Saturday, 26 May 2012


It is the second time I write about COLLECT in my blog. This year I have decided to follow my instincts and pick objects that were attracting my attention without trying to understand why.

Back home, I did some research about the artists I had selected. After having carefully read about the objects I wanted to write about, I was amazed to discover that they are all linked by a theme that I am currently researching with my own work: giving objects a second chance. The 9 artists featured in this article use different strategies but what they have in common is to use or reflect about “found” or “second-hand” objects and give them a new existence.

In his introduction to “Thing Theory”, Bill Brown proposes an interesting quote about them: “we begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us”. Julian Stallabrass in his essay “Trash” leads us into similar territory: “Commodities are of course signs in a system of value, both monetary and social, which is lost when they are abandoned. When objects are seen together as trash, relationships of a more poetic and intrinsic interest emerge. The qualities of the thing itself begin to appear in sharp relief like pictures in a developing tray. […] their arbitrariness and alien nature are suddenly revealed.”

Some artists collect objects, pick up trash in urban landscapes or the natural environment, pace up and down flea markets. Their works use, distort, incorporate or are inspired by those “found objects” and a new story appears where the object itself disappears to give way to a new subject-object relation.
Some of them use different strategies and create objects in the first place but then allow the works to live a second life by altering them.

The first artist I have chosen is Heidi Bjorgan in Galleri Kunst1.
Heidi is a ceramist and she collects. “Overlooked objects, a lamp, an old bread tin with an interesting shape or knick-knacks of low value which have been discarded as trash or have ended up in a car boot sale, that is what I collect. I give these forms a second chance in a new guise, in a new context and sometimes I even add a new function. As a maker my aim is through sampling and remaking to explore the aesthetic potential of the shapes of these objects”, she says about her work. Her works featured at COLLECT are porcelain vases cast from a plastic lampshade she found in a skip. Other found objects have been added: a bird and little ceramic bears are bound with the vase and both have been covered by glaze (pink or blue) to transform the two parts into a whole. In Heidi Bjorgan;s work, worthless discarded objects are transformed into beautiful and valuable craft.

Heidi Bjorgan. Galleri Kunst1. Photos Isabelle Busnel

For Graziano Gianocca, represented by Gallery SO, the creation is confrontation, an exchange between its internal world and the outside world. He is interested in the day-to-day objects, which he transforms to confer them a new identity. In his project “With Other’s Eyes” he uses anonymous photographs he has found on the web or in flea markets and carefully integrates them on the back of empty white or pink shiny square brooches. Only a second glance can reveal them. They function like 19th century lockets, which were pendants that opened to reveal a space used for storing a photograph or other small items such as hair. But the photos he uses are anonymous and with Graziano Gianocca’s work, one can wonder if those “found images” have the same emotional meaning than portraits of people we love?

Graziano Gianocca. Gallery SO. Photos Isabelle Busnel

Caroline Andrin’s work immediately caught my attention on the WCC.BF stand. At first, I didn’t actually understand what I was looking at. By getting closer and discussing with the artist, I started to understand that the “animal” trophies hanged on green backgrounds were made of clay cast in gloves. Caroline’s work questions our relationship with the objects we wear or use. She collects found objects such as gloves or woolly hats and uses them as moulds to create new shapes like those animal trophies. She believes that a shape can contain another shape and her wish is that her works keep the tracks of the objects used to create it. Each mould is used only once and destroyed when the work is turned out. From a certain distance they really look like animals. Get closer, and the viewer discovers that ears, noses, or chins are moulded from parts of leather gloves sewn together. Another very interesting manifesto about giving a second chance to objects…

