A sculptor, visual artist and carpenter, Anna Bera has been making handmade wooden furniture under the brand The Whole Elements since 2014. Their unusual forms place them on the borderline of functional objects and sculptural works of art.
Anna Bera is a graduate of the Kielce High School of Fine Arts. It was there that she learned woodcarving and, as she recalls, she became fascinated with wood: the possibilities offered by working with this material as well as the physicality of processing it. Later, Bera studied at the Faculty of Architecture and Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań – here she realised that design can be in harmony with fine art. 'My work comes from the field of visual arts', she says, explaining that she seeks inspiration for her projects within herself. She realises her own ideas, emotions and personal need for expression by creating unusual items of everyday use. Since 2014, they have been created under Bera’s The Whole Elements brand.
The Polish Scrapyard That Upcycles Old Cars into Sculptures
Anna Bera’s artistic activities are difficult to label. The designer from the Kielce region describes herself as a carpenter and visual artist, sculptor, set designer and woodcarver. And it is this mixture of rarely combined specialisations that makes her work unique. As such, Bera’s designs have been presented at numerous exhibitions and fairs in Poland and abroad, including Milan, New York, Seoul, Stockholm and Prague.
The designer grew up in a small village in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains, and although she left it to pursue her education, today she works again at the foot of Łysa Góra. In an interview with Wysokie Obcasy magazine, she explained:
For a long time, it seemed to me that my origins did not affect me whatsoever. It was only when I came back that I realised how much I was shaped by the culture in which I was brought up – all those rituals, the subjugation to nature, were engraved very deep in my subconscious.
A Foreigner's Guide to Polish Folk Art
The surroundings seem to be particularly important for the works from The Whole Elements brand, they most likely could not be created in an urban space – they are inspired by the natural environment: they can resemble stones, mushrooms, fossils, they evoke associations with nature’s creations. The designer herself does not try to conceal their biological origin: natural imperfections are a feature of natural wood, the material from which they were made. The biomorphic structures of Anna Bera’s projects are extremely sensual – they affect sight, touch, smell and hearing alike. The natural shapes of these objects make them appear extremely relatable to humans, even if their functions (for example, tables, seats, shelves, chests of drawers, dishes) sometimes seem less obvious. It is difficult to remain indifferent to them – they encourage touching, stroking, smelling, and tapping.
Folk Art at Home: A DIY Guide to Polish Paper Cut-Outs
All of Anna Bera’s works are hand-made in short series or single copies. Each object with The Whole Elements label is therefore unique, unrepeatable. In an interview with the members of Projekt Pracownie, a group of appreciators of craftmanship, she explained:
Poland's Most Beautiful Wooden Prayer Houses
Woodcarving requires a good feel for the material. When you carve details, a small mistake, applying a chisel in the wrong place or pulling against the grain, can spoil everything. In sculpture, you have to cooperate with the material or deliberately act against it if that is the aesthetics of your choosing. Anyway, you have to get to know the wood first to consciously shape it. And it cannot be done apart from through practice. It’s one of those things that you cannot learn from the internet.
contemporary polish design
Dividing her life between Warsaw (where – as she says – she only runs errands) and Kielce, Anna Bera has not lost her sensitivity to the surrounding world. A few years ago, she noticed how much curiosity is aroused in children by wood cuttings and the pieces of bark and sticks scattered around a workshop. This is how the Dzikie Dzieci ('Feral Children') brand was created, under which the designer started to create sets of building blocks from irregular and natural elements of wood. As the designer believes, minimally processed wooden pieces stimulate the ability to directly experience the world, activate the imagination, and affect different senses. Soon, the activity of Feral Children expanded – together with her sister, psychotherapist Małgorzata Matwiejczyk, Bera organises carpentry workshops in which even several-year-old children can participate. Apart from learning about the material, they learn self-dependence, courage, and willingness to try new things and experiment.
Furnishing The City: Polish Design for Public Spaces