Monika Patuszynska is an absolutely fascinating Polish artist whose work involves a playfulness and exploration of both plaster moulds and porcelain clay. I was first attracted to some of her early work (2008-2009 “Nonformy” series) where she modified slipcast porcelain clay itself by injecting gas into it as it solidified within a plaster mould.
I love the way Monika brought out interesting qualities of porcelain in this series. She’s been exploring properties of porcelain since the mid-1990s.
When I reached out to Monika to ask about her work, she explained that much as she explores and modifies porcelain clay, she also explores and modifies the plaster moulds that she uses to slipcast porcelain. Monika builds, breaks apart and recombines plaster moulds before ever starting to work with porcelain. Mould-making is central to Monika’s creative output – the essential starting point of her art.
JTW: You focus on exploring clay as a material. What attracted you to clay in the first place? What qualities do you find most interesting?
MP: Ceramics itself moved into my life nearly 30 years ago and for a long time it has been consistently and irreversibly taking up more and more space in it. I have never really felt the necessity to use any other medium since. Ceramics, especially porcelain, offers everything that I need; it is both abstract and able to convey representational ideas; it has been accompanying communities for ages, but managed to maintain its independence; it serves all the purposes that suit me best- it is tactile, intimate and constantly challenging.
JTW: Can you describe your process a bit more? Does that process change with the different series that you work on?
MP: That’s rather the series that changes as an effect of change of the process.
My favourite part of the process has always been trying. It always starts as a thought of trying to find out what would happen if… The next step is doing it.
Luckily I am not in the mass-production situation so I use to the maximum all the advantages that the studio ceramics offers. I have been casting without the mould; I have created moulds without having a model made first; I have been working on solid blocks of plaster and found plaster moulds that I modify by sawing, smashing and breaking them into pieces, reassembled them and cast the void inside, sometimes adding bits and pieces cast from other moulds and manipulating the cast itself. For me, the plaster mould is not an end product; it is just the beginning of the creative process. The process of breaking up and piecing the broken pieces back together allows defining the object again, deprives it of its earlier designed character and gives it a new, different meaning.
In a way, I’m doing things the other way round now: I leave the casting marks on the casts, I am not afraid of cracks or deformations and I am not afraid of the lack of repetition. I break the plaster mould and cut it into pieces that are stapled, taped and cast as a completely new mould.
I like finding out where the lead I’m working on can take me.
JTW: How has your work evolved over time?
MP: I went through all the stages – for years I have been casting in a way that it should be done- repeating the gestures of thousands who were casting before me. However, the limits of “proper” casting always seemed too narrow for me.
There came a moment when gaining more and more control over the material was no longer enough for me. I felt tired of realising the eternal human desire to conquer Nature, which never really felt like mine.
I tend not to believe in anything that I do not experience myself- especially the superstitions concerning the use of materials. There was a time when the list of “don’ts” became my guide through ceramics- the list of “must dos”.
JTW: Have you worked with other materials besides clay?
MP: Since I make my moulds straight in the plaster blocks or break different found mouIds, sometimes I am not really able to define which is my leading material: clay or plaster; which one is the medium I shape and which one is the the “second”, auxiliary one. Do I make the positives in plaster to cast them into porcelain negatives? Or is it the other way round?
I had a few adventures with glass being blown into my plaster moulds but, as the process always needs another person: a blower (so it needs to be translated into words), it is not as personal, intimate, and natural as casting for me.
JTW: What are your sources of inspiration?
MP: My main inspiration is my own work and the nature of the materials that I work with. By choosing casting as the primary production method I have situated myself within the ages of the porcelain industry and defining myself towards the past and the present also plays a huge role. I am inspired by the process, most of all by its errors and accidents. I constantly seek out the difficulties posed by working in porcelain. The objects themselves are not the main focus; they are a side effect of my explorations.
I do not believe that a plaster mould as it exists in a factory, smooth and fine, is a true plaster. I do not believe that true porcelain is smooth, submissive and docile, even though it is often presented as such. You can deprive your cat its claws, but will it still be a true cat? That’s why my plaster is rough and my porcelain can injure, but this is what it is like when you let the materials speak for their own and don’t try to force it into a rigid, technological framework.
I am inspired by mistakes and what is usually considered as a defect. I like to play with the nature of accidents and work with them. In our culture an accident is considered an error. However the tamed accident is not an accident any more, is it? The tamed accident becomes a technique. Direct contact with the medium is essential as it is all about balancing between maintain in an attempt to capture the true nature of the material.
JTW: Do you sell most of your work through art expos, galleries or on commission? Do you prefer one over the other?
MP: It all varies.
My process is partly unpredictable so it always causes some stress to try to achieve an effect defined before. Besides, firing the works that are exactly defined before I start working, bores me. It seems kind of senseless: firing something that I know exactly how it will look after… Doesn’t it? What is the point of making and firing if you know the final effect before you even start working?
So my absolute favourite is working on new pieces with no tension or time pressure at all.
Creating is an unstoppable must. The necessity of selling comes somehow as an inevitable side effect of making and rarely is a sole reason to create.
JTW: What would you like people to know about your work?
MP: That my pieces are much more than just decorative objects. Each of them has a story to tell, you just need to tune and quietly listen to them.