Caroline Andrin. WCC.BF. Photos Isabelle Busnel

At Lesley Craze Gallery, Maud Traon’s rings were eye-catching. Combining materials such as Fimo clay, electroformed copper, synthetic stones and found plastic toys, her rings are exuberant and intriguing, oscillating between chaos and magic. In the exhibition booklet “Also Known as Jewellery”, Michael Rowe perfectly describes Maud’s approach: “In her work, she confronts us with issues of preciousness, value, durability, wearability, sensuality - explored with particular reference to consumerism, social aspiration and taste, attitudes to cultural differences, childhood and adult life. […] In some pieces we become aware of toy cars, animals and other plastic models embedded in the clay and we sense a poetic intent, those objects seem like fossilised toys, symbolic of time passing perhaps, remains of a childhood locked in a mysterious conglomerate ooze”.
In Maud’s work, found objects are meant to be reassuring: for the viewer, by incorporating iconic and childlike objects in apocalyptic landscapes, and for the artist by creating a starting point to avoid facing the blank page syndrome.

Maud Traon. Lesley Craze Gallery. Photo Isabelle Busnel

Maud Traon. Lesley Craze Gallery. Photo Isabelle Busnel

Maud Traon. Photo from the artist’s website

Maud Traon. Photo from the artist’s website

I already mentioned Caroline Slotte last year in “My Picks From COLLECT 2011”. I find her work thought provoking and effective despite its apparent simplicity. This year she exhibited two plates in Gallerie Sofie Lachaert. In her website she describes her practice in a very interesting way: “The most humble object can function as a key to the past, as a key to our inner. The poetry of everyday objects, with all the memories and associations that these objects contain: that is the starting point for my artistic practice. In my work I examine the memory-bearing aspect of second-hand objects. […] What role do the objects in our surroundings play in the creation of continuity in our existence, and in the construction of a continuous life story? The manipulation of existing material is central in my work. I rework found objects, mainly second hand ceramic items, so that they take on new meanings. I’m interested in how the interventions direct or obstruct the associations of the viewer. The manipulated objects are characterised by a tension between the recognisable and the mysterious, the familiar and the unfamiliar. I rework the ceramics by cutting directly into it, by sculpting and sanding, and by combining elements from different objects. In this way, the work process becomes a way of questioning the material and highlighting stories contained in the objects”.
The two plates hung on the wall could easily go unnoticed. The surface has been sanded leaving no colours and no drawings but a small Asian-style house in a corner. The viewer has different strategies possible: imagining what the plate looked like before being reworked by Caroline or wondering if they would have notice this little house when the plate was fully coloured and painted. As stated previously, a poetic interest emerges from what was previously a simple commodity.

Caroline Slotte. Gallerie Sofie Lachaert. Photos Isabelle Busnel

I have spotted Stuart Cairns’ work at the National Gallery Ireland’s stand. He is a silversmith and in his vessels series he mixes pristine silver shapes with twigs, nails and buttons. On his website he describes his practice as: “concerned with the exploration of materials through the objects of the everyday, specifically those around the familiar experience of dining at the table. These forms are re-imagined to investigate their narrative possibilities using a variety of materials, processes and found objects. Setting the play between materiality and form in the everyday experience I seek to touch upon the viewer’s sense of the familiar and divert it into an alternative narrative and association”.  In Stuart’s work, found objects are accessories that, added to functional objects, distort their functions and force the viewer to reconsider the obvious.

Stuart Cairns. National Gallery Ireland. Photos Isabelle Busnel

Diana Hakim’s jewellery exhibited at Gallerie Louise Smit gives another interesting manifesto about found objects. On her website she states: “Familiar everyday commodities are often in use in my work. I transform them and give them a new meaning which offers the opportunity for a critical reflection. I choose these objects because they are loaded with meaning and have a cultural or associative presence. […] My jewellery collection comments on our society condition as a Fear Society. We are constantly afraid from the "other", from crime, terrorism, epidemics and more. The materials used are connected and related to and with safety, such as: nets, filters, ventilation covers, light reflectors, working gloves etc”. What I find interesting in Diana’s work is that using “fear related objects” to denounce our “Fear Society” could seem too obvious and simplistic but thanks to the awkward and fascinating aesthetic of her jewellery, it works. Her found objects become monsters that play in an unconscious level with our most intimate fears.

