Firingsculpture | About
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Jeg laver store skulpturer af flere tons ler. Jeg bygger og brænder dem på stedet, så de står glødende foran publikum. Det er både skulptur og performance med en relation til stedet og begivenheden. Skulpturerne er ikke lavet for evigheden, men står en tid efter, afhængig af bl.a. vejret.

Når skulpturen gløder gør den øjeblikket tydeligt og hele projektet sætter tiden og den stadige forandring i fokus. Den glødende skulptur som fascinerer og sommetider tiltrækker tusinder, varer meget kort og skulpturen går til på et ukendt tidspunkt. Men oplevelsen bestaar. Et projekt kan markere begyndelsen på et nyt byggeri, etableringen af et nyt byrum, et byjubilæum eller en historisk begivenhed som eksempler. Den glødende skulptur kan være som en passage fra en situation til en anden og skulpturerne er meget forskellige. De kan være både små og kæmpestore.

About me

I started as a ceramic artist in 1965 in various workshops in Europe and Canada including a period by Bernard Leach. I was for many years doing handmade, mostly thrown pottery. At a certain point I felt a need for a more extensive expression and in I 1994 made my first firingsculpture for an art museum in Denmark.

I have till now made 20 very different works in Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Australia and Iceland and England. My work has developed out of a lifelong ceramic praxis, my projects take departure in the worlds realities, and I find inspiration in the variations in world. In every new work I am pushing and developing this expression.

My firingsculptures:

They are built in 1-3 weeks in a continuous process. The climax is when the sculpture, wrapped in insulation, becomes its own kiln and fires to 1000-1200 centigrade. At this stage the insulation is taken away and for short intense moments the sculpture is glowing with celestial beauty.

The sculpture is made out of many transparent walls one behind the other and with openings of different kinds in order to offer simultaneous views of the white glowing interior and the cooler and less glowing darker outside. The idea is to show the inside of things, to make visible what normally is hidden. When the sculpture is glowing, the inside is the most luminous and unusual coherences can be perceived. The choices of the shape aimed for, the method of building and the execution of the firing are made out of consideration for the view of the glowing sculpture.

My firingsculpture can resonance the site and the situation where it is built. It is a play about time and change. When the sculpture is glowing you feel the instant and the entire project from the first step on the bare ground until its complete erosion is about time and everythings's perpetual change.

Resumé from the book “GLØDENDE LER, BRÆNDINGSSKULPTURER AF JØRGEN HANSEN” (Glowing Clay, Firingsculptures by Jørgen Hansen) Text by Lisbeth Bonde

Up to the present time, Jørgen Hansen has created eleven distinctive firingsculptures, which have been erected in many sites around the world. With these sculptures, he has moved from the practical arts into the realm of fine arts. The sculptures are made of clay and they are built up in the course of a few weeks by a team supervised by Jørgen Hansen. Each of the sculptures has its very own idea and occupies its very own special place. Each is constructed on the basis of an ingenious modular system. And in each instance, certain special modules that are appropriate to the sculpture’s specific form are created.

Generally speaking, Jørgen Hansen intentionally veers away, to some extent, from perfection and prefers to supply the sculpture with a certain touch of incompleteness. In this way, there is a reference to the process and the sculpture is endowed with a ruin-like appearance. The sculpture entitled VERWANDLUNGSKREIS, erected in 2002 near what was once the Berlin Wall, nonetheless deviates from this principle, since in this case, Jørgen Hansen has aimed at creating a regular circle. In this circular-shaped firingsculpture, he allowed the glowing clay inside the volume to constitute the sculpture’s actual focus. By and large, Jørgen Hansen is becoming increasingly more interested in the sculpture’s interior, and the glowing clay is playing a part that becomes more and more important in his work. Firingsculptures affect the viewer in a purely visceral way on account of the high temperatures involved. This magnitude can simply not be discounted. This is neither an illusion nor an image, but a real physical thing which attains extremely high temperatures.

Something extraordinary happens when the clay and the conflagration encounter one another. But the actual process of metamorphosis is rather short-lived. Jørgen Hansen is making use of the glowing clay in order to call our attention to the fact that time is on the move: the glowing clay refers to the transformation that is taking place. The external form, however, is necessary so that this meeting can occur, but there is much to suggest that in the future, Jørgen Hansen will be generating simpler cubic forms.

