The artist

 


 

Article by  Nicholas Lees
NEW CERAMICS  - 5/2017

 
The Edge of Humanity

Throughout her career Daniela Polz has been circling around the issue of what it means to be human, and how we, as individuals, are defined. For the last 20 years since completing an MA in Cardiff, Wales, her work has been a discussion of the human condition through the medium of porcelain. Yet it is only recently that actual figures have appeared in her work. In the latest pieces the human body is both appearing and disappearing simultaneously, speaking of a new intensity to her thinking about the condition of humanity and a more political aspect to the work.

The most recent pieces she has made, a series of “Frames” demonstrate a new level of maturity and sophistication in her work, a culmination of a long road of enquiry, and no doubt an exciting beginning for further sculptures.

To consider one piece specifically; “Frame 7”, my personal favourite from the series. What we see is an aluminium frame, within which fine sheets of porcelain gather in rows in the top corner, possibly the floating contents of a dysfunctional bureaucrat’s filing cabinet? Kneeling or collapsed in the bottom corner is an anonymous figure made from a different arrangement of the same paper-like porcelain sheets. The figure is hollow – constructed only from a shell of fabric soaked in porcelain slip, covered in small fine sheets of porcelain. There is no head, hands or feet, and no body or skeleton, no fleshly human existence. The pose could be prayer, pleading, submission, or just physical collapse. Whichever, it is clearly not an assertion of physical strength and internal vivacity. The whole arrangement is perilously fragile, translucent and ephemeral – apparently bound only by the frame, which dominates.

We realise is that context is all important. Polz considers that today more than ever existence is bound by external constraint. The artist has been considering the mass movement of refugees and migrants - individuals denied aspects of their individuality and self-definition. How are stateless refugees and migrants defined? Do we see them as individuals with their own identity or as anonymous beings – administrative, political and social problems, visible only by the paperwork that possibly exists to give them individual status? The work encompasses concerns that are personal and globally political: in a well understood reality these two cannot be separated.

Context is vital, and in this work it manifests itself in the frame from where the object begins. The frame gives the work its definition and also its freedom to exist. The frame serves as both a practical and a metaphorical context. By beginning with the external, and working from the outside inwards, the artist is able to push the limits of material and metaphorical fragility. She is using porcelain for many reasons -  it is able to replicate some of the qualities of paper in whiteness and thinness, but most significant is its translucency. The frame, which could be a constraint, is in fact a physical and visual liberation. The figure can diminish as a constructed object, not required to stand or have strength – and this liberates and gives power to the ideas being expressed. There has been an ongoing tension between presence and absence in Polz’s work, and here it finds its most nuanced and sophisticated version. The frame focusses us on the space around the figure, enabling it to be seen in context of the rows of paper above. It is clearly rendered, yet vanishingly fragile, translucent and ephemeral. The figure is a hollow presence, anonymous and constructed form a thin skin of sheets. These could form an armour or a shell, but are perilously delicate. As a group, the series of “Frames” constitute a fascinating discussion of these ideas, and the variation in the placement of the figure within the frame shows a range of possibilities for the experience of existence in the political and physical world.

We must also see these works in the context of the artist’s career. Works of this sophistication do not appear out of nowhere. As I said earlier, Polz has been considering human existence through a breadth of successful artwork. She has always been more concerned with metaphor and idea than with physical representation. In many works where the subject matter is the person, there is no figure present in the work. One example, another favourite of mine drawn from many fine works that present themselves is a ‘Soulhouse’ from 1997. The piece is made from paper and sticks soaked in porcelain slip. The form is that of a simple open sided building with a fabric roof. Inside the ‘house’ are stacked books and paper and a rose. The building is a metaphor for the person and their internal existence. The use of paper, a consistent theme in Polz’s work, here functions as a sheet material with which to build, and also reminds us that we can read an artwork as a text in the way that we can also read a person. Text on paper exposes and reveals us, and is also what remains of us when we are gone. The paper and the text are the trace of the person, their evidence, an idea that we see recurring in the “Frames”. The rose is ambiguous, but perhaps speaks of something more internal, of life, growth and humanity, rather than the detachment of the paper evidence.

There has been a rich journey of thinking and making from that work to the current pieces. More recently the body has become more physically present in the sculptures, but the metaphorical and conceptual content of the works is no less strong.
A reason for the success of the ‘Frames’ series, and ‘Frame 7’ in particular, is that the centre and visual focus is space - absence. Polz moves determinedly away from the decorative language of the figurine that is expected in ceramics, and makes the body a political statement. This movement away from the norm of figuration empowers the piece. Polz has taken a long time to bring the figure into the centre ground of her work in which it has always been the subject matter. She has confronted the making of the figure, and has then found her strongest voice by moving that figure away from the centre and deconstructing it – exploring the boundaries of what it is to be human.


Nicholas Lees is an internationally exhibited and awarded artist who makes work in ceramic and on paper. He teaches on postgraduate ceramics courses at the Royal College of Art, University of the Creative Arts and Bath Spa University. He also occasionally writes. He lives and has a studio in Hampshire, UK.

 

 


 

Article by María Elisa Quiaro

 

Daniela Polz has not only an interest in objects, but also in what they tell. For her, ceramics is a vehicle for expression, a medium thought which to project ideas and possibilities.

Her work concerns the interaction of paper and porcelain and the creation of environments, extending the boundaries and conventions of ceramics.

New ideas have constantly been developed during Daniela Polz‘s various artistic life periods and lately as a very active member of Trialog.

Nowadays it is often said that ceramics art is both concept and form. In Polz´s sculpture, form is combined with surface in an unique way. Daniela Polz knows the language of silence, with intuition and spontaneity:
At first glance it is easy to be seduced by the story her pieces tell that can be read dually as a metaphor for discovery and as an invitation to imagination.

The making of the pieces is simple but at the same time needed of extreme care in handeling. Porcelain slip is put onto paper and little by little the work developes. The technique do not detract from the solid core of the work. And inspiration is a subject matter from everyday life.
Every piece is imbued with romantic references of music and flovers, envelops, etc and that confer a powerful sense of poetry.

The purity of the white surface is improved by the yellow satin tone that incorporates a sense of age, a door to remembrance. The colour becomes luminous, while the whiteness allows one to complete the forms and volume and to concentrate on the pieces and their character in the surrounding space.
The prolonged high firing is responsible for its natural distortion of the original forms, pushing porcelain to its limits.

Polz's work demands to be given time to allow the suggestive game of shape, line and tone to work their particular magic, opening up feelings about the way we perceive ourselves, the world in which we live .

There is no end goal for Daniela Polz . Her work is an ongoing experiment. The real pleasure lies in the developing of the idea and her ambitious sense of manifesting meanings.

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