Brutal. went to meet the ceramist Violaine Toth in her studio in Berlin. Let's discover his universe through an interview.
What is your background and your training to get to ceramics?
I did a Master in Object-Space design (Esad Orléans, 2012-2017). There, I discovered different techniques and crafts thanks to the workshops (Wood, ceramics, metal, 3D, etc.) and the many internships I did in France and abroad (glassblowers, cabinetmakers, basketry , textiles, ceramics, etc.) During an internship in Eindhoven (Holland, 2015) for a textile designer, I discovered Helke Van den Berg's studio right next to the studio where I worked and went to observe his molding work whenever I had a spare minute. When I returned to France, I started to spend most of my time at my school's ceramic workshop experimenting in my corner and helping new students.
I knew very early on that I wanted to work in a workshop, but it was during my master's that I had the real click. I worked in collaboration with a ceramist from Orleans (Michael Buckley) for my diploma prototypes, terra cotta pieces to welcome insects and birds in public spaces. It was this preoccupation with nature in an urban setting and my fascination with ceramics that brought me to Berlin after graduation.
In August 2017, I arrived in Berlin to initially do a 6-month internship with porcelain designer Anna Badur. With her, I learned the basics of the designer's job: how to package products, find customers, make prices, invoices... At the same time, as I also wanted to learn the potter's wheel, I spent my evenings and weekends in one of Berlin's first ceramics studio, Ceramic Kingdom, which today is one of the largest spaces dedicated to this discipline in Berlin. I helped them with the tasks of the workshop and in exchange they lent me their material so that I could learn on my own. At the end of my internship and after 6 months of learning the wheel, I started teaching ceramics and a year later I founded my studio.
Are you self-taught or did you learn from someone else?
I would say I'm partially self-taught as I've never taken a tricks class or watched any tutorials. However, I was immersed in an artistic environment for years, and was in contact with craftsmen and professionals in the field. My parents always pushed me to be interested in art history, painting, sculpture and going to exhibitions. Since I was little, I have been making with my hands and drawing a lot.
Do you remember your first play?
Very well. When I was 7, I went to art school every Wednesday and I still have this cocker spaniel face that sits in the library of the family home. It's kind of ugly but I like the enamel dripping down the two long ears on either side.
How would you define your job?
At the risk of sounding like a Berlin hipster, I would say “dark, raw and pure”. To develop my aesthetic, I made a mixture of my feelings on my arrival in Berlin and what this environment evoked for me. I was a little sad, determined and I saw this city as soft and dark at the same time. A raw aesthetic without enameling, in curves and in monochrome black seemed appropriate. More seriously, I am much more interested in the shape and apprehension of an object and the way the air circulates around a room than its color or its patterns. I work with this black sandstone because I find it self-sufficient. Curves have always been very present in my work since the beginning of my design studies. I think it's a good way to engage an interaction between the hand and the object.
What is your creative and manufacturing process?
In general I draw several shapes in bulk in a notebook and then I improvise. I turn the base of my pieces on a lathe and add the handles and my logo by hand. I often leave my unglazed pieces outside.
What is your favorite technique? Your favorite moment in the process?
Like many ceramists, I would say turning. The black sandstone I use squeals under the metal of my gouge and it's a very satisfying noise. If I use a metal rib against the surface of my part, it gets polished and shiny. It's a real fascination to see the different textures that can be created from a single clay.
What is your favorite material? What do you like about him?
As I mentioned earlier, black sandstone is my trademark and the material that best represents me. It is very malleable and gives me a badass side that I like. It hurts your hands, so few people work with it. At the moment I'm experimenting a lot on white pieces and my fingers are thanking me.
What inspires you outside of ceramics?
The Berlin hipster would respond to the tattoo as well as the Queer and feminist scene. My creative energy is often driven by my desire to collaborate with other committed artists and to stand out as a queer female artist. The visibility that my practice has given me, especially on social networks, has given me a space to express my identity and my activism in the making.
Through the universe that I have built for myself, I try to encourage other people to embark on what pleases them, to accept themselves as they are and to affirm their differences, whether they are identity, sexual, ideological, physical, racial...
Can you tell us about one or more books on ceramics or something else?
This is not a book but a series of videos “Earth! by the Hermès academy of know-how, which marked me a great deal during my studies and which retraces the technical and cultural history of ceramics.
The ceramics museum on the top floor of the Ittala factory in Helsinki that I visited a few years ago also inspired me a lot.
A book that has undoubtedly influenced my practice and my search for simplicity: "The Praise of the Shadow" by Junichirô Tanizaki
Nothing to do with ceramics but as I mentioned above, gender issues and the search for identity are an integral part of my research. At the moment, I'm reading “Les sentiments du Prince Charles” by the very brilliant Swedish Liv Strömquist, “Queer intentions” by Amelia Abraham and “is Gender fluid? by Sally Hines.
What are your last significant trips or your travel desires?
Exploring Finland for 8 months (2016) was one of the experiences that most influenced my production and my journey. There, I was able to discover new forms of designer/craftsman collaboration and an entirely new aesthetic very inspired by seasonal rhythms and nature in general, like that of Alvar Aalto, for example.
More recently, I left France to pursue my life as a ceramist in Berlin. In this sense, I would say that my everyday life is a journey where I learn to adapt to a culture and an environment different from the one where I grew up and this greatly influences my working method and my aesthetic research.
It may seem strange but for the moment, I have no particular desire to travel. I feel like I still have so much to discover in my host country and so many ongoing projects in Berlin that I don't feel the need. I'm looking forward to the Berlin summer and I fully intend not to miss a single second of it.