Irja Syvertsen / Drawing, sculpting and drinking coffee / @profession

pressrelease Siobhan Wall 'Postapsocalypso'

In 2013 Irja Syvertsen, (b 1980 St Niklaas), finished her masters at LUCA School of Arts, Ghent. She studied ceramics, both at undergraduate and degree level and not only obtained an MA with Distinction but also won the prestigious Jury Prize. In 2011 she exhibited her work at Galerie de Witte Voet alongside three other students from the low countries in a show titled 'Clash', so is familiar with the space where she is now exhibiting as a solo artist. This show will be very different, however. Instead of small black figurines (as seen in a group show titled 'Het (on)verdraaglijke', ('Unbearable'), at The Anatomical Theatre in Leuven and at ‘Clash’), the sculptures for 'Postapsocalypso' are very colourful. Irja Syvertsen says; 'I finally went crazy with colours, glazes and transfers'. These new pieces allude to the discrete pleasures found in gazing at small monuments but her work has its own grotesque, sometimes discomforting aura. Is she repudiating the affectation associated with classical art? The artist is very clear that she isn't, and that her work is more a response to, "the small ceramics found in your grandmother's cupboard, not the huge baroque sculptures found in a museum". She understands the differing roles of small sculptures well, and her (shifting) place in relation to both popular cultural and fine art traditions: "I like the fact that ceramics is an art form in-between the domestic and the museum - my work tends towards the domestic. I like the underdog position ornaments have. They don't have the heavy weight on their shoulders that paintings and sculptures have, they are lighter". Repudiating the self-importance of the pre-20th century Baroque, Syvertsen celebrates the humour found in working, (or should that be 'playing'?) with clay. Her figures, "start from a position which is more fun than the heavyweight, high class paintings", she suggests, although she admits also having been inspired by the huge baroque marble sculptures seen in churches on a school trip to Italy many years ago. Her source material is now art books and the internet, "I look for things found on Google and the internet and I mix it all together with different media." Such inventiveness is evident throughout her oeuvre, "Even the black works I made in 2011, for me they are very playful... maybe because art takes itself so seriously and with ceramics you are a bit outside of that". Her work is not sentimental, however, unlike the kitsch items she responds to, and although some people say her pieces have a critical edge, this is not intended. Instead, she deliberately refuses to assign descriptive, or even allusive titles to each piece, so that each work can absorb the viewer's projections. "I don't want to make them very specific about one thing or another. I don't want to guide people very much". The title of the exhibition is similar, suggesting underlying fears about a doomsday scenario, but she inverts such drama with her self-aware, self-referential humour. As with the mass-produced figurines she feels affection for, her own works are quite small, no more than around 35 cm, and for Syvertsen it's important that you see them at eye height, "so you can go into the work, it's not good to get down on your knees." And as with previous shows, titles are either absent, vague or incomprehensible, (as in 'ABG.1' and 'ABG.2'). Only with her previous black statues were names important, as they worked like small jokes. She summarises her current work as being influenced by, " a combination of children's toys and the deep respect I have for nature... both animals and childhood". Her work is serious in intent, even if this isn't evident in her subject matter - and perhaps only the viewer can decide where it lies on a spectrum between being playful and solemn. She doesn't plan anything, "work looks like a big chaos where nothing matches", but in the end, "a theme emerges from one big mess". This very engaging show enables us to see some quietly daring sculptures - beautiful, irreverent, surprising pieces where spontaneity behaves like a kind of rare innocence.

© copyright Irja Syvertsen / Drawing, sculpting and drinking coffee 2019

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