Tracing Series transforms the decorative patterns of antique plates into intricate three-dimensional reliefs.
Caroline Slotte. From the series Landscape Multiple, 2013. Reworked second hand ceramics. Dimensions 52 x 42 x 7 cm Collection Röhsska Museum, Gothenburg (S)
Q: In At Your Service, each of your plates has a distinct landscape and china pattern characteristic of where they were produced. What is the significance of place in your work? What makes you choose a particular plate?
A: The poetry of everyday things, borne by the memories and stories of these objects – that is the theme on which my artistic practice centers. When choosing materials, I usually work with a pre-determined processing strategy at the back of my mind. The strategy is often formulated as a quite specific instruction to myself, for instance: “Remove everything blue from the plate.”
When it comes to the category of landscape-decorated tableware, the paradoxical nature of the imagery fascinates me. Looking closely at objects such as these you soon discover how intertwined our cultural history is. This context is relevant in that it provides a certain fullness, a richness of information around the objects. However, I rarely highlight the historical background of the objects as part of the contents of my works. Instead, I often zoom in on associations and stories grounded in the directly-experienced everyday life, situations and events that rarely concern the object’s more general cultural and historical background. In my processing, I strive increasingly to achieve transformations that do not favor one particular reading, but which facilitate multiple associations, multiple narratives. I want to make way for an interpretative openness, so that the frame through which the objects are normally viewed is changed or expanded.
She uses only one technique: the removal of material from old china, usually plates printed with a ‘Willow’ pattern or other Chinese landscape design. The V&A has one of her works (on view in the new ceramics galleries), from a series in which she cuts all the way through her plates and then stacks them. Here are two examples of these pieces (the V&A’s is the one on the right).
These tunnel-like layered works seem to engage with both the historical recession of time. It’s an unavoidable theme if you’re working with nineteenth-century ceramics, I suppose, but one made all the more resonant here because the images were already leaps into the imagination. Made before the age of photography, they were one important way that Europeans envisioned the distant landscape of China. In this respect, they are like ‘Japanned’ furniture (painted in imitation of lacquer) or wallpapers imaginatively peopled with small figures and animals, of which the V&A has examples. These examples of chinoiserie tend to be remarkably free in their drawing – maybe when you’re sketching a foreign culture you have never seen, and never will, it frees your hand up a bit. What’s also at stake there, clearly, is a sort of fantasizing process. Slotte reprises this telescopic vision for us in reverse, as it were, taking away something that was there, rather than inventing from scratch.
The result is hauntingly poignant, and speaks eloquently to the sense of loss and memory that old china often carries in our lives, as it sits silent and half-forgotten in the cupboard. But this work also shows how Slotte has ingenoiusly transformed erasure into a sketching process – it’s like she’s drawn the building on to the surface. You might even say that she has turned her tools of effacement (sandblaster and various scraping tools) into those of a sculptor, because she’s removing material in depth, rather than on a flat surface. It’s just one more example of how an inventive rendering technique can produce not only beautiful objects, but beautiful ideas as well.