We’ve dropped in Megsie’s speech for the opening of Brigitte’s exhibition at Gallery Bodalla on Saturday (see previous post), for your general edification…
At the risk of being shockingly ungallant and mentioning a lady’s 40 years of practice, I’m nonetheless going to give you a potted history – no pun intended – because if this is your first encounter with the work of Brigitte Enders, it will put into context the depth of commitment and the aggregate expertise that underpins her artistic practice.
She began her odyssey at the Academy of Art in Kassel, in Germany, in the late 1960’s, studying music and craft – but was soon drawn to ceramics, which at that time held the high, innovative ground in the European Craft Movement. By the completion of her studies she had already attracted a growing reputation, which led to an invitation in 1970 to design on a freelance basis for the State Porcelain Factory in Berlin. She continued her studies at the at the School of Ceramic Design in Hoehrgrenhausen, before moving to Hamburg where she set up her own studio while concurrently teaching ceramic therapy to children with behavioral difficulties. From 1975-1980 she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hamburg, graduating with a degree in industrial design.
By 1982 she had fallen in love and was transported for the term of her natural life to Australia, with partner Klaus Moje. And on arrival in Canberra, she immediately established a studio workshop at the Yarralumla Brickworks, followed by another in Rivett and, finally, by her current studio at Wapengo on the far south coast of NSW. Throughout this time she engaged in further study (both at the University of Canberra and at the ANU School of Art, in industrial design and visual arts respectively) interspersed with sessional teaching at the ANU’s School of Art’s Ceramic Workshop. In other words, it would be safe to say that she is a serial ceramicist.
From her earliest selection into the prestigious ‘International Triennial of Decorative Arts’ in Stuttgart, in 1969, she has continued to show in significant exhibitions internationally – as far a-field as Washington DC and New York and, of course, in Europe most particularly. Her work is held in eminent museum and private collections in Germany, the US, and Australia.
And that’s not all – into this mix must also be thrown the female artist’s lot of ‘practice interruptus’ – aka the family. Because while motherhood hasn’t stopped her from practicing, she nonetheless inevitably prioritises in favour of family and associated responsibilities. It’s a hormonal imperative (as other women artists here today will no doubt attest.)
All of that sounds terribly busy, of course – and might give an impression of a gushingly prolific practice – a practice that pumps out lots of crafty product, which of course patently isn’t the case. Her practice is extraordinarily considered. She makes, instead, fewer pieces – all of which are meticulously conceived. And while the statistical nuts and bolts of her CV give notice of the success, they only go part of the way towards illuminating why it is that her work is so strikingly singular.
Her early training in Bauhaus-influenced German industrial design certainly has something to do with it – the architectonic modernism, the strong purity of line, the beautifully balanced, sophisticated restraint of her work; all of this contributes to her signature constructivist/design aesthetic.
But while she remains faithful to the premise of the crafted tradition, and her pieces invariably reference the vessel, her work transcends materiality and function in a way that pretty much answers the age-old craft versus art debate. (In this new millennium the debate probably ought to be declared defunct. Many ceramicists focus on glaze or ornamentation or function in a way that cleaves to tradition, making craft something more akin to a cult of tradition. Glass is much the same. But an artist is someone who masters the craft and then, in full cognizance of its history and traditions, breaks through the pedantry and takes wing.) Brigitte definitely falls firmly into the artists’ camp. Her practice is sculptural – and if you had to give her work a label, it’d be ‘functional abstraction’. It’s a representation and expression of the very complexity of function itself.
The Hammerheads are a prime example of this – they’re a visual composition that relates to that period of time spent on the building site during the endless construction of her house and studio at the coast. The daily regimen of tradesmen, tools and relentless activity couldn’t help but infiltrate her consciousness, and the consequent distilling of the experience has produced an object that emanates a presence that is both powerful and almost aggressively progressive. These Hammerheads have a sense of strength and purpose, a certain posture of bluntly altered dimension, and a scratch patterned surface that bears the indelible signs of industrial wear and tear.
Her vessels contain and even fortify her personal observations. We may be intrigued and curious about the Wapengos, so buoyant with a Zephyrus lyricism, but we are left to our own imaginings. Brigitte abstains, in the main, from discussing subject matter, and frankly I admire her for that (let’s face it, sometimes there’s nothing worse than an artist droning fatuously on about the meaning of their work.) The viewer doesn’t need to know the specifics, we are connected by the existential universality of the work regardless. Suffice to say that it is a construct of emotional response to private circumstance. The Guardians, standing sentinel at the entrance, protect those undisclosed essentials.
I have to confess that I know very little about Bob’s practice – but I certainly appreciate how well the two bodies of work sit together. Sensitive and intelligent curatorship is critical in the arts and it’s fantastic to see it alive and well here at Gallery Bodalla. Congratulations to Valerie for a beautifully visually balanced show. Without further ado I officially open this exhibition – and declare it most definitely worth the drive!