letters home

– Edmund de Waal

This exhibition is full of voices. There are words written into broken shards of black porcelain and inscribed into black lidded vessels. There are echoes of poems of celebration and lament. There are singular voices and some that overlap, echo and repeat. Here on the long wall of the main gallery are thirteen black oak vitrines holding shards, blackened silver and small thin pots: it is named a part song, echoing the poet Denise Riley’s moving exhortation to a lost child. When I think of pots and the structures and the hands that hold them, I am thinking of them as letters home — my attempt to feel both the breath of separation and the pulse of connection. To bring us closer to touch, to home.

These dark lidded vessels are letters home too. I have dreamed of them for a decade but started making them in Denmark last year, working with the extraordinary team at the Tommerup Ceramics Workshop. They are by far the largest vessels that I have ever made. I needed to make pots to touch, to sound, to be large enough to lean against. They are made with a rough red clay that fires in a vast kiln to a black of such density that it seems close to silver in some lights. While they were still damp I started writing into them, but the writing became scribing, marking, erasing, scribbling. I began with parts of Rilke’s Duino Elegies but soon these words disappeared into the clay, over- written and smudged back into the surface. I have called these vessels elegies.

And I have made a structure. It is a teahouse, pavilion and lodging. It is a vessel of sorts, in praise of shadows, a poem. When apprenticed as a potter over forty years ago I studied sadō or tea ceremony in Japan and the memory of the scale of tea ceremony houses has stayed with me. It was partly the ways of seeing the surrounding garden from the tea-house itself: the idea of framing aspects of the landscape. It was the idea of a place that slowed you down, helped you gather yourself. But it was also the tactility of the buildings, their seeming permeability: they seem contingent.

This pavilion is made from blackened poplar on the outside and burnt oak in the inside. There are flashes of silver pushed between cracks and into interstices. Light comes from a single piece of breath-catchingly thin porcelain, the colour of the moon. Light comes through a rill in the ceiling threaded with burnt oak sticks and filtered through an attic space where there are twenty-nine black porcelain pots.

It is a shadow catcher. The space is just big enough for four or five people, small enough to be solitary, to sit on a bench by yourself.

Ten years ago for my first exhibition in Berlin I made an installation called Fadensonnen after the poem of Paul Celan. The poem is a touchstone for me. It is a kind of shard, words broken down, brought back together, held by a page. It aches with pain and hope. Fadensonnen - threadsuns in the translation of Pierre Joris - has now become part of this exhibition, part of the naming of this structure, part of an attempt to write letters home:


above the grayblack wastes.

A tree-

high thought

grasps the light-tone: there are

still songs to sing beyond



über der grauschwarzen Ödnis.

Ein baum-

hoher Gedanke

greift sich den Lichtton: es sind

noch Lieder zu singen jenseits

der Menschen.

Here I am trