Translucency & Immateriality

Artikel "Ceramics: Art and Perception" No. 38/1999

The most difficult part of describing Paula Bastiaansen's work is trying to classify it.
She works with porcelain, but after this obvious statement it is hard to proceed. She makes objects that at first sight vaguely seem to resemble seashells or some other organic object but, on closer inspection, don't resemble anything at all, and certainly not seashells.
The objects are thin, almost transparent and consist of a kind of tentacles (yet not quite tentacles) that wave in the air (or are they solid matter?).

Paula Bastiaansen herself is matter of fact about her objects.
When asked for a deeper meaning, she is silent for a few seconds, then confesses that she finds thes kinds of questions difficult. What is ther to say, if the object won't speak for itself?
Later she states categorically that she is nothing but a ceramist, that trying other disciplines of art simply do not appeal to her. She feels some kinship with glass, but only because it is transparent, not because of some inherent value of or interest in the material. The only certain thing is her fascination with transparency that becomes clear while she describes her long, complicated and hazardous production process that in the end is only meant to instill her object with their near transparent, immaterial look.

Her objects are carefully conceived.
First of all, she makes a detailed two-dimensional drawing of the object, which she then cuts up. She then takes a rough stoneway mould and tries to apply her drawing to three dimensions inside it, so that she folds the paper object until a good shape has been reached. When she is satisfied with the basic design, she starts mixing the colours with porcelain. She then makes a plaque of bone china porcelain with slices of coloured porcelain alternating with with neutral coloured porcelain. This plaque she subsequently cuts up to make the thin slivers of alternating coloours that form the 'ribs'of her objects.

Virtually anything can go wrong in this part of the process.
Since the plaques of porcelain are a few millimeters thick at most, they become too dry or too humid easily so they have to be covered with wet rags. Experience has taught her that the porcelain slivers she makes should be one cm wide at most, or they will lose their structure and the object will crack in the kiln. In addition, the coloured porcelain dries and shrinks at a faster rate than the pure white porcelain.

Bastiaansen has found that coloured porcelain, especially black, should be slightly thicker than non-coloured. Since the difference should only be 0,1 mm, it is clear that this, too, may go wrong. Assuming that everything has gone well, she now fashions the object itself. This is work which has to be executed quickly: she has to form it correctly within five minutes or the porcelain dries too much and will crack. After that, she puts it in the kiln to be fired at 1260°. Then the object is finished.

Bastiaansen's object are extremely fragile. In fact, they even look sturdier than they are.
This fragility, which is the translation of their immaterial look to the physical plane, is the key to her work. Looking back, she recognises that her present forms were already apparent in the objects and drawings she made at the Art Academy. Nonetheless she started her ceramic career with more conventional forms such as bowls and amphorae. From there, she slowly worked her way to the objects she makes today.

She searches for the essence of the immaterial with patience and care.
Although the roots of the objects are clearly the bowl form, she has gone beyond that form in her career. At the moment she comes nearer to materialising the immaterial than other ceramists. The viewer instinctively understands: her objects emanate fragility and a sense of unrealness.

Although at first nearly everyone associates the objects with something natural, something from the sea, an oyster or shell maybe, these associations are quickly lost. Her objects are quite simply indescribable: one has to see them, maybe even touch them lightly, to understand and accept them as they are. From her graduation in 1983 until the present time, she has had many exhibitions. At first mainly in the Netherlands and Germany, but from 1998 onward also in Japan and in several European countries. Gallery Carla Koch showed her work in the Millennium exhibition of 1999 and a solo exhibition is planned for January 22 till February 19, 2000.

Bastiaansen (born in 1953) was educated at the Department of Ceramic Design of the Academy for Art and Design in Den Bosch, the Netherlands.

Article by Peter Paul Koch
Peter Paul Koch is a writer on the arts from Amsterdam.