a­logue has taken her art in a more ex­pres­sive di­rec­tion. Lus­cious colours and buxom shapes open the pos­si­bil­ity of a sen­su­al­ity never be­fore seen in her art. Many of the ob­jects have clear ref­er­ences to wom­en’s bod­ies. Even though this rep­re­sents some­thing new and dif­fer­ent in her artis­tic prac­tice, we can still see con­ti­nu­ity: Bjør­gan has pre­vi­ously used found shapes and ready­mades, and these new works are also based on ‘bor­row­ings’. But in­stead of us­ing mass-pro­duced ob­jects, she has hired a pot­ter to throw per­fect, func­tional shapes which she has then de­formed and turned into sculp­tural ob­jects. In this way she erases all traces of learned skill and in­vents new tech­nics that of­fer the pos­si­bil­ity for other ef­fects. In short: the work method is to do every­thing that in the­ory should­n’t be done, such as blend glazes, clay types and other sub­stances that can­not be mixed; to ex­pose the works to treat­ments where the risk of mak­ing ‘mis­takes’ is very high. Other ex­am­ples would be to mix tem­per­a­tures and fire ob­jects be­tween three and five times. A crack is al­lowed to be a crack with its own ex­pres­sion – it is not a mis­take. She adds and sub­tracts un­til the re­sult, in her eyes, be­comes in­ter­est­ing.

Photo documentation: Thomas Tveter