Ceramist Anne Tophøj brings the history of ceramics and advanced technical methods together in new expressions that show new hybrid paths for a field that is under pressure.

By Charlotte Jul

Ragged edges and a smooth and perfectly rounded interior. Surface motion in a minimalist rectangle. Inviting openness and fragility at once. Anne Tophøj’s collection Geoplex is rough and delicate. Smooth and ragged. Industrial and handmade. Functional and artistic. But most of all, it is pure Tophøj. Anne Tophøj is an experienced and classically trained ceramist, who often introduces dogmas to mediate her decision-making process– a method she developed together with her former professional partner in order to reach a point where objects make themselves. Object autonomy, in other words. The products’ own ability to convey their message and direction in relation to the context they are intended for.

For the past fifteen years, Anne Tophøj’s work has revolved especially around the autonomous thought in relation to ceramic materials. The notion that the production methods determine the expression. That technique and process shape the expression. That she can initiate something that will find its own way home. The autonomy concept moved a further step forward with an exhibition project that set out to test whether the craftsperson’s hand can move as quickly as the mind. This ambition speeded up the working process and led to interesting results, all with motion and the autonomous process as their common element.

Motion is also the overriding theme in Anne Tophøj’s tableware for Danish Crafts Collection. Her service consists of four pieces: a medium-sized bowl, a larger, open plate/bowl, a small bowl and a rectangular platter.

All four pieces are archetypes from Anne Tophøj’s back catalogue that she developed further and combined especially for the occasion, shaped by four different features: form, production technique, material and colour. Thus, all four pieces are made of different materials: porcelain and different types of stoneware; they have four different shapes, are made using four different techniques and have four different colours. Like four individual characters, each with their own personality: The larger bowl is laid-back, lazy and chubby. The open plate is slung and fast, delicate and ornamented. The smallest bowl is a ragged tumbler with a rough edge, and the rectangular and ultra-minimal platter is sober, simple and stringent but with rapid motion in its surface.

The four individual pieces in the Geoplex collection have been named after their individual production method: Cut, Press, Flung and Turn, and Anne Tophøj’s workshop is full of prototypes, one-off exhibition pieces and cups for sale along with glaze samples from the specialist’s own archive, reflecting her search for the perfect combination of colours, transparency and body for the expression of the collection. Asked whether all ceramists have their own archive of tried and tested glaze samples and recipes she replies, ‘Not all, but I do.’ Together, the four colours of the collection tell a story, but each colour will also work on its own, since of course the commercial concept behind the service is that people can buy the pieces they need and add more over time.

Anne Tophøj produces all the pieces herself, since some of the methods are her own, and she has yet to find someone who can reproduce her approach. The way she uses the jolleying machine, which pushes up the ragged edge of excess clay, is a key example of Tophøj’s signature: An industrial machine creating the imperfect and unfinished edge and thus achieving an expression that lies somewhere in between craft and industry. Between traditional and modern. Between handmade and machine-made. In Anne’s hands, the jolleying machine creates a story that holds the seeds to many ceramists’ hope for the future. Because the potter’s trade as we know it is a thing of the past, while industry has taken over. Because China is your new supplier, meaning that skilled local ceramists all over the world are being pushed out. Anne Tophøj demonstrates that there is a different path. Because the jolleying machine is industrial, and she virtually does not handle the product during the process. But the end-result looks handmade thanks to the ragged edges driven up by the inherent force of the clay. And that is interesting. Both as an aesthetic and methodological experiment and as a universal theme in the struggle to preserve local jobs and centuries of handed-down professional knowledge. For while modern commercial craft and design per se is tied to machinery and market fluctuations, the path Anne Tophøj has found between industry and old-school aesthetic heralds new possibilities. Both in relation to her own basic research in the workshop and to a changing profession.