In viewing the firingsculptures, the public comes to play witness to a process that normally occurs within a closed system, namely inside the ceramic oven, where the porous and stiffened clay is transformed into something hard and everlasting. The firingsculptures are fired in the open air; the process is laid bare as a spectacular and fascinating sight, which transpires in the course of less than twenty-four hours. The sculpture is packed in insulating fiber material, so that the temperature will rise. As the process unfolds, Jørgen Hansen and his assistants feed the sculpture with firewood. This must be done in a careful and cautious manner in order to avoid having the clay rupture and accordingly to avoid having the sculpture fall apart.

The firingsculptures are both conceived and executed on a grand scale, also with respect to the choice of material, since they manage with their huge volumes to fill quite a considerable place and can weigh many tons. What is also characteristic of these works is that they are site-specific in much the manner of other three-dimensional works in recent art history, which means to say that they have been created for a specifically chosen spot and that they enter into dialogue with this place’s particular cultural history and architecture. They can constitute a passage and function as a connecting link between two historic epochs, as exemplified by Rejsen [The Journey] in Fredericia, which conjoined a modern residential neighborhood with the city’s original center. In the year 1690, King Fredrik III established the city as a garrison town. A similar connecting passage can be observed in the 1998 sculpture entitled ‘Det hvisker fra skoven’ [There is a Whisper from the Woods], which conjoined a modern cafe on the outskirts of Stockholm with the uncultivated forest.

Same in Danish:

Lisbeth Bonde:
( fra ‘Glødende Ler, Brændingsskulpturer af Jørgen Hansen’, Skippershoved 1993, ISBN 8789224701 )

Jørgen Hansens¸brændingsskulpturer er inciterende udsagn om jorden og ilden, om nuet og evigheden. De fødes af mørket og forsvinder langsomt i takt med dagens komme. Efter en lang og møjsommelig opbygningsfase bliver lerkroppene antændt og brænder som vulkaner, svangre med ild, der går i gløder. Til sidst fader de ud, bliver til en ting, et offer for vejrliget og menneskers rastløse handlinger for til sidst at forvitre og forsvinde. Det er poesi i tre dimensioner, en grandios gestus, stort tænkt og stort gennemført med den stædige insisteren, som er kendetegnende for en kunstner. Det er utopisk, ubrugeligt, rituelt og dragende.

Resumé.

Jørgen Hansen har foreløbig skabt 11 karakteristiske brændingsskulpturer, der er opført rundt om i verden. Med brændingsskulpturerne har han bevæget sig fra nyttekunsten over i billedkunsten. Skulpturerne er skabt af ler, og de bygges op i løbet af nogle uger af et team, som ledes af Jørgen Hansen. Hver skulptur har sin ide og sit særlige sted. Den bygges op af et sindrigt modulsystem. For hver gang skabes nogle særlige moduler, der passer til skulpturens specifikke form.
Generelt firer Jørgen Hansen bevidst lidt på perfektionen undervejs og tilfører skulpturen en vis uafsluttethed. Hermed refereres til processen, og skulpturen forlenes med en ruinagtig fremtoning. Skulpturen Verwandlungskreis, opført ved den tidligere Mur i Berlin i 2002, afviger dog fra dette princip, idet Jørgen Hansen her tilstræbte en regelmæssig cirkel. I den cirkelformede brændingsskulptur lod han gløderne indeni udgøre skulpturens egentlige fokus. I det hele taget er Jørgen Hansen i stigende grad optaget af skulpturens indvendige, og gløden spiller en stadig vigtigere rolle. Brændingsskulpturen påvirker betragteren rent kropsligt p.g.a. de høje temperaturer. Den kan så at sige ikke fornægtes. Den er ikke en illusion eller et billede, men en reel, fysisk ting, der når op på meget høje temperaturer.

Der sker noget ganske særligt, når leret og ilden mødes, og selve forvandlingsprocessen er ganske kort. Jørgen Hansen bruger gløden til at vise, at tiden går og gløden henviser til den forvandling, der finder sted. Den ydre form er dog nødvendig for at dette møde kan finde sted, men noget tyder på, at Jørgen Hansen i fremtiden vil udvikle mere enkle, kubiske former.

