Anette Krogstad and Moa Håkansson – The Art of Every Day

Anette Krogstad. Hand thrown stoneware with glaze. Detail
Kristin Valla has talked to Anette Krogstad and Moa Håkansson about clay, glaze and Milan

“My work usually starts with a memory or an experience related to food and food culture, for example people sitting around a table. When I start glazing the plates, nature becomes a part of it, usually through my own childhood experiences of staying with my grandparents by the sea. It’s a never-ending circle of memories. For me it’s ultimately about the importance of daily rituals. I want to pay tribute to the plate as an everyday object.”

Anette Krogstad (32) sits in her studio at Grünerløkka in Oslo, surrounded by just that: stacks of plates she has made, which are ready to be glazed in ways reminiscent of nature’s own patterns, of moss, lichen and even mould. Three to six of these plates are travelling to Milan this spring as part of the exhibition Everything is Connected – at the moment she’s not sure how many. This is the third time Krogstad participates in her home country’s joint effort in Milan, whereas for Moa Håkansson (29), who is seated beside her, it’s the first time.
”I think it’s really cool that my work, which is more of an art object, is included in this world of design,” says Håkansson.

“From a very young age, I was interested in things that lay at the intersection between art, craft and design, and I wanted to play in that space myself. Being a part of this exhibition makes me think I’ve succeeded in some way. I’m exhibiting a ceramic sculpture that can also function as a jar. It’s placed on a metal stand that was originally used to carry cleaning tools and which, for me, symbolises a sense of security. My work is often about being pulled in two directions, feeling completely free on one side and wanting to feel safe and settled on the other.”

Anette Krogstad: Green Mold. Hand thrown stoneware with glaze
Anette Krogstad: Greens. Hand thrown stoneware with glaze

Moa Håkansson is firmly establishing herself in the artworld, for in 2015 she participated in the exhibitions Høstutstillingen in Oslo and Forårsudstillingen at Kunsthall Charlottenborg in Copenhagen. In 2016 she contributed to the annual exhibition Craft, organized by the Norwegian Association for Arts and Crafts. The work she is exhibiting in Milan is part of a series of sculptures she made while a student at Oslo National Academy of the Arts (KHiO). Håkansson says she wanted to make ‘inner’ portraits using clay and glaze, and she even wrote a book of poems describing each of the characters portrayed. Having grown up in Kristianstad in Southern Sweden, she studied psychology and sociology at the University of Stockholm but then decided to take her education in a more creative direction. She interned with a local ceramist and discovered clay was a material she liked to work with, but she didn’t feel comfortable making mugs. 

“One thing that drew me to KHiO was that there was a lot of collaboration between the different departments. At the same time, there was a huge focus on conceptual art and the meaning of things. I didn’t necessarily agree with that, I don’t think everything can be purely conceptual. There was a lot of resistance towards traditional craft in the beginning, the wheels for turning clay were locked away, although I don’t know if that was intentional. But then it was like something burst. All of a sudden craft was back, which suited me perfectly.”

The exhibition Pottery is Back at the gallery Kunstnerforbundet in winter 2016, curated by Gjertrud Steinsvåg, firmly put pots and plates back on the agenda. Krogstad, who participated in the exhibition, had at that point struggled to embrace what is today her favourite object: the plate. She enrolled at KHiO two years before Håkansson, after studying production design at Oslo and Akershus University College and working part time as a tattoo artist and a chef. Now she set out to become a true artist. The only problem was that she wasn’t quite sure what that was.

“I thought I didn’t have it in me, simply because I had no interest in delving into conceptual art. I couldn’t stop making things that were pretty and practical. On the other hand, when I studied design I thought there was too much focus on form and function, on marketing and on production costs. At KHiO I tried to fit into this idea I had of what an artist was, someone who worked with big, important themes such as life and death. I cast a lot of jewellery with teeth, fingers, bones and even a pelvis. There really was life and death all over the place”, she says and laughs.

Moa Håkansson: Full kontroll. Material: Ceramic, wood, watercolour paint.
Moa Håkansson: Trängd. Material: Ceramic, found object (metal stand).
Moa Håkansson: Untitled. Material: Ceramic.

One night when she was out on the town in Oslo, she fell into conversation with a friend who worked at the Michelin-starred restaurant Ylajali in Oslo. They were looking for a young ceramist who could make something nice for the restaurant. And so she did. For a period, all Krogstad thought about was plates.

“Then my supervisor at school said: ‘Why don’t you make plates for your Master’s degree project?’ And I thought: Are you mad? I can’t make plates as an art project!”

