A frozen moment

Text by Gitte Jungersen, published in the book Gitte Jungersen, Ceramic Works, Arnoldsche Art Publishers 2018.

A frozen moment 

Ceramic can be defined as clay and other mineral materials that are fired at a high temperature and subsequently cooled. It is the firing that makes ceramics what it is, and to me, that has always been the most intriguing aspect, the process that distinguishes ceramics from other media. Ever since I began my training, I have been fascinated with the dramatic transformative process of kiln firing and its inherent potential to bring out both meaning and formal aspects. 

Ceramic glaze consists of minerals that are extracted from the earth’s crust and refined. The minerals are the result of geological processes. One of the most common raw materials in my glazes is feldspar, which makes up 60% of the earth’s crust. Another mineral I often use is calcium, which is the main component of our bones. I buy it from the Faxe Kalkbrud quarry, where it is extracted as limestone, composed of fossilized remains from marine organisms that lived millions of years ago. A small amount of calcium causes feldspar to melt when fired, and the right amount of quartz produces a deep, shiny glaze. 

I have always been fascinated by ceramics as a cultural refinement of raw materials that enter into a dialogue with nature’s own processes. There is a parallel between the process of melting and transmutation and the powerful forces at play in geological erosion and in the raging fire that is constantly transforming the minerals in the earth’s core. 

In the kiln, the materials undergo a gradual change, and at top temperature the transmutation peaks: the glaze becomes a boiling, liquid mass where minerals melt, and atoms switch places, bonding together to form new molecules. Destruction and creation at once. – What was once a calcium atom in a starfish skeleton is now part of a deep blue glaze. 

I develop experimental glazes, aiming for combinations that react as dramatically as possible when melt, boil, bubble and crack. As they cool, the transformation seizes abruptly, and the works appear as frozen moments from the melting process. My aim is to convey an experience of matter captured in mid-transformation, a material point in time: just as there is a before, there will also be an after. Over time, the objects will erode, dissolve and enter into new physical compounds. 

My inspiration comes from nature, but equally from city streets and from materials that have been modified or shaped by humans: a petrol spill shimmering in a puddle, melted plastic on a burnt-out plot, the stark colours of an ice-cream wrapper tossed in a landscape. I seek to capture this duality by creating complex materials with multiple layers of meaning, often incorporating bright colours and sparking associations to both primordial matter and synthetic materials in a process of melting and transmutation. 

My method is based on systematic experimentation, including carefully weighing and testing everything. Working with the chemical composition of glazes is often described in romantic terms, but to me, it is not about mystery or magic; rather, it is a stringent analytical process, where I strive to gain full control over the reactions of the individual glazes at 1280 degrees Celsius in a computer-controlled kiln. I deliberately use glazes that react dramatically and with maximum movement when they melt. When glazes with very different properties are layered on top of each other, there arises an aspect of unpredictability as the materials take over, and the expression balances between raw natural power and human-made cultural object. 

Over the years I have sought increasingly to let go of control and allow the melting to take over as the formative process. In works from recent years, the glaze is no longer merely a coating on the ceramic body but a standalone element that is used in such great amounts that the glaze itself becomes the form. That does not happen until the glaze melts in the kiln and flows, pulled by gravity, outside my control. In this unpredictability and loss of control lies the possibility of entering into a dialogue with the materiality on equal terms in a process where the material answers back. By contrast, the clay provides a stable form and support structure as the element that stands still, providing a simple, geometric frame for the wild and organic melting of the glazes.