Arkadiusz Szwed studied painting at Jan Kochanowski University in Kielce, but he quickly realised that his medium of choice was actually porcelain, not paint. Even though many believe that a ceramist should make plates and bowls, Szwed took a totally different approach to his work with the material.
Arkadiusz Szwed gained experience in his craft through practice. At first, he spent six years as an assistant to one of the best contemporary Polish ceramists, Marek Cecuła (who he still considers as his master). He then worked with the Modus Design ceramic studio, founded by Cecuła, which collaborated with the legendary factory in Ćmielow and Design Centrum Kielce which opened in 2012 (now called the Institute of Design).
In an interview for Concordia Design, Szwed said:
Selected works by Arkadiusz Szwed – Image Gallery
When working with porcelain, it’s only your impression that you have control over it. It lives on its own, it’s living matter.
Arkadiusz Szwed describes working with ceramic as arduous but also very sensual. It requires an individual approach and patience. Szwed, who is also a pedagogue, says that it is difficult to teach ceramics design because, in reality, everyone has to learn the material on their own. It all depends on manual skill, hand size, body movements and even breath. All this is, after all, impossible to teach in theoretical classes.
Szwed emphasises that familiarity with the properties of the material, glazing techniques and the temperatures and the time of firing are key elements in ceramics. Without them, even the most visionary design could not be realised. It is the material that always defines the final shape and the maker has to show humility. However, at the same time, a dose of imagination and spontaneity is necessary for the ceramist’s work and even the most bizarre ideas can turn out well. In the aforementioned interview, the designer said:
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One has to observe, question, ask and, finally, play with the material. If something spills you say ‘oh, a spill!’ and you think ‘what am I going to do with this spill?‘. You notice what other people avoid because everything that surrounds you inspires you.
In the world of porcelain, you have to combine technical knowledge, sensitivity, and creativity to produce the most interesting works. Without perfecting his knowledge of the properties of the material, Szwed would have not been able to complete the Coral Reef series in which he replaced the traditional method of creating plaster casts with… boreholes, thanks to which he created extraordinary forms resembling coral reefs. The angular shapes in the Rock Set series were achieved by throwing the material on the floor.
Arkadiusz Szwed created other series using ceramics resembling concrete, cork or even lettuce leaves. Together with Marta Łempicka and Isia Czartoryska, he designed a cup set titled Waterlove, inspired by clubbing culture and meant for young people (created with the youth’s taste and needs in mind, it was meant to popularise ceramics). The sleek cups, which were coloured on the inside and fit perfectly into one’s hand, were designed for a series of club parties which, interestingly, were an integral part of the Waterlove project. Another part of this project was the Bubbles collection designed by Szwed. Here, the marks left on plates by soap bubbles were used by the designer as decoration.
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Currently, Arkadiusz Szwed is the head of a ceramics workshop and a lecturer on the topic of domestic design in Poznań-based School of Form. However, he does not limit his activity to designing and teaching. He is the co-creator of one of the most interesting endeavours connected with design in recent years – the People from the Porcelain Factory project. He created it together with Ewa Klekot, an art anthropologist. The project was realised in the Ćmielów porcelain factory, which was founded in 1790. The project’s aim was to pay tribute to the workers of the factory and to emphasise the importance of their work during the process of forming porcelain objects with their hands.
Arkadiusz Szwed mentioned in one interview:
When I visited Ćmielów for the first time, I was fascinated the most by people working on the production line. In a sense, I felt connected to them because I also learned ceramics by working on the designs of other people. I wanted to show through how many specialised hands each of the products had to go, to capture the phenomenon of hand memory and, above all, to underscore the value of the work of those people.
During the project, a selected team of Ćmielów factory workers worked in gloves which had previously been immersed in cobalt salts. The dark-blue pigment was used not for decoration but to preserve the marks left by the workers on porcelain with their hands (cobalt salts become fully visible on porcelain only after it is put into the oven). This way, the Human Trace series was created. It allows one to realise that even during the industrial manufacturing of ceramic objects, the work of human hands still has great significance and great value. What is more, two numbers were placed on every object from the series – the number of people who worked on each single object and the total number of people working in the factory. Initially, these ceramics were presented only at exhibitions but in autumn 2018 they also went into production. A collection in the very well-known and widely appreciated Rococo style was created according to the Human Trace concept and it is still available for purchase.
ludzie z fabryki porcelany
It is difficult to call Arkadiusz Szwed just a ceramics designer because his passion and engagement are noticeable in his every word when he talks about his work. Without these, it would probably be difficult to devote himself to a craft which demands so much perseverance. Szwed says that the work of a porcelain designer is a great lesson in patience and humility:
When working on ceramics, you’re always waiting for something – the total production process takes around five to six weeks. […] You can’t accelerate this process or make up for the time.
When looking at the surprising, original and, at the same time, fully functional objects created by Szwed, it is easy to conclude that they are worth the wait. However, one should remember how much effort and how much labour is necessary to create a single porcelain dish.
Szwed had the opportunity to present his work as one of the 24 creators featured at the Warsaw Home design fair in 2019.
Gdynia Design Days
Arkadiusz Szwed and the School of Form are regularly involved in the Gdynia Design Days Festival. In 2019, Szwed curated the Jajko (Egg) exhibition, which featured sets of ceramic dishes made by second-year students. The exhibition presented a number of unusual objects, analysing the egg’s cultural perspective, as well as its form and texture. It focused on consciously disrupting one’s own set ways and customs in order to find new meanings in the egg. The goal was to underscore the ritual experiences of eating food, stressing the value of an obvious, yet crucial kitchen component.
During the following Gdynia Design Days, which were held online due to the coronavirus pandemic, the School of Form organised a project called UWAŻAJ KOLOR! (WATCH OUT COLOR!). The eponymous ‘watch out!’ was meant to encourage participants to closely observe their surroundings. The time we spent at home changed our perception; it made us notice things that we had previously missed. SOF invited the participants of Gdynia Design Days 2020 to co-create virtual photo galleries. Each day of the festival brought a different slogan, which was meant to be found in one’s own environment. At the end of each day, the jury consisting of Arkadiusz Szwed and Agnieszka Jacobson Cielecka published a selection of the received photos.
Originally written in Polish by Anna Cymer, translated by Patryk Grabowski. Updated by HSz, September 2020.
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