Med brændingsskulpturerne bliver publikum vidne til en proces, der normalt foreår i et lukket system, nemlig i keramikovnen, hvor det porøse stivnede ler transformeres til noget hårdt og tidsbestandigt. Brændingsskulpturerne brændes i det fri, og processen lægges blot som et spektakulært og fascinerende skue, der finder sted over et lille døgns tid. Skulpturen pakkes ind i rockwool for at få temperaturen til at stige. Undervejs fodrer Jørgen Hansen og hans hjælpere skulpturen med brænde. Der skal doceres nænsomt for at undgå, at leret springer og skulpturen falder fra hinanden.

Brændingsskulpturerne er både stort tænkt og stort udført også rent materialemæssigt, idet de volumenmæssisgt fylder en ret stor plads ud, og de kan veje mange ton. Kendetegnende for dem er ligeledes, at de er site-specific eller stedsspecifikke, ligesom andre tredimensionale værker i nyere kunsthistorie, dvs. de er skabt til et udvalgt sted, og de går i dialog med dette steds særlige kulturhistorie og arkitektur. De kan udgøre en passage og fungere som bindeled mellem to historiske epoker som fx ‘Rejsen’ i Fredericia, der forbandt et moderne beboelseskvarter med det oprindelige centrum. Byen blev grundlagt i 1690 som fæstningsby af Fredrik III. En lignende forbindelsespassage kunne observeres i 1998 i skulpturen ‘Det hvisker fra skoven’, der forbandt en moderne café i udkanten af Stockholm med den vilde skov.

Lisbeth Bonde er cand.mag., kunstkritiker og journalist
Lisbeth Bonde is an art critic and journalist. She holds a Master of Arts degree. Translation into English by Dan Marmorstein – Lisbeth Bonde er cand.mag., kunstkritiker og journalist Glødende Ler, Brændingsskulpturer af Jørgen Hansen, Forlaget Skippershoved 2003 ISBN 87-89224-70-1

Sculptures of Jorgen Hansenn, Vince McGrath reports on the ephemeral quality found in the sculptures of this Danish artist (CeramicsTECHNICAL No. 14 2002)

Day after day scores of people walk over en eight meter burnt shard-rich ground circle that refuses to strike new grass. The circle in the lawns of the University of Tasmania represents the last physical sign of a firing site. It also acts as a visual cue for remembering the dramatic moments of a 24-hour clay and fire performance piece carried out more than 18 months ago. The ruin hints at the ground space of the former object while its upward elevation has been taken from reality and can now only be imagined for what it might have been. Jorgen Hansen’s sculpture is inevitably transient because the object is constructed as the medium for exploring elusive ideas of change and evolution. Hansen sets aside the modernist tradition of the object representing a single truth for one that trawls a broad sweep of opinion as he journeys over borders and into the physical and subconscious spaces of the known and the unknown.

Jorgen Hansen lives and works in Hyllested, Denmark. He was originally trained and educated in the art of the potter and continues that practice today. A traditional studio background has meant that Hansen has been able to bring the work rhythms, techniques and sensibilities of the potter to the creation of large, multi-walled outdoor clay pieces. To some observers, Hansen’s practice or the traditional studio potter’s art is philosophically at odds with the conceptual and technical nature of large-scale impermanent performance/installation works. However it is precisely from this classical appreciation of ceramics that Hansen is so adroit at foregrounding the correspondences between idea and materiality, and the transformative role of fire as an agent of change and a key performer in the theatrical part of the event. More importantly though, Jorgen Hansen has re-examined the language of studio ceramics by bringing into sharp relief the choice between self-imposed formality and prescription, and a speculative engagement of the discipline’s symbols and practices with those of other art forms. It is here at the confluence of arts languages that Hansen also tells us that a wider, unifying and participatory encounter is possible.

Hansen believes the known is really the beginning of the unknown and that what we understand as the subconscious boundary of knowledge can be expressed in visual terms as a circle. This might suggest that Hansen positions his thinking solely on the current ‘outer circle’ or leading edge; however his practice continually references the inner circles, those holding the past, culture, community and memory. It seems to me that where Hansen critiques history in revisionist mode he is best able to pose questions, contemplate futures and energise our view of ourselves.

