'The humble Kulhar has been my inspiration'

'The humble Kulhar has been my inspiration'

She has preserved the tea cup like a treasure, convinced that it perfectly showcases how an artistic product can also be of practical use in daily life. It was also this cup that led her to conceptualise ‘1001 Cups’, an exhibition of cups designed by 100 ceramists from all over the world.

Currently on at the National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum in Delhi, this exhibition organised by Pro Helvetia — Swiss Arts Council will travel to various parts of the world. Presset, one of Switzerland’s leading ceramists and a former professor at the Geneva School of Decorative Arts, spoke to Utpal Borpujari of
Deccan Herald on what led to this unique exhibition:

What is the idea behind the exhibition?

A 100 selected artists from all over the world were asked to  create 10 cups, each of them using a single technique but producing different works. The idea purpose was to showcase the variety of shapes, textures, colours and ornamentations that one technique can offer. The resultant art works can be divided into four categories; traditional, reinterpretations of traditional styles, tradition in evolution and experimental work.

The involvement of 100 contemporary potters and ceramists has produced a huge range of artistic creations, ranging from smoked polished earthenware to gilded porcelain. Traditionally, the skills were transmitted from master to pupil, but now, the knowledge and skills are taught mainly in applied art institutes, workshops and international symposiums. This exhibition brings all these together. We are also showing a film shot in India, China, Japan, France and Switzerland by Louk Vreeswijk on the theme of diversity in contemporary ceramic creations alongside the exhibition.

What is the story behind the idea?

It all started with the Kulhar that I had tea in at Nathdwara way back in 1983. The humble Kulhar has been my inspiration, and it occupies pride of place in the exhibition, prominently displayed on a podium exclusively. It is the 1001th cup in the show. In a way, this exhibition is a homage to the traditional little Indian teacup. This everyday object never fails to remind me of what a cup is in its essence: a container of liquids — so beautiful, so simple, so quickly made and as quickly destroyed. Sadly, the Kulhar may soon disappear because of replacement of clay by other materials.

What can a visitor expect to see at the exhibition?

Through the work of the 100 ceramists, people will discover the amazing variety of approaches and techniques that ceramic materials allow, ranging from the most archaic to the most recent.

Where will the exhibition travel to?

From the Crafts Museum in Delhi, it will travel to the Guangdong Museum of Art in Guangzhou, China; then to the Icheon World Ceramic Centre in Korea, followed by the Espace d’Exposition Hans Hedberg in Biot, the Viaduc des Arts in Paris, and the Musée la Piscine in Roubaix, all in France. Switzerland will be the final stage of the tour where in Geneva it will be on view at the Musée Ariana and in La Chaux-de-Fonds, at the Musée des Beaux-Arts.

Where will the collection go after the final exhibition?

We have offered these donations from 100 artists to different museums, but none of them is interested in having all of them. Only a museum north of France has shown some interest.

How did you get into the world of ceramic art?

My godmother, a porcelain painter, and my godfather, appointed by the Geneva Ethnographic Museum to create a world collection of domestic pottery, were my guiding spirits. All of my life’s work has been centred on a quest for diversity. My godfather invited me to accompany him on his ethnographic surveys in Europe and India to collect traditional ceramic objects, and later on, I continued this ethnographic work on my own initiative in France, Rajasthan, Japan, Kabylia (Algeria) and Australia. Teaching and work gave me further opportunities to broaden my knowledge of the multiple aspects of ceramic production.

You have been coming to India for so many years. How do you rate Indian ceramic work as compared to other countries?

It is impossible to compare. But studio ceramic art here is not at the level of many other countries, even though traditional pottery is of very high standard.

What should be done by India to take ceramic art to the next level?

Each culture is free to evaluate its art forms. All ceramists lead a hard life. Those abroad either have teaching positions or have family money. I cannot give any advice on how to go about it. It is a beautiful art, but a lot of sacrifice is needed to sustain it. Children should be taught this art, at the school level, apart from handicapped people who can take it as both art and livelihood. We have combine power of fire, ability of clay and our art. That makes ceramists special.