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Johanne Birkeland’s lamps fuse traditional artistry and sustainability in pliable clay
The lamp collection designed by Norwegian ceramicist Johanne Birkeland
Image: Courtesy of Jossolini

Johanne Birkeland’s lamps fuse traditional artistry and sustainability in pliable clay

The Norwegian ceramicist handcrafts striking table lamps, each with its own distinct and sinuous base, by utilising and tapping into the natural, organic fluidity of clay as a medium.

by Ria Jha
Published on : Oct 17, 2023

The pliability of clay renders it a perfect canvas to capture the fluidity and grace of nature, within the objects that are creatively and lovingly fashioned with it. Artists can interact closely with the malleable material, throughout its transition from a raw lump to a fired and finished ceramic form. Creativity is expressed through evocative sculptures and objects inspired by organic and free-spirited shapes and ideas. Bridging the gap between art and the natural beauty that surrounds us, clay is an ideal medium that helps convey the intricate and harmonious designs found in the natural world.

Norwegian ceramist and founder of Jossolini, Johanne Birkeland draws inspiration from these fluid characteristics of clay to handcraft her exquisite lamp collection. Explaining her fascination with the material, the ceramic artist relays, “When I work with clay, I feel how alive it is as a medium. I try not to force the clay too much, but rather, allow the material to move naturally and incorporate itself into the design. When I work with clay, I always get the feeling that I am building something that is coming more and more to life, and this is what I pursue—to make my work come to life by incorporating the life of clay and the language of bodies. At various stages of the building process, I let gravity take the form out of balance, and then, I try to bring the shape back to balance with a human or animal-like movement."

Birkeland defines her product designs as a fusion of sculptural art and functional objects. “I try to bring something playful into functional objects. I consider the sculptural and functional aspects equally during the sculpting process. The decoration I think of as skin: that adds to animating the form and capturing its motion,” the sculptural artist shares.

Her organic lighting design collection comprises table lamps that make an immediate impression with their monumental presence while satiating the designer's aim for the series. Commenting on the creative process behind the lamps' sinuous bases, Birkeland explains, “When I create large pieces, such as the lamp's base, I combine different hand-building techniques, but mostly, I use coils of clay that I roll out by hand and place them on top of each other, to create the walls of the piece. Coiling is a strong construction method which allows me to build big and sturdy pieces with daring forms while retaining a hollow core. I build the pieces quite slowly, just a few inches per day so that the clay is allowed to dry before I add more weight to the construction. When I want the clay to succumb to gravity, I build faster, so that the heaviness of the wet clay presses the form downwards. The challenge is to work with the clay when it is not too soft and not too dry. If it is too soft, the shape will collapse completely, and if it is too dry, it will crack."

Through her works, the product designer firmly espouses the belief that using traditional handcrafting methods is the most effective strategy for creating sustainable designs. “I believe that to value the things you possess might cause you to buy less and consume less. Traditional handcrafts embody a very slow production method, and I hope that the craft and the hours spent by the artist become an intrinsic value of the finished piece. I believe that fast-made is fast-consumed and that things made with love, time and skills will have longer and valued lives,” Birkeland shares.

Owing to Birkeland only employing traditional handcrafting techniques, she has a small production, which flows into her larger ethos as a designer upholding and working towards building a more sustainable practice. “As a craftsman, I am also aware of how I use the materials and how I fire them. At the workshop, we have big kilns that are well-isolated. This means that we can fire a lot of pieces using a minimum amount of energy. I am also careful to recycle every bit of unused clay, which is a tradition when you work as a ceramicist. Yet, I believe that to make things slowly and with care, with the intent of making items that people will cherish and value for a long time, is a traditional handcrafters’ biggest contribution to sustainability, to conquer mass production and over-consumption,” she elaborates.

Birkeland's lamp designs are motivated by the organic and vivacious nature of clay, and prove how utilitarian goods and sculptural art can coexist together. Her dedication to the methodical and intentional production of her pieces is evident in both the craft's environmental consciousness and the artworks' unique and monumental presence. Tapping into the profound relationship between art, nature, and sustainability, the lamps provide a compelling vision of a thoughtful and treasured design philosophy that contrasts today's increasingly fast-paced, consumerist world. Birkeland's work serves as an example of the appeal and enduring worth that can be found in the union of traditional craftsmanship and contemporary designs.

Commenting on her future endeavours, the lighting designer shares, “I really enjoy making large pieces. I often make daring forms with sharp angles, and the bigger the piece is, the more technically challenging it becomes to build and fire successfully. So, to challenge and develop my crafting skills, I want to make even bigger pieces in the future, such as small furniture designs and floor lamps. I also want to meet the interest of the international market, and my dream is to exhibit abroad within the next year.”

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