While Jorgen Hansen remains faithful to the great traditions of ceramics he intentionally seeks to make public and give full force to the process of making as equal and integral activity in the experience of the work. Hansen’s projects are team oriented, carefully planned and executed, drawing on the skills and creative abilities of many people. He quietly directs, encourages and praises co-artists throughout the weeklong cycle. Hansen is unequivocal in his desire to place the co-artist at the centre of the activity. This enabling process seeks out the latent abilities of the artist’s team, setting up the important synenergism between Hansen as director of the project and the co-artists. Positioning all members of the team in the ‘centre’ means that a delicate working balance has to be maintained between the intent of the director and the artist’s capacities and commitment to work within the project brief.

These ceramic sculptures are developed on a monumental scale and yet they exhibit none of the heroic qualities familiar in public art. They are not institutional or corporate in their stance, nor are they rigid didactic lessons in ancient history. It seems to me that while Jorgen Hansen’s sculptures are constructed within a narrative framework of interconnected linear events, they are much more to do with the real-time experience. The experiential nature of these works is bound up in a number of moments expressed within and immediately outside the physical presence of the object. These presences comprise the cycle of making and our perception of the object in time and space. Each presence is a comprehensive statement that can never be repeated in the same way. In doing this Hansen’s sculpture moves through a sequence of events (comings and goings) where there is intense construction activity, high levels of speculations and anticipations, displays of high drama and performance, as well as conditions of stillness and introspection. Throughout the sequence there is no one moment in the existence of the work that is more important than another. What is most important to Hansen is that the work generates a rich, continuously changing dialogue that stimulates ideas concerning history, impermanence, transformation and renewal.

Jorgen Hansen is interested in the ways ideas and reality is mediated through form. Clay is the material of the object and its non-permanent properties are chosen to represent change and decline. For him clay is also symbolic of the Alpha and Omega of existence and is both concrete and abstract. In the creative processes its material qualities can be remarkably fluid and yet stiff enough to hold form and surface in alignment while concepts are pursued.

The central actor in the theatre of the work is fire, the force for material change and the symbol of unpredictability. The firing is a spectacle, a public performance in the manner of an unscripted play that transforms the work and celebrates a new existence. The ground spaces upon which these sculptures emerge provide the stage where the relationship between nature, subject and object, and artist and observer take place. It is also the site that marks the beginning and the end of the project. Hansen nominates sites for sculptures on the basis of their natural history and human significance and the way the physical qualities of an environment are able to complement the intent of the project.

After the Cowboys was produced at the University of Tasmania in Launceston, Australia. It was set in a manicured lawn surrounded by a high-tech, modernist inspired Science Faculty building and a 1950 timber and tile built art school. The sculpture’s anthropomorphic structure drew attention to the quantitative and qualitative similarities and differences in the arts and sciences. However, Jorgen Hansen’s main pre-occupation was to exploit the University setting to comment on the rhetoric of the simple verbal and printed statement as a given. To Hansen the classic period of the American Western movies epitomised the use of no-nonsense, straightforward verbal commentary and John Wayne was the master of its artifice. The social conditioning and visual presentation of this popular Hollywood art form made sharp distinctions between right and wrong and good and bad. The genre overlooked the possible, the difficult spaces of the in-between and the subtle and complex human conditions and experiences that most of us confront each day. Hansen’s contention is that our lives are heterogeneous and cannot be summarised into simple utterances or be represented in packaged visual images. After the Cowboys sought to move outside the obvious, the throwaway line and the facile. The sculpture’s plan of radiating circles celebrated an ever-changing, optimistic and outward-looking world while the massive curtain walls assembled from simple cowboy-like clay elements focused our attention back in and through the work revealing dense patterns and shapes of great intricacy.

Jorgen Hansen’s sculpture accentuates the changing and evolving state of nature and human existence. The sense of making history and participating in change in real-time experience is the enduring memory that one carries away from these ephemeral works.

Vincent McGrath is Professor of Art and Head of the School of Visual and Performing Arts, Academy of the Arts at the University of Tasmania, Australia.
Article published in AMPAK, mesecnik za kulturo, politiko in gospodarstvo, september-oktober 2009, by Ifigenija Simonovic.

