241 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

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Mud - mother of all materials? Dirty and unscrutable.
Ceramicists lovingly/jokingly refer to their material as mud and admire both its ability to be formed into an object and likewise to crumble.

“Uit de klei getrokken” (translates from Dutch to: drawn from clay) is an intriguing rudimentary cup and saucer set. The designer, Lonny van Rijswijck, used various sorts of Dutch clay. Thanks to the baking process, variations in colour and texture are made visible. A pale yellow hue from Limburg, a shiny brown from Utrecht, Brabo terra cotta. It’s these differences that, according to the creator, visualise the “impressive but unpretentious similarities between origin and identity”

As an artistic concept it’s exceptionally effective. In terms of functionality and form it’s not quite as successful. In other words, the concept materialised through tableware raises a legion of issues. Not in the least by its material.

Set, Lonny van Rijswijck

A cultural and historical interpretation:
In Items 1993/2 I asked Benno Premsela, authority on design, about possible reasons for the – at that time – undervaluation of Dutch designers. Premsela had already given up hope. How could this country of “redistributors of sand and mud” match themselves to countries like Italy and Finland? Needless disdain! Clay is derived from mud that despite it’s simple image, might be the mother of all materials.

Outside of Europe, mud also has its uses: like in the bogolans, clay paintings from Mali, where imposing structures are built using clay. During Mali’s celebration of its independence in 1960, the need arised to swiftly produce festive clothing. The Malinese rediscovered the bogolon techiniqque with which mud was used to print patterns in deep black onto fabric. As a result, yearly competitions were held to determine which region made the most exquisite bogolan. In the seventies, Malinese artists and fashion designers began to seriously apply bogolan. Besides deep black, brilliant white prints were made.

Chris Seydou Mud Decoration Dress
The fashion designer Chris Seydou presented his winter collection in Paris in 1979 with bogolan shawls and headwear in Keith Haring-like motifs. The Nigerian fashion designer Alphadi broadened the bogolan spectrum with blue, green , and even pink. By the time Seydou died in 1994, bogolan had achieved the same status in Mali as batik had in Indonesia.
Chen Zhen, World in out of the World, 1991
Back to the source, mud. For his installations, the French-Chinese artist Chen Zhen (1955-2000) covered rubbish with a layer of mud. By covering these objects from our world of the disposable, Chen removes all technological glamour and in turn, deculturalises them. The mud erases the purpose of the objects and allows them to return, purified, to their origin in , to their heart and soul.

“I don’t care it’s muddy there/it is my house [...] My heart cries out for muddy water.” – Bessie Smith

Muddy Water

Bessie Smith and her Blue Boys, Muddy Water, A Mississippi Moan Parlophone 78
Clifton 6
Clifton 8

During the sixties and seventies, many Surinamese people made their way to The Netherlands. One of these was Clifton.

In Holland, the Surinamese introduced us to a whole range of novelties: besides peanut soup, an exotic new vocabulary, different perspectives on life, swinging rhythms; moreover, they presented us with a remarkable fashion sense. I became acquainted with Clifton the through the visual artist Saskia Jansen. At the time, he was living on the streets and always carried a bag under his arm in which he kept his photo albums. He entered the room carrying his brown briefcase, unzipped it and placed five photo albums on my desk.

In every photo, Clifton was to be seen striking a pose with great care, in various settings from his first communion to a party in the homeless shelter a few months earlier.

The photos document his life like a sample card of the fashions and music genres of the last decades.

Clifton as Ray Charles, Boney-M’s Bobby Farell, as Lenny Kravitz, Michael Jackson, Milli Vanilli. Wearing a high-tech sliver body warmer with built-in speakers, or a bright yellow shirt standing next to a bright yellow mailbox.
Clifton wears a different outfit every day, and he’s been doing so for his whole life; as a child, as a visitor to Paradiso, regardless of whether he had a roof over his head. Always a different outfit, without fail.
Clifton 6
Clifton 8