- Publications -

Tapio Yli-Viikari, Interaction In Ceramics - Art, Design and Research, A. Valkonen (ed.), ISBN 951-9384-56-1, ISSN 0782-1778, UIAH, Helsinki 1993


Things are the memory of culture. We communicate and influence our surroundings through them. The language of things, like human language, is a subsconscious network of agreed meanings. The researcher reconstructs his concept of the past from fragments of information. Artists influence us by foreseeing the future relationship between object and person. They create visions of the future which confront their audience and then either become a part of the common cultural heritage or vanish. As designers, our hands are both free and tied. We must know the background of our own culture and the spirit of the times so that we can express ourselves. 


Each era raises its own issues. Today the state of ceramic art arouses us to consider its essence; what do we value and make, what do we not. What do we want to be? What are we trying to escape? The answers are difficult to find because our era is seemingly lacking in will and the direction, which is necessary for progress. I would like to briefly recall the distinguished history of Finnish ceramic art. Perhaps it will help us to see where we are, how we arrived here and what we can achieve. 


The vitality of Finnish national ceramic art stems from the influences brought here by masters and journeymen who visited Finland through the Baltic trade and cultural exchange. The industrial side of our ceramic art began with porcelain and flower decorations. We became aware of the modernism of European art ceramics through Alfred William Finch (1854-1930), and at the turn of the century he made the national ceramics of the Iris factory acceptable internationally. In 1902 Finch was requested to established a programme of instruction in ceramics at the Ateneum. This international conference at the University of Industrial Arts Helsinki, UIAH. is part of the 90th anniversary celebration of this event. Thanks to the efforts of Kurt Ekholm, artistic director of Arabia, a significant experiment was begun at the factory in 1930. Impressive works were created through the joint efforts of the art department and research laboratory.These efforts met a broader social need, as the nation sought to demonstrate that it was entitled to independence and a culture of its own. When international interest in the 1950s focused on Scandinavian culture and design, Finnish exporters succeeded in elevating Finnish design to world fame. Here they worked together with the Finnish Society of Craft and Design and its exhibitions. In the 1950s this genuine Finnishness was represented by art ceramics and the 'vackrade vardagsvara' (beautiful everyday ware) of our design. The influences were strongly Scandinavian. Under the direction of Kaj Franck, production at Arabia was revamped. The international works of Tapio Wirkkala and Timo Sarpaneva resulted. 


Taking a critical view, one may find that Finnish design has in large part been a victim of it's past success and an insular culture that has refused to change. A seed for change was planted in the field of ceramic art. Kyllikki Salmenhaara (1915-1981), a student of Elsa Elenius and an artist at the Arabia art department, modernized the curriculum for ceramic art in Finland. Her research on clays and glazes was inspired students to study local materials and the prospects for limited studio production. Research by Salmenhaara remains today a valuable source for further work and provides the foundation for developing material studies at UIAH. 


Ceramics in Finland face profound changes during the 1980's. The rise of small workships and continuing stagnation in the ceramic and glass industry will force us to re-evaluate the goals of education and the new information society will challenge us on all levels. The key decisions with respect to development of the Ceramics Department at UIAH were made in 1987. The glass programme was made part of the Ceramics Department. We decided to develop a research laboratory and a laboratory engineer was hired to head the research programmes. We have also joined forces with the Laboratory of Inorganic Chemistry at Åbo Academi in research on new ceramic and glass materials. 

Networks in Ceramics '96