Diana Hakim. Gallerie Louise Smit. Photo Isabelle Busnel

Diana Hakim. From the artist’s website.

 Diana Hakim. From the artist’s website.

Diana Hakim. From the artist’s website.

Anne Fischer, Juliane Scholss, Ja-Kyung are three artists exhibited at Galerie Rosemary Jaeger. They don’t work with found objects but give a second chance to pieces that they have created themselves. They describe their projects as: “Each of us made a classical candleholder comprised of 3 parts. Next, the 3 parts were separated and each one of us obtained a base, one handle and one socket each from separate makers. Then we built the candleholders from these parts. Each of us works very much in her own style. The decision of parting with one’s own work was not an easy one. It involves confidence and the ability to let go, but in the process there was also much spontaneity, joy and playful pleasure”. The result is quite original and it takes its inspiration from those games where somebody writes a word on a paper, folds it and passes it to another person, generally resulting in an amusing piece of gibberish. The 3 objects below seem chaotic but when associated with their story, they reveal their humanity. One cannot always choose who we are but we have to do with what we have. And it works… Those objects have a real second chance to exist.

Anne Fischer, Juliane Scholss, Ja-Kyung. Galerie Rosemary Jaeger.
Photos Isabelle Busnel

The last artist I would like to mention is Hugo Meert featured in the WCC.BF stand. On the gallery website one can read: “Hugo Meert observes everyday objects, diverts and distorts them. He keeps up a taste for objects bearing cultural or visual messages. His work pieces question on their own nature, this way a vase self-wrecks, a set of everyday objects becomes functional only once smashed. Over the past twenty years, this master of "shape and irony" has created an intriguing ceramics collection, characterised by a subtle "terrar" touch”. I particularly like this “tea set” which is a non-functional object until it has been smashed in pieces. Was the artist inspired by Marx’s quote: “a product becomes a real product only by being consumed. […] Only by decomposing the product does consumption give the product the finishing touch”? The second chance in this case is what makes the object useable. But once broken, what is its value? The scars it carries on the surface where the parts have been separated are the only proof it has once been a non-functional object and an artistic manifesto. So how to display such an object: broken or unbroken?  At COLLECT Hugo Meert has chosen to show both.

Hugo Meert. WCC.BF. Photos Isabelle Busnel

This is where my journey at COLLECT 2012, through works that give a second chance to objects, ends. Julian Stallabrass wrote: “when the commodity form is stripped away, something may be revealed of the social relations which are immanent in the objects and which bind people of their fate”. What a fascinating subject for applied arts… It lies at the core of craft practices and I will come back to it in my “Thinking Through Things” reflection process.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


I went for the first time to Clapham-based 401 ½ studios late 2011 to visit a friend during their annual open day. I immediately fell in love with the place and the atmosphere and decided to come back to interview the owner Michael Haynes as well as the artists working there. I had a wonderful time meeting an enthusiastic owner and happy artists.

Entrance to 401 ½ studios

The courtyard and the studios

As stated in the website For over fourty years 401½ has provided studios for fine and applied artists and designers. The project, started in 1971 by Michael Haynes, is housed in a Victorian warehouse situated on one edge of Larkhall Park in Clapham”. Michael Rowe, head of Silversmithing & Jewellery at the Royal College of Art and one of the first generation of artists working here makes a vibrant tribute to the studio: "401½ has a growing historical significance in the world of art & design as one of the birth places of the artistic crafts renaissance in Britain dating from the early 1970's. The history of this movement has been documented by the leading applied arts historian Tanya Harrod in her authoritative book 'The Crafts in Britain in the 20th Century'. In it she pays tribute to Michael Haynes, the visionary founder and Director of the studios, for providing affordable workspaces for numerous artists craftsmen and women over the years; this was the first studio of its kind and was the model for those that were to follow”.