English translation: Ceramic sculptures by Jørgen Hansen like a blazing opera, crackling symphonies or mysterious burning lace. Article written in Slovenian by Ifigenija Simonovic and translated into English by Jette Ni Mulcatha

In 2009, Barba Stembergar and Niko Zupan hosted the 4th symposium/seminar/meeting of ceramicists in the village of Voglje close to Sencur. The symposium has its roots in the series of ceramic workshops Barba and Niko have held for adults and children in their studio. The latter have been a recurring yearly activity down through the years. Then, about five years ago, Barba and Niko began to think about organising a symposium for ceramicists as they realised one couldn’t learn everything from books. At ceramic schools around the world, the work of resident tutors is supplemented by visiting ceramicists explaining their specific techniques. In addition to facilitating contact between the ceramicists and students, the symposium sparks the flow of enthusiasm for, and belief in, the unlimited possibilities of forming, decorating, glazing and firing the soft clay, which subsequently becomes transformed into hard, timeless objects and sculptures during the firing process.

9 foreign ceramicists from the UK, Czech Republic, Germany, Turkey, Serbia, Denmark and Slovenia were present at the 4th symposium. From the onset, the work of the Dane, Joergen Hansen, who was making a sculpture out of 1000 kg of clay, caught my attention. Apparently a small sculpture in comparison to the majority of other firing sculptures he has carried out to date. While working at Voglje he stayed at hostel Celica, visiting Ljubljana and its museums, reading some books and beginning to ask crucial, non-touristy questions. By and by, he chose a spot on which his coming sculpture could stand. He envisaged a sculpture bearing historical undertones, similar to those of a number other firing sculptures already in existence at some 15 sites around the world. Of course, the realisation of the sculpture at hand depended upon his comprehension of political and artistic institutions. Hence, for the time being his idea remains afloat in thin air, not yet ready to undergo the transformation of the firing process.

Hansen has worked with clay for more than 40 years. During the past 20 years he has mainly worked on large firing-sculptures, something for which he is renowned throughout the world. The 1960s witnessed the renewed renaissance of studio-ceramics, i.e. of handmade pots for everyday use, a movement, which coincided with the views on individuality held by the new, post-war, so-called “baby boom” generation. Growing up in the cradle of the Danish ceramics industry, Hansen found inspiration in clay from an early age. Having completed his military service, he decided to go to a short trip to Paris. Seven years later he returned home as an experienced potter. Along the way, he worked in the workshops of master potters in France, Canada England. He even worked with legendary Bernard Leach and here also met Shoji Hamada. A professor of ceramics, Hansen has worked as a visiting tutor in amongst other places, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Australia and Iceland. While he still makes pots occasionally and they are bought by museums around the world, he has dedicated most of his time to the creation of sculptures of architectural dimensions. They are the dramatic, spectacular and epic projects of an artist, who works without fear and with an open heart. On his return to Denmark (1972) Hansen first established a studio in Tirstrup, moving on to Ebeltoft in 1989. He is probably the only travelling professor and ceramicist who works in clay, in the true sense of the word, erecting his sculptures in-situ, where they are intended to remain. His students act as his assistants in relation to the project at hand. In addition, he always involves the local inhabitants, so that the final “performance”, i.e. the actual firing of the sculpture, which is the culmination of a few weeks hard labour, becomes a large and festive event. The existence (in time) of his sculpture has to be understood on a philosophical level. It is not only a question of building it, erecting it, firing it, cooling it and letting it stand, but also a question of its disintegration and disappearance. The latter comprises an ongoing process that continues to take place long after the ceramicist has left and the sculpture has been anchored in time and space. Normally, one thinks of art as being eternal. This is particularly true in relation to ceramics, as it, just like sculptures made of bone and stone, bears witness to the endeavours of human creativity from the earliest civilisations onwards. Hansen challenges this view, giving his fellowman the feeling/belief that he can conquer both death and nature. Our awareness of our mortality together with our constant striving to achieve immortality is what distinguishes us from all other living creatures on this planet. Like magnificent requiems, Hansen’s sculptures stand as some sort of epic monuments chronicling the dawn of time. Following on from this, they are left standing, unprotected and vulnerable in the face of time and nature. Situated in very different places, both weather- and civilisation-wise, Hansen’s sculptures disintegrates in very different ways and at different paces.

