Can a work be both minimal and maximal at the same time? Belgian ceramicist Lut Laleman proves that it can through her deceptively simple work, which utilizes familiar forms that include bowls, vessels, and shallow dishes. Upon closer inspection, a whole world of patterns reveals itself, enlivened by the way her chosen material of porcelain reflects to create a service that looks like "a weave or braid," as Laleman puts it.
Beginning her pottery career later than most, Laleman has seen a steady rise in the last several years, largely due to the remarkable degree of skill she applies to her craft. As she herself states, "My work made a huge evolution in a short time." Utilizing only black and white porcelain as her materials, the artist first takes thousands of porcelain particles and arranges them into skinny, extended coils that she then delicately weaves together to create pierced lineatures that form her exquisite pieces.
The stunning result of this incredibly precise process, which requires both complex calculation and mathematical accuracy, is a series of pieces that seem alive with movement. There's the rhythmic sketching that belies layers upon layers, but also the actual sense of motion that her pottery creates through the countless holes rendering each piece semi-transparent, allowing light to flow over and throughout.
In describing her process and the effect it has on viewers, Laleman explains:
“My work is built of a layer of contrasting colours made of very fine coils of porcelain. Black and white porcelain alter vertically and horizontally. This creates an exciting variation between transparency and utter closeness. Light streams through my objects like a river through a landscape. The surface reminds people of delicate lace and basket work and it makes people want to touch the pieces.”
As the above example illustrates beautifully, it would be easy to think one was looking at a weaved basket, not porcelain 'thread' made by hand. Such extreme innovation on Laleman's part paired with her meticulous sensibility has earned her awards alongside critical acclaim, receiving both the Bavarian State Prize for Design and the 2011 Prize of Honor at the International Ceramics in Miro Japan. But can a work that requires such a degree of skilled labor and whose subtlety belies an almost unreal complexity be considered minimal? Does it even matter?
Perhaps it's wiser to avoid such rigid classifications of genre and type and allow a work's inner paradoxes and idiosyncrasies to aid in the act of reaching new technical and stylistic heights. One of minimalism's contributions to artists everywhere was that it utilized limitations as a means to achieve wholly new creations. Whether it was composer Terry Riley's score for In C that simply came with 53 passages and the rule that each musician play each one consecutively at least once, allowing for no two performances to ever be the same, or the rigid grids of Agnes Martin's paintings, there's a latent potency in laying down restrictions and developing a formula that can be endlessly tweaked, providing a minimalist framework for maximum innovation.
Lutman for one is keen to push herself and her work even further towards greater complexity, tweaking her formula and allowing the process to be her pathway. Remarking on the future of her practice, she says:
“My recent works are shallow plates and consist of two layers. They are, therefore, no longer translucent. Black and white microscopic dots are attached to a basic layer in a mathematical series. A fine pattern emerges. The complexity of the patterns and the size of the forms ask for a lot of precision and patience. Each manipulation has to be done at the exact moment. The technique is not only used to create shapes, the mathematical rhythm of the patterns has become the concept of the work.
In the end, she's developed a living method of creation that exists in real-time and requires the flexibility and mastery to follow the rhythm, no matter how complex it might become and no matter where it may take her, as long as it's somewhere new.