Michael Haynes (front left) and 401 ½ members in 1979
Source: website

Michael didn’t know when he started this adventure 40 years ago that he would be a “model for those that were to follow”. Established as one of the leading display designer in the 60’s, the idea of opening artists’ studios was more a pragmatic decision rather than a visionary one. As he needed space for displaying the exhibitions he was in charge with, he started to search for a large building. The Clapham Victorian warehouse was a cheap and central alternative but as the building was too big for his needs, he decided to share it with other artists: half of the space for him and the rest split in individual studios. Fascinated by the energy and creativity of the new Applied Arts scene of the 70’s, he went to the Royal College of Arts and asked graduates if they needed studio spaces. 10 of them loved the idea and joined him: among them were the famous ceramicists Alison Britton, Carol McNicholl, Jill Crawley and Elisabeth Fritsch and the silversmiths Michael Rowe and Robert Marsden… As Michael told me “it was such an amazing group of people…I had no idea how good they were”… He is still in touch with those artists and had the opportunity to build an amazing collection of art works by regularly buying pieces from resident artists since 1971. His collection is stored in his Oxfordshire house but 401 ½ studios host a gallery space at the entrance where Michael exhibits some pieces all year round. “It is not a proper gallery. More a museum because nothing is to sell” he clarifies. 

The gallery at the entrance of the courtyard

Front window display inside the gallery

Michael Haynes in his gallery

Being selected to rent a space in 401 ½ studios is nowadays a challenge as there are only 43 of them available while Michael receives new applications almost every day. He chooses the artists himself after an interview. “I am not an expert, but I love talking to artists and seeing works that are very individual and full of enthusiasm” he specifies. His main concern is that people feel so comfortable here that the turnover is very rare. He has had artists staying for 20, 30 and even 40 years…”it is lovely to keep people and at the same time, we need fresh blood…” he says. His aim is to keep a balance between established artists and new graduates and to avoid too many people in one field. A couple of years ago, Michael wanted to close the place as running it became too demanding as he grew older. However he realized how important a studio is for an artist and a poignant letter from one tenant writing than “in spite of all her ups and downs in her private life, she had always had a home to come to at 401 ½ ” finally convinced him to continue with the help of his wife and his two sons. Building new spaces might even be on the agenda…

After chatting about craft and applied artists, it was time for me to leave Michael and to discover this Victorian warehouse. The first thing I noticed was a tiny garden at the back of the courtyard and a small building with a ladder leading to a studio space.

The garden

A very original studio

In the main building, I immediately got a homey feeling:

Stairs leading to the 1st floor of the main building

Corridor inside the main building

Artists’ works hanging on corridor walls

My first interview went naturally for my friend Emma Nacht. She is a jeweller and moved to 401 ½ a year ago. Her studio is part of a huge semi-open space at the first floor. Having known her for many years I was moved to see how she managed to recreate a very personalised environment.

Emma’s studio and the corridor in the semi-open space

Emma Nacht in her studio

The hand…

… and the tools
The drawing table

Emma compares the studios to a family and I think the image is particularly appropriate: everybody has his own space and freedom but lunch and tea breaks are opportunities to gather in the common kitchen. She loves the fact that disciplines are mixed as she tends to seek technical advices from her fellow jewellers but prefers to get inspiration or to test design ideas with ceramicists or painters. She still feels “new” and “shy” compared to more established artists but has found a comforting support when she feels low or short of ideas when they reassure her: “we all went through the same stages, don’t worry…” Interestingly she finds the proximity with successful artists sometimes intimidating but mainly challenging.

In the basement, two textile designers Bevelee Regan and Daniele Budd share a space. They managed to divide it in two distinctive parts and the space reminds me of Ali Baba’s cave. For Bevelee, who makes bespoke cushions, curtains and other textile works, 401 ½ is a “heaven of creativity” and she really loves the fact that it is a non-competitive environment. She lives nearby and comes with her dog Chopper, who seems to like the place as well…

Bevelee Regan in her studio

Bevelee / Ali Baba’s cave...

Chopper the happy dog

Danielle has rent her studio for 12 years and she loves it despite the fact she could use more space and more light. She makes leather and screen-printed handbags and purses under the name Miss Budd. She finds the place very safe and she really enjoys the garden in summer. “People are really friendly and there is a nice atmosphere”, she says.

Danielle Budd in her studio

Inspiration board

Also in the basement but “hidden in a corner” as she says stands Heather O’Connor‘s space. She is a silversmith and she needed a studio where she could be noisy without disturbing the other artists. She has been renting the space for 7 years and she loves it. She wanted “something cosy” and declined an offer from a bigger studio. She enjoys the “relaxed atmosphere” and the fact she has her own private space but can meet people anytime to discuss a technical point or new ideas. Being “among very talented people who all understand how hard it is to run a business” gives her the support she wanted. She also loves the fact that people outside her discipline have a complete different way of looking at the same object, which allows her to have interesting discussions with the other artists. 

Heather O’Connor in her studio

Heather’s bear

Upstairs, I met Holly Frean, a painter who has been renting her studio for 8 years. Holly considers the workshop "a vital space to experiment and play with intent in peace". It is impossible for her to work at home (she has two small children)  and she finds it nice "to make a total mess everywhere and not have to clean it up"... She loves the place as it reminds her of her university years.

Holly Frean in her studio

Grab a seat…

I then met Gerlinde Huth, a jeweller established in 401 ½ studios for 15 years, She waited one year to get a space and had a tiny one to start with. She has now settled in a studio she loves, with plenty of light, which is crucial as she comes almost every day. “Working at the bench can be very lonely” and she really enjoys sharing moments with the other artists, exchanging ideas. “Everybody is different but it is nice to see people moving in the same direction”, she told me.

Gerlinde Huth in her studio

To do list

Her closest neighbour, Pina Lavelli is a ceramist. She arrived 8 months ago but reckons she has just settled recently. As a new graduate, it took her time to find the materials and to buy a kiln (which sits in the basement). She started to “work in a shed in her garden but felt lonely and wanted to meet people”.  She likes small studios with enough people to socialize but not too many artists. She loves her room but could have more space as she does big sculptural pieces.

Pina Lavelli in her studio

Test pieces

Snuggled in a tiny space, I met Yoko Izawa, a jeweller who is the newest artist in the studios. She arrived 2 months ago and has just settled. She is a renowned artist who was previously working from home. She really “enjoys the good sense of community”. Her space is small but she feels “independent” and she loves it so far.

Yoko Izawa in her studio

Fancy a break?

And finally the last artist I met was Etsuko Montgomery, a painter and Emma’s neighbour. Etsuko arrived 5 years ago after two bad experiences in other studios. She really appreciates having hot water and central heating, things that people usually consider as obvious but which very often lacks in artists’ studios. She finds people “wonderful” and as she is an amazing cook, she regularly finds excuses to bake cakes for birthdays or other events “to share with everybody”.

Etsuko Montgomery in her studio

Pastel colours

When I asked if anyone felt something was missing at 401 ½ studios I received a sole but unanimous wish for more external promotion. Less crucial for established artists who usually have their own network of galleries, shops or exhibitions, new graduates were the most vocal about this.

This was however the only negative point of the day. My visit culminated with an exquisite Tarte Tatin made by Etsuko for Gerlinde’s birthday and shared by everybody present that day in the common kitchen.

The common kitchen

Etsuko’s delicious Tarte Tatin

Tea break

After this very friendly and interesting day spent at 401 ½ studios, I can fully understand what Bevelee told me when interviewed in the morning: “every time I come through the gate, I feel myself lucky”. It is a warming tribute to this 40-year old space, brainchild of Michael Haynes and home for 43 lucky and happy artists.

All pictures from Isabelle Busnel, except “Michael Haynes and 401 ½ members in 1979”