Heidi Bjørgan - Giving forms a second chance

Heidi Bjørgan in her ceramics studio in Bergen
In this interview Heidi Bjørgan talks about found objects, the artist group Temp and curatorial work

Works by ceramic artist Heidi Bjørgan often consist of casts from objects she finds in the street. This summer she will exhibit works in London and Karlsruhe.

Ceramic artist Heidi Bjørgan belongs to a young generation of craft artists living in Bergen. This generation explores found objects and trash within the context of arts and crafts. Now she is on her way to conquer the world, or at least parts of Europe, with yellow lamp shades, porcelain animals and a pink jug. This summer her works will be on display at COLLECT in London and at EUnique in Karlsruhe. In the autumn she will participate in a group show called Le Cru et le Cuit in Paris.

Bjørgan is, in other words, a fairly busy craftswoman. Norwegiancrafts.no was lucky to catch up with her between her studio work in Bergen and a trip to Paris, where she will prepare for the upcoming show in Gallery Favadin & de Verneuil in September.

‘At first I wanted to be a photographer’, Bjørgan says, talking about the beginning of her artistic career.

‘But when I started studying aesthetics in high school I fell in love with clay. I could work so fast in ceramics and I really loved the material. I also realized I had a talent for it.’

«It was a little bit like charity work, I felt like I was giving forms a second chance»

Heidi Bjørgan
Pink Jug
Yellow Hare
Blue Fallow Deer

Casting trash
Starting out, Bjørgan was inspired by Norwegian ceramic artist Thorbjørn Kvasbø, well-known for making abstract ceramic works that are plastic and monumental. Through formal deformation, Kvasbø breaks with tradition-bound ceramics and makes expressive artworks emphasizing emotions.

‘He uses clay for all it’s worth, bending it and stretching it…’ she recalls.

After three years at Bergen National Academy of the Arts, Bjørgan had an accident that damaged her arm. While it was on the mend she took a year off and went to India. Returning to Bergen, she started approaching her artistic practice differently.

‘When I started my master degree I changed directions and began casting. I worked with ready-mades, objects I found. And I made functional items out of them.’

She admits always having collected garbage-like things, broken objects and packaging for instance. And these now became the starting point for her ceramic works.

‘For my master’s degree show I did castings of hubcaps. I passed a curved road on my way home from school and cars seemed to lose their hubcaps there regularly, so I got quite a collection of car parts. It became my favorite spot for collecting at the time.’

One hubcap came from an American Jeep. She made several cast from it and put them together. The work was about space, rhythm and composition.

‘It was a little bit like charity work, I felt like I was giving forms a second chance.’

eeny, meeny, miny, moe

Boxing and functionality
While studying in Bergen, Bjørgan didn’t have an instructor who could guide her in matters of design. Thus the examiner of her graduate show invited her to Konstfack in Stockholm and promised to give her instruction. She moved to Sweden for a year and worked with industrial design.

‘I worked a lot with my own designs, but I didn’t stop casting from objects I found lying about,’ she explains.

In Stockholm she started boxing for recreation. Suddenly she realized that boxing gloves had an exciting shape.

‘I made casts from them and put them together to function as a fruit bowl.’

From her upbringing in the ‘80s Bjørgan had always been fascinated by Sylvester Stallone and his films. This interest now resulted in her first solo exhibition at Hordaland Kunstsenter in Bergen (2003). The title of the show was Eye of the Tiger.

‘The fruit bowl made of boxing gloves was actually given to the renown Norwegian actress Wenche Foss as an award during Bergen International Film Festival in 2005,’ she smiles and adds that she don’t believe Foss uses it much.

But it was important to Bjørgan at the time, because she wanted her works to be functional.

‘In 2001 I showed a cast from grapefruit packaging at the exhibition Tendenser: From Ready-made to Unika. The cast added new elements and had a utilitarian function. I was very idealistic at the time’, she remembers.

