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Like a moth to the flame: Paul Leathers details Ann-Charlotte Ohlsson's recent studio residency in Canada.


WHAT IS WOODFIRING IF NOT A KIND OF 'TEAMWORK' INEXTRICABLY LINKED with shared labour, shared experience and shared conviviality. Occasionally though, the ceramics artist may feel a need to find a quiet, solitary space where he or she can be turned perpendicular and made a stranger to familiar routines. In his essay "Das Abenteuer", Georg Simmel states that work "... develops the world's forces and materials toward their culmination in the human purpose ..." whereas "[the] adventure has the gesture of the conqueror, the quick seizure of Opportunity...." And as such, there is perhaps no better method for breaking with one's purposeful routines than the adventure of the artist residency. So it was with this opportunity in mind that Denmark-based ceramics artist, Ann-Charlotte Ohlsson accepted an invitation from Trudy Golley to a three-month residency in the Ceramics Studio at Red Deer College in Alberta, Canada.


Originally from Varmdo, Sweden, Ohlsson attended the Norrkoping School of Sculpture for two years where she worked with wood, stone and clay and then went on to studies at Denmark's newly instituted Glass & Ceramics School, now the School of Design, located on the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. After graduating in 2000, she took the technician's position at the International Ceramic Research Center Guldagergard in Skalskor from 2001 to 2003. In January of 2004 she returned to Bornholm to become a member of CassiusClay, a co-operative ceramics studio and retail gallery founded by a number of her classmates in the resort town of Balka. Since 2008, Ohlsson has been professionally partnered with classmate Anne Mette Hjortshoj with the two ceramics artists running the CassiusClay ceramics gallery in Gudhjem and firing kilns together. Recently, the two friends built a large, two-chambered kiln on Hjortshoj's property near Ronne with bricks recovered from a disused brick factory. Ohlsson also exhibits and travels internationally, often as a valued assistant to Denmark-based Swedish ceramics artist, Nina Hole when she is building one of her large-scale fire sculptures to commission.

Ohlsson's base of operations, the island of Bornholm, has a long history of making and exporting bricks and ceramic wares to the rest of Denmark. Along with Anne Mette Hjortshoj, Ohlsson is currently co-convener of the Baltic Woodfired symposium that takes place each September at the Hjorths Fabrik Bornholms Keramicmuseum in Ronne. Hans Hjorth, son of the factory's pioneering founder, was one of the first Scandinavians to develop a clay body that could be fired to more than 1250[degrees]C and to both build and fire woodfired kilns industrially. "Baltic Woodfired" features artists' talks, demonstration workshops, an international group exhibition of woodfired ceramics and a tour of the island's historic kaolin and earthenware clay beds led by local guide, Jesper Larsen.


Primarily a woodfirer, Ohlsson is interested in the trace that remains after the flames have interacted with the ceramic surfaces. Referencing the alchemical transformations wrought by this rarified process seems de rigueur in the contemporary woodfiring community, however, Ohlsson is no 'puffer'. With knowledge and skills that have been developed through years of experience, Ohlsson's is a genuine relationship with elemental fire. As Gaston Bachelard observed in The Psychoanalysis of Fire, "Fire smoulders in the soul more surely than it does under ashes."

A patient handbuilder who creates both sculptural artworks and more functional objects, Ohlsson admits that she enjoys the intimate reverie of rhythmic repetition. This meditative approach often leads to highly textured forms that, while demonstrating an interest in flowers, seeds and marine life, offers an attraction to the hand as well as to the eye. The colours of the artworks depend upon the clay bodies and firing processes used; white porcelain in an electric or gas kiln and orange, brown or grey earthenware when the works are to be woodfired. The results may be even more colourful should she choose to apply terra sigillatas, flashing slips or glazes before firing.

Ohlsson has always employed rich surface textures in her work and constantly endeavours to try out new techniques. During the residency she investigated quarter section plaster handbuilding moulds that allowed for an increase in the complexity of the forms. Works completed during the residency, such as the untitled pieces above, evoke the predatory struggles that rage hidden beneath the waves. Often they possess an edgy sense of dynamic potential: are these objects preparing to reanimate, to consume, to replicate, or to wander away? While suggestive of seedpods or urchin-like creatures, Ohlsson states that she creates these forms with the intention of manipulating how they engage the flame path during the firing process. While a risky collaborator, fire's caresses complete these artworks.


Ohlsson appreciated that, with exposure to new processes and no expectations, the residency allowed for rapid exploration, risk taking and growth. With her open door hospitality, participation in student critiques, end-of-residency exhibition and public lecture, Ohlsson quickly became a valued member of the ceramics studio. While taking point on a number of firings of the Red Deer Express bourry box train kiln (Robert Sanderson), Ohlsson was able to induct the participating Red Deer College ceramics students into the methods and traditions of the craft. As well as heat and transformation, fire brings illumination.

Now at home in Bornholm, Ohlsson states that, while she has found it somewhat hard to get started again in her own studio after the intensity of the residency in Canada, she is looking forward to finding ways of integrating her Canadian family of forms with her more familiar Danish ones and to reflecting on her studio practice through the lens of the residency experience.

Paul W Leathers is a studio metalsmith, photographer and occasional writer based in Red Deer (

Supported in part by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Trudy Golley welcomes ceramics artists to participate in the residency program at Red Deer College. A dedicated studio space, access to a variety of firing methods and a small materials stipend assist artists to explore new directions in their studio practices while interacting with the student body ( All photos by Paul Leathers. Ann-Charlotte Ohlsson's work can be seen at
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Author:Leathers, Paul
Publication:Ceramics Technical
Geographic Code:4EUDE
Date:May 1, 2013
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