Maria Joanna Juchnowska is a Polish designer working in Oslo. First and foremost she does ceramics – she uses this medium to create both everyday use items, jewellery and sculptural forms, often accompanied by video and performance art. She is interested in craft and ceramics handwork and also in utilising industrial production leftovers.
Maria JJ Juchnowska was born in 1985 in Kielce. In 2010 she graduated from the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Art and Design’s Faculty of Ceramics and Glass in Wrocław, and in the following year – Konstfack in Stockholm, an academy specialising in fine arts, craft and design. Her stay at the Swedish school began in 2009 as part of the Erasmus programme. Thanks to the ‘Young Poland’ schoolarship she received in 2011, Juchnowska was able to finish her studies at Konstfack.
In 2010, during her stay in Sweden, she established her own studio named Mari JJ Design. In 2012 she moved to London, where she worked as a Learning Assistant and a Visitor Experience Assistant in Tate Modern and Tate Britain until 2014. Since 2014 she works in Trafo Kunsthall in the Norwegian city Asker. In 2017 she established cooperation with the Meissen Manufacture in Germany for which she designs jewellery and ornamental objects.
Juchnowska held individual exhibitions in Stockholm, Wrocław, Warsaw and New York (in the Wanted Design Launch Pad) among other places. She also took part in many group exhibitions. In 2016 she was a guest lecturer in Parsons School of Design in New York. In the same year she was one of the laureates in the international ceramics competition Future Lights organised by Porzellanikon – the Ceramic Art Museum in Hohenberg an der Eger i Selb, which resulted in her attendance at the Ambiente trade fair in Frankfurt am Main (2017). In 2018 Juchowska will take part in the Talents exhibition at the upcoming Ambiente trade fair and in the Talente exhibition during the International Craft Fair in Munich.
Juchnowska always creates unique objects, handmade from top to bottom. She works mainly in porcelain, which she decorates and colourises by hand. This is the case with the Useful-Unique for example, which is comprised of everyday items. The surface of each of the objects is covered with a thick net of stripes, giving them organic forms whose origin might be the world visible under the microscope or the shape of mushrooms and fruits. These stripes also have their practical functions. In case of the mug, the prominent forms prevent burning one’s hand when the vessel is filled with hot fluid. The stripes on the bowl prevent the content from spilling out in case of the vessel tipping over. The vase’s texture is in turn supposed to simplify the arrangement of flowers in such a way so that it creates a natural composition. The Useful-Unique series comes in three colour versions: the vessels can be either evenly white or covered in an unevenly spread cobalt-coloured pattern – which is characteristic of ceramic decorations – or a red pattern, less characteristic of the technique. The patterns are laid out with the use of a traditional stamping technique. A simplified pattern of a child’s hand appears on the decorated vessels. It is known from Juchnowska’s other works, first and foremost from the Golden Babies jewellery series, on which we can see hands as well as legs. In Mari JJ Design‘s works these themes are not associated with macabre, but with delicacy. She writes: ‘Newborn child’s feet, which often appear in my work, pertain to the aspect of fragility present in every human’. By using this theme, the designer balances on the verge of what is pleasant and unpleasant, inviting and repulsive.
The jewellery from the Broken series is inspired by factory-produced dining porcelain leftovers and by objects with defects. This design came to be after Juchnowska’s visit to the porcelain factory in Wałbrzych, where the trash goods piqued her interest. However, the Broken series was not assembled from them. The designer cast the ceramics by herself, broke it and afterwards developed the jewellery. The neo-barque Fryderyk set, designed in 1934 and still produced by the Kristoff factory in Wałbrzych, served as the point of departure for her.
Maria Juchnowska also creates at the intersection of design and art. She is interested in the human body and the relationship between the private and the public. Some of Juchnowska’s works touch on the topic of politics, gender and social issues – Death of the Body, which includes the 2012 Piece of me performance, is one example. The installation is comprised of a torso made from various materials (stoneware clay, plaster, silicone), which is smashed to the ground by the artist during the performance. The artist describes her project as follows:
It is a work about the body, my body, which I transform in various ways to tell the story of the ‘death of the body’ and connect them with other factors such as the passage of time, the process, beauty and ugliness. In this way, I try to point out the hidden theme of death excluded from the contemporary societies.
In 2015 Juchnowska created a work titled Syria – a set of hand-painted ceramic sculptures. In a symbolic manner, they pertain to the humanitarian crisis connected to the war in Syria and to the media’s message about it.
The themes connected to body and gender also appear in the patterns covering Juchnowska’s utilities. The vessels in the Holly Set series are decorated with a pattern picturing a female reproductive system. The theme first appeared in a 2010 work Mine is bigger than Yours, which was comprised of a sculpture installation in the form of a smooth, three-dimensional reproductive system model and a video which uses this theme to construct letters. The work won the first prize in the visual arts category at 2016’s International Chouftouhonna Feminist Art Festival in Tunis, Tunisia. Similar elements are used in the Dinner set for a male and female feminist. It is an installation composed of ceramics leftovers from the factories in Bolesławiec, covered in the motif of a reproductive system, laid out using a stamping technique characteristic of the stoneware produced in Bolesławiec. At the same time, the designer ironically comments the stereotypic divide of roles in the society, offering the vessels in blue (implicitly: for men) and red (implicitly: for women). This way Juchnowska successfully takes a stand in important public debates concerning gender and politics and at the same time avoids persuasion and uses means of expression characteristic of ceramics.
Originally written in Polish by Agata Szydłowska, Dec 2017, translated by Patryk Grabowski, Dec 2017
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