In the end, it turns out she could. Today Krogstad has firmly established herself at that very intersection between art, craft and design that Moa Håkansson was steering towards, having exhibited at museums and galleries as well as design fairs in Norway and abroad. Krogstad has also continued making plates for several restaurants, including Pjoltergeist in Oslo and Lysverket in Bergen. The two exhibitions she has contributed to in Milan, Norwegian Presence in 2015 and Structure in 2016, created new opportunities for her work and made her think she could actually turn what she is doing into a business.

“But it’s not necessarily that easy”, she says.

“I’m just one person with one pair of hands. I tried to outsource production last year, but it didn’t feel right. This is something I think a lot about, whether I should move more towards production or keep it more exclusive. I’m thinking perhaps I could do both, that even if I make ten vases, I can still put a number on them and make them into something special. Sometimes I miss going completely crazy and making something that is just art, but at the same time, it’s really important to me that you can actually use the things I make.”

“For me it’s the exact opposite”, says Moa Håkansson.

“I don’t want the things I make to be specific. But then people ask me from time to time if they can order something, and then I have to take a step back and think about it. It’s a really relevant question at this time in my life, because I’m fresh out of school and just started working in my studio. I spent a lot of time getting it in order, buying a kiln, furniture and tools. So which direction am I heading? I like to work at the crossroads between art and craft, but it’s also very demanding. I’ve gone back and forth a lot, and for a period I thought I would become a designer. But then I decided I wanted to work with the material in a more direct way. It’s been a long process and it’s still on-going.”

Anette Krogstad: Pinks. Hand thrown stoneware with glaze
Anette Krogstad: Glasier. Hand thrown stoneware with glaze

The title of the exhibition in Milan is Everything is Connected, which aims to take a closer look at the geographical qualities and premises of the Norwegian design scene. Today, we are sitting in a former factory building at Vulkan, one of Oslo’s most recently gentrified areas. Where there once were textile factories and sawmills, there are now artist’s studios, restaurants, shops, cultural venues and a large food market. I ask Moa Håkansson, who moved to Oslo from Sweden, what she feels characterises the Norwegian design scene today.

“Norwegian design isn’t as established as in Sweden, so you have more freedom”, she says.

“You don’t have the sum of history and tradition weighing you down, nor the pressure to stay within a certain category. The landscape also plays a part in this for me. It’s completely flat where I come from, whereas Norway is more hilly and mysterious. You never know what’s behind the next mountain.”

Norway’s nature also has a strong presence in Anette Krogstad’s practice. Her contribution to the Milan show is entitled Another Season, and it points to a new scale of colours in her work. Last year there were many blue tones, the colours of winter, snow and ice. Now she is moving towards summer with a lot of pinks and greens.

“The glazing is where I put in the most work. I have an idea of a feeling I want to evoke, a memory or a smell of cold autumn moss, for example, or a forest path. It doesn’t always turn out the way I want it to, and I don’t feel I’m quite there yet with this project, but I’m going to keep working until the exhibition opens. Maybe I’ll succeed in making three plates that are exactly the way I want them to be.”

Moa Håkansson: Överlevaren. Material: Ceramic, wood, leather, watercolour paint.
Moa Håkansson: Det är mycket med det jordiska I. Detail. Material: Ceramic, wood.

At this point in our meeting, the conversation turns towards glazes. The two artists become so engaged in the topic that they almost forget they’re in the middle of an interview. It’s an area where they like quite literary to “mix it up”, which they both feel is a typical trait of their generation.

“Although we try to perpetuate traditional methods such as throwing pots by hand, we don’t mind blending a ready-made glaze from a factory with a hand-made one based on a hundred-year-old Japanese recipe. We don’t follow a lot of rules. When I talk to older ceramists, they want to know everything about where I got my ingredients and my materials, whereas my generation is more like, ok, I’ll just put some copper oxide into this and see what happens.”

Moa Håkansson nods and adds:

“I have the greatest respect for the people who really know the craft, like working on a potter’s wheel for example, which is actually hard to do in a good way. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s all that important that things are crafted to perfection. I see a lot of artist who work in an almost sloppy and naïve way when they make things by hand. They work fast and the result doesn’t always have those beautiful lines. I think you should be allowed to make something that’s a bit humorous and perhaps even ugly. It’s still made by hand and it shows. That’s probably where our generation stands out. We’re impatient and a little fed up with everything being so perfect.”

Returning to the title of the Milan exhibition, I ask them how they are connected as artists:

“I think one of the good things about the art and design scene in Norway is that it’s quite small,” says Krogstad.

“We all know each other, we talk to each other and ask each other’s advice. For example, when Moa was looking for a studio, she called us to ask how much we pay for this one. We’re all in the same boat.”

“It’s a really small boat”, says Håkansson and smiles.

Krogstad nods.

“But there are a lot of really exciting things going on in that boat at the moment.”