For instance, Hansen erected a sculpture Sesam luk dig op (Open sesame) in an ethnically mixed and restless suburb of the Danish town of Aarhus. Because it was obvious that the sculpture would get vandalised if left in the open, the sculpture was deliberately made in two parts, one of which was transported to the local museum. This was the only time that Hansen allowed a sculpture to be moved in order to ensure its temporary preservation so that nature could take its toll undisturbed.
Ceramic pieces that were made thousands of years ago are to be found in our museums having been unearthed from their graves, which have been hidden under lava and avalanches. While archaeological finds are stored in museum collections under strict conditions in order not to disintegrate, there is no guarantee that they will stay intact forever. In stark contrast to the transience of our own lives, which we perceive in measures of periods, decades, and centuries and perhaps even in terms of the day-to-day scheme of things, they seem quite eternal. In light of the broader scheme of things, even the period between the first upwards step of the first primates up until contemporary times seems relatively short. Eternity depends upon the flexibility of our memory, i.e. both our personal memory and our collective memory. Yet another interesting observation is that while daily excavations are carried out in Pompeii, what is unearthed in the morning is already decaying in the evening. Hence Chinese clay soldiers are disintegrating in the open air as fast as they are being excavated. Similarly the paintings of Alta Mira are fading, because the caves have been opened to a selected audience- we are destroying them by our own breath. Thus, brick-houses have to be coated by a layer of protective plaster in order to prevent their crumbling. Joergen Hansen simply doesn’t pretend. He tells the truth. Just as a theatre performance has a certain life span, his sculpture will eventually disappear, in fact, sometimes this is the case just after a few months of its completion. This is quite a confounding factor, particularly since the realisation of his works is entirely dependent upon the goodwill of sponsors, who would like to “gain” something in return for giving a donation, namely a place amongst the immortals. Following on from this it is quite natural to conclude that it is probably impossible to understand the transience of things, which in some senses is the most difficult puzzle of all.

Joergen Hansen is a troubadour, who sings a song commemorating life – life as it is in the here and now. Hence, he kneads his own outlook on life, his political and historic commentary into his sculptures, which can be made from anywhere between one and eight tons of clay, Interested in theatre, he views the process connected with the firing sculptures as a performance. Depending on the size of a given sculpture, Hansen and his assistants spend between two to three weeks building it in-situ for everybody to see, be it in front of a museum, cathedral, or cultural centre in one of the world’s major cities. Using soft clay he subjects his form to the laws of fire, ensuring that the blazing flames touch upon each bit of the form during the firing. A lengthy process – it can take 24 hours to complete. The construction itself is part of the performance, and Hansen is like a conductor leading his assistants towards the climax. During the firing, the sculpture is wrapped in a fireproof foil which Hansen, at the very height of the process when the heat of the firing reaches about 1000 degrees and when the foil itself is ablaze, pulls off in the manner of a dancing wizard. The large sculptures also have a varying number of inner layers, which are only visible when ablaze and as such only perceivable during the process of cooling following the dramatic unveiling. When the outer wall has cooled down and therefore stands invisibly black in the darkness, the inner walls seem to glow as though suggesting some kind of deeper meanings. There, in the darkness of the night, the spectators hold their breath momentarily as the sculpture stands brilliantly aglow, like lace worked out of molten lava. Then, as the sculpture starts cooling and its glow begins to darken, the performance enters its final act. Finally, all that is left is the sculpture itself – made out of fired clay and placed on earth, left to itself, time, age, degeneration, dying and decomposition.

Another of Joergen Hansen’s sculptures entitled Ballast stands on the site of an old brickworks on the banks of the harbour in the Danish town of Sonderborg. It was from this spot, that ships set sail for South America in colonial times. When the boats were empty, without their return cargo of sugar or slaves, they had to be weighed down with bricks. These bricks were called ballast. When introducing his work at Voglje, Joergen Hansen spoke of the sculpture in Sonderborg as a theatrical happening or performance, that depicts art as ballast in the positive sense of the word, i.e. as something integral to our very sense of being, to us who behold and experience art. This experience is the very ballast that provides us with a sense of completeness and the possibility of equilibrium, just as bricks helped ships float safely in times gone by. In short it is because of the arts that we are more than mere transient beings on the surface of the Earth.