Through the craft of ceramics, Slovak-born Natalia Blahova found her way to a slowed-down lifestyle. We asked her about her delicate pastel-glazed work, as well as about living and working in Japan.
Light-colored objects of various shapes and forms. The contrast of the soft aesthetics and the sturdiness of the material seems to be emphasized by the delicate shadows thrown by afternoon sun creeping through the window. Natalia’s soul is so vividly present in her work, that it seems like it is an extension of herself.
Straight after finishing high school in Slovakia, she moved to Amsterdam, where she eventually picked up the art of ceramics at Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Right now, she is on an exchange in the woods of Kyoto, Japan, an undoubtedly life-changing experience. In interview for Kink, she discusses these different environments, finding inspiration for her work as well as ceramics influencing her own approach to life.
Hello, hi, I’m good, thanks. Calm, by the candles and incense sticks, listening to crickets.
When did you decide ceramics was a material you wanted to explore and continue with?
To be honest, there wasn’t really any big decision making. I’ve started my academy with the idea to do photography only, but as the two first years were very general, I got in contact with different media and materials, which definitely changed a lot in my approach to art. I am lucky to attend a school which allows us be free and open, so I don’t necessarily have to stick to ceramics. However, I do, at least for now. I fell in love with the environment of my department, somehow it seemed to be brighter and warmer; and that’s when the decision was made. I haven’t doubted it once. I’ve always seen clay as a rich material, with tons of possibilities, but I never really put much importance to it. I have struggled with my transition from 2D into 3D, and somehow ceramic sculptures seemed to be very alien-like for me. On the other hand, I wanted to touch, and that touch has led me since. Clay taught me to slow down and to get deep in. That’s one of the reasons why the little me decided to be an artist – you know that moment when you completely lose yourself while making something. It is not about the final product, more about the process. For now I feel satisfied with clay as a tool, but it is important for me to see it only as one of the possible steps. Who knows where it will lead me next?
How do feelings influence your work? Where does your inspiration come from?
Feeling feelings and making people feel something is probably what occupies my head 24/7. I overanalyze and I overthink. I consider myself strictly intuitive, however the rational me has been taking over a bit in the past months. I am crazy about the change of feelings and the emotions that come into and out of our bodies. The emotional animal inside of me takes the lead and, despite bringing me into lots of dark places, I still keep very strong trust in it. I am still figuring out the distinction between my work and my private life, but until now they have been one. Only now I am slowly taking a step afar from the emotions, in both my work and life besides it. It’s very fresh and new to me, but warmly welcomed.
Right now, you are on an exchange in Japan. Is the perception of ceramics different there? Actually, is there a difference between studying ceramics at Czech or Slovak universities and in Amsterdam, where you study at Gerrit Rietveld Academy?
Already at this point I can see how much this stay is influencing not only my work, but my whole being. I am learning every day and I am constantly surprised by what comes. Every single detail is complete opposite of what “we” know. I wanted to put myself into the most uncomfortable situation and maybe undergo some kind of a shock, which I definitely have. The approach to ceramics here is very different, especially for me coming from a strongly conceptual background. Here, ceramics is pure craft. Over centuries they have developed certain system in working and the approach hasn’t changed much since then. This is the reason why I have decided to “put sculpture away” for a while and focus on pottery. This I find as a perfect way to forget about the emotions and feelings and just accept what is now and here. The wheel turns in-between my knees and within seconds the situation in my hands changes. I have to listen and then react. Or to stop for a few seconds, breathe in and out, and then continue. There is a certain trust I have to keep, towards the material and towards myself too. I believe it’s not far from what life is about.
So, Japan has affected you (a lot) already.
My teacher does not speak any English, so instead of long critical talks I have back in Amsterdam, here it’s just silence for hours. When I have a problem, I raise my hand and he comes to me and shows me how. No words, just movement. It’s magical. I am not very familiar with many ceramists in SK/CZ, as I left to Amsterdam right after I finished high school back in Bratislava. I can see the art scene in there growing a lot and surprising me every time I return back. Although for me [moving to the Netherlands] wasn’t particularly about studying art somewhere abroad, but about studying in a foreign country in general. My goal was to go beyond what I was taught back in high school and maybe come back to beliefs I had as a child. I was lucky to find an academy that supports me in all these ideals I have created over years and works with me as an individual.
What are you working on now? Is there any special project ahead of you?
Clearly I am overcoming some changes now and I feel that this getaway to Japan was much needed. I like to think of working on myself as the main project. Every day I get some answers and eventually the art comes out of it. I have definitely slowed down even more, but haven’t stopped working. I live in a bamboo forest, so I keep on collecting what lies around me and transforming it into something else or just letting it be the way it is. I am also trying out paper making and constantly writing texts and notes. I don’t feel any pressure of “finishing something” and that gives me a freedom I don’t have back in Amsterdam. I keep on absorbing and taking things in, so something will definitely come out sooner than I think. For now I am grateful for what each day brings to me.
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