«I made casts from boxing gloves and put them together to function as a fruit bowl»

Heidi Bjørgan
From the solo exhibition The Eye of the Tiger at Hordaland Art Centre
Red Stem Bowl
From the solo exhibition The Eye of the Tiger at Hordaland Art Centre

Visible joints

For a short period in 2005 Bjørgan participated in a workshop at Porsgrunds Porselænsfabrik, a celebrated porcelain factory in Norway. Here she had the opportunity to work with the factory’s porcelain animals.

‘I started casting these animals and included the joints to show the process,’ she explains.

‘I wanted to show that the casts were made by me, not by the factory.’

To emphasize the difference between an object where the joints are hidden and where they are visible, she made two casts from lamps and placed them side by side. One was perfect and the other was rough, with the joint readily apparent.

‘I also reacted to how my practice was developing at the time. I was becoming a perfectionist, hiding all the joints, so the works looked almost mass produced,’ she remembers.

These lamps, coated with yellow paint, were exhibited in Format Gallery in Oslo in 2007. They included ready-made objects like plastic and animals tied around the surface.

‘It was about protection. How the lamp protects the light bulb and the bark protects the tree – a motherly instinct type of thing.’

From the exhibition Made in Scandinavia, 2002. Curated by Heidi Bjørgan in the Temp gallery.
From the exhibition Made in Scandinavia, 2002. Curated by Heidi Bjørgan in the Temp gallery.

«We realized that if we and other young craft artists were to have any chance at showing our works, we needed to start a gallery»

Heidi Bjørgan

Group work

Since 2000 Bjørgan has also been part of an artist group called Temp. It consists of four ceramic artists who collaborate on creating works and on curating exhibitions. From 2000 to 2002 Temp members ran a small gallery in Bergen.

‘We realized that if we and other young craft artists were to have any chance at showing our works, we needed to start a gallery.’

They found an old store that could easily be repainted and remade for new exhibitions.

‘Often when you have a new project, you need to apply for an exhibition space and it takes two years before they have an opening. We wanted to run a gallery with faster turnover, so we showed a new exhibition almost every third week.’

Temp presented artists from Norway and abroad, and mounted almost 30 exhibitions during the two years the gallery existed.

‘It was kind of the start of artist-run spaces in Bergen; now there are a lot more’ she reflects.

Temp is still active. This summer the group will show new material at Gallery Craftland in Providence, Rhode Island, USA. The exhibition is called Souvenir Stand and the participants intend to create unique objects with references to personal history and regional identity.

From the exhibition That was then… this is now at Hordaland Kunstsenter, 2009. Curated by Heidi Bjørgan

«The craft artists that get exhibitions are often the ones whose works look like contemporary art»

Heidi Bjørgan

Showing diversity

Bjørgan is still active in the Temp group but also does a great deal of independent work. But it doesn’t stop here. Last year she curated the show That was then… This is now at Hordaland Kunstsenter. The show was part of a curatorial study program she enrolled in from 2008 to 2010. It was also a follow-up of another show she curated in 2002 called Made in Scandinavia, which explored the boundaries between fine art, craft and design in Scandinavia.

Her interest in studying curatorial practices came out of frustration.

‘The reason I applied for curatorial studies was on account of being frustrated by the lack of exhibition spaces for crafts,’ she explains. ‘The few places that exist haven’t really paid attention to the changes in contemporary craft practices.’

What she set out to do was to show that crafts could be different and interesting in their own right.

‘The craft artists that get exhibitions are often the ones whose works look like contemporary art’, she observes critically.

‘I wanted to show the diversity of crafts and decorative arts.’

The exhibition provoked many people and created debate. Bjørgan took this as a sign that the show had served an important purpose and had made an impact.

Now she is looking forward to exhibiting in London, Karlsruhe, Providence and Paris. And next year she will again curate a show in Bergen, this time at Permanenten, West Norway Museum of Decorative Art.

From the exhibition That was then… this is now at Hordaland Kunstsenter, 2009. Curated by Heidi Bjørgan
From the exhibition That was then… this is now at Hordaland Kunstsenter, 2009. Curated by Heidi Bjørgan
From the exhibition That was then… this is now at Hordaland Kunstsenter, 2009. Curated by Heidi Bjørgan