The Human Touch

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Slovenian-born ceramicist Ana Kerin tells us about her journey from fine artist to functional maker, why hands are the best tools and the importance of giving without getting back…

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It’s always so gratifying to meet people who’ve got their priorities straight. Rather than wanting to be interviewed at the weekend, Ana has in mind a swim at one of the ponds on Hampstead Heath. The weather’s going to be perfect, who wants to be working anyway? We’d have to agree. So we finally meet at her studio just off Broadway Market, Hackney to talk about her past, the making process and some of the things that matter most…

How do you describe yourself?
Open minded, patient, passionate but reserved. I adore beauty. I love challenges. I cherish friendships and love being curious about new people, new things, new places, new experiences. I hate being bored.

You originally come from Slovenia and trained as an artist; when and why did you make the move to London – and from art into something more functional?
My background is in fine arts – sculpture. At the time, ceramics was how I distracted myself from larger projects. It was my way of being allowed to make objects that would not be judged; there was no pretence. Unambitious, playful experiments that aligned with my passion for food. I have always considered my ceramics as ‘wearable’ sculptures for my friends and myself to use daily.

I love how art works. It amuses me to see how in my home (and my friend’s and family’s apartments), collected art pieces are used in so many different ways – as doorstops, plant pots, coat hangers, bookshelves… it's so funny. I love the playfulness of it. This was a big inspiration for me in my transition from fine art into functional ceramics.

London is unexplained!

Was there any one of your pieces that made you feel that this might be the start of something bigger? 
A lot of my early works in ceramics were on the border between sculpture and functional objects. I was constantly exploring this thin line, challenging how far I could push it.

I remember a large vessel/bowl that I made as part of a gallery installation; the bowl had exposed rough clay on the outside with very tactile glazed fingerprint traces on the inside. After that show, it became the centrepiece on my mum’s kitchen table – a fruit bowl, just that. This was the turning point, when I started seeing my work in a different light. On reflection, that piece is what my work is all about.

You've worked with NGOs and charities – how do you feel this experience and other past jobs have influenced your current practice?
With more than a decade of intense fine art practice, I believe it’s my experiences working for charities that influenced who I am today. It taught me to problem solve and I soon realised every situation has multiple perspectives. It was real and exposed what the real values in life are; you have to give back not expecting anything in return.

I believe I am at my best when I find balance between managing my human rights charity projects and maintaining my creative practices. Ultimately they feed one another: inspiring and driving me, whilst seeing things differently.

In addition, the production and project management skills that I learnt have been vital in starting Kana London and I have to admit that I found a lot of inspiration for my work whilst working in West Africa. Ultimately, I hope to steer Kana London toward a charitable and
development field and have future projects working in this.  

There's a simplicity and 'made by hand' feel to your work –  why does this approach appeal to you so much? 
I believe that it brings back a human touch – [something] that has been taken away with industrialisation. You can see and feel in my work that it has been touched by hands in the process of its making.

And how would you describe your work?
I want to make objects with soul – objects that are made to be kept and loved. I love making objects that might be passed on by generations, create stories, carry stories and become part of them.

Is there a part of the process you enjoy most?
I enjoy all of it; they complement one another. They are so different it is difficult to compare.

Can you tell us more about your tools you work with?
Hands. All my work is hand built. I use few tools; mostly practical bits I have picked up on the way. I think a butter knife and a spoon are the most used tools in my studio.

Do you have a particular philosophy or set of values when you approach your work ?
I do press moulding. I used to make plaster moulds, but now tend to use bowls with an emotional or nostalgic value. The first one I used was my grandmother’s garden bowl – she used to send me into the garden to pick tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber for salads. I remember hating the task, but now this bowl has become a very special mould for my favourite Kana piece. I now collect bowls on my travels and on special occasions. I love using what already exists and adding a new value to it. 'Steal and improve', as Picasso suggested.

Where did the name Kana come from?
My name is Ana Kerin. Ana was a very popular name in Slovenia when I was growing up – there were always at least three or four Anas in any class at school. So that teachers would know my work in art school, I would sign it K.Ana… the dot got lost somewhere along the way. And at university all the Anas got nicknames – mine was Kana (which has become my official artist name).  Coincidently, in my language, ‘kana’ means ‘henna’, a pigmented soil, closely related to clay – it all suddenly makes sense, doesn’t it?

A hole-and-corner is a secret place hidden away from the hustle and bustle of daily life: Where is your own hole-and-corner?
I have a few. Will they lose their charm if I tell you?

A good book always works. As a child I was forever hiding away in the parallel worlds of my favourite authors.

I also find a special magic in staying up all night – the night views of the East End from my seventh floor studio, or just staying up all night reading or drawing. I love it because it feels like you are hidden from everyone, like you don’t really exist, but at the same time it’s all the more real. Time doesn’t move until the moment morning comes.

And I love my bed. It’s my comfort zone (and has the best view of the tree outside my house, especially in the morning light). I read magazines and will not leave it for the whole day. Ironically, days like this end up being most productive for me as the next day I am full of ideas and overexcited to get back into the studio.

What's coming up next for you?
There are few exciting projects coming up. I cannot reveal names, but the hope is to be an in-house ceramicist and make bespoke collections for a very talented chef. It has always been my dream to work with chefs. It may sound mad, but if you love food you love life; one cannot exist without the other.

 kanalondon.com

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Photographs Andy Donohoe
Interview Julia Jarvis