An Interview with Torbjørn Kvasbø, President of the International Academy of Ceramics



Torbjørn Kvasbø, Bernadette Mansfield Ceramics Art + Perception 110 2018 Yarrobil Home

As soon as we heard that Torbjørn Kvasbø had been successfully nominated as the president-elect of the International Academy of Ceramics, we were keen to hear his thoughts on his new role. We remain grateful that Torbjørn accepted our invitation to respond to our written questions. BM

Describe, in your own words, why you think the International Academy is important - and as an extension to this, what relevance it has to the global field of ceramics.

Dear Bernadette,
I am grateful for this opportunity to provide information about the International Academy of Ceramics (IAC) through your magazine.

Since many of your readers are not yet members of the IAC, and some could be interested to apply, I will share a few extracts from the IAC mission, as formulated in the IAC website (www.aic-iac.org).

These quotes represent my own motivation for being active in the IAC over many years.
The goal of IAC is to stimulate friendship and communication between professionals in the field of ceramics in all countries. IAC develops and encourages all forms of international cooperation to promote ceramics and to encourage and maintain the highest level of quality production in all ceramic cultures.

Today the Academy is the only association devoted to the medium of clay that functions on an international level. IAC combines ceramists, potters, artists, designers, authors, collectors, gallerists, conservators, restorers, curators as well as a panel of prestigious institutions.

More than 60 years after its founding IAC, more than ever, remains steadfast to its commitment to being at the center of an international community representing ceramics at the highest levels. Postulating the universality of ceramic culture as a basic value, IAC continues to foster a dialogue between cultures to assure the continued appreciation of all of the manifestations of ceramics.

Biennially, IAC organizes an international Congress, including a conference focused on a specific theme, national and international exhibitions, and its continued support of private initiatives by galleries and other cultural venues. Thanks to the quality and the representative character of its members, the IAC Congress stimulates cultural activities in the host country and promotes new bonds among institutions, contributing in manifest ways to the development of the necessary synergies for the promotion of ceramic art.

My own background will explain why the IAC is important: I am a ceramic artist. This work has occupied all my time and taken all my energy over the last 40 years. Early on in my career, even as ceramic art student, I was generously included and supported by colleagues. There is a long list of names every IAC member knows well that I can reel off and some of these were my idols.

A few of my older Norwegian colleagues had already established an international network in the 1960-70s and many were active in the World Craft Council, exhibited abroad, sat on international juries, conducted workshops, and travelled to symposiums outside of Norway.

One of my role models, Erik Pløen, was the invited guest professor at the Chicago Art Institute, USA in the early 1960s. Here he learned about gas kilns, firings at high temperatures and reduction firings.

Pløen always shared his knowledge and was a pioneer, experimenting with stoneware and high temperature reduction glazes.

Their network became my network. The support from established colleagues was crucial to my own development; a springboard to reach out to a larger horizon, to learn, to compete – it encouraged me to follow my own premises without compromises. Without this understanding collegial attitude, the threshold to get out, to be visible, had been troublesome. Most of us live in small regions, local communities, small markets, with few means to survive as free, experimental and innovative ceramic artists.

This is as relevant for young artists today as it was for me 40 years ago.

The academic community has been growing over the last 40 years. It is now an international network of artist colleagues, art historians, writers, critics, curators, museums, schools, gallerists, collectors, editors, analog and digital ceramic magazines and webpages. The IAC recruits members from all these categories.

I was born in 1953 in Venabygd, Norway, in a small mountain village with 300 inhabitants. I live and work here, with my wife and three children. I established my studio in 1976, in the basement of my grandfather’s house and have made a living as a ceramic studio artist since then. I live my life in a continuous dialogue between deep intimate knowledge of a material, practice and critical reflection.

I studied at Bergen National Academy of the Arts’ Department of Ceramics from 1975 to 1978, in what was a highly turbulent but potent period.

As ambitious students, we took control of our study programme which offered an education we believed was not good enough. My classmates and I had one teacher fired and were given the salary money to invite guest lecturers from abroad. This is a story I want to talk more about in a later article, if I get the chance – it is a good example of the necessity of taking your destiny in your own hands and doing something with it. Otherwise you are in the hands of people with different interests who will define and decide your work and life. This is a story about a group of ceramic students that revolted in the 1970s and started an art ceramic development never before seen in history.

In Norway, the 1970s were characterized by a strong surge in political awareness. There was increasing artistic and political engagement by artists, which, among other things, resulted in the Norwegian Association for Arts and Crafts (trade union) being founded in 1975.

This was a period of intense conflict between applied art and craft, where craft art insisted on breaking with the dogmatic Scandinavian Design tradition, which encouraged making more beautiful everyday objects for ordinary men and women.

I was professor and head of Ceramic Art at HDK (Academy of Design and Crafts) in Gothenburg Sweden during 1996 – 2000, and professor and head of Ceramics & Glass at Konstfack, University College of Arts, Craft and Design in Stockholm Sweden during 2000–2008. My reasons for spending time and effort as professor and head of departments, are idealistic and egoistic: I wanted to educate students to become artists, taking responsibility for what is going on around them in the world, and to make sure there is a competent group of colleagues in the future to understand the importance of art. This would take care of my own need to be tolerated, accepted and understood,
in the future.

I started to travel abroad in the late 1980s, particularly to the USA. I became increasingly involved in Asia-Australia from the mid-1990s, particularly after being the sole judge for the Fletcher Challenge Ceramics Award in New Zealand in 1996. I was elected as a member of the IAC in 1990. In 2004 Nina Hole from Denmark, and Janet Mansfield from Australia, asked me if I would consider joining the IAC Council, taking over the position as the representative of my region when Nina’s period on the council ended. I was successfully elected as a council member in 2004 and ten years later, successfully elected as vice-president at the Dublin General Assembly in 2014 – a position I was elected to hold until 2020. However, in 2018 the IAC members elected me as their president for the next six years, until 2024. I will formally take over the position from Jacques Kaufmann during the New Taipei City IAC General Assembly being held during Sept. 30th – Oct. 4th 2018.

As ambitious students, we took control of our study programme which offered an education we believed was not good enough. Me and my classmates had one teacher fired and were given the salary money to invite guest lecturers from abroad. This is a story I want to tell more about in a later article, if I get the chance: it is a good example of the necessity of taking your destiny in your own hands and doing something with it. Otherwise you are in the hands of people with different interests who will define and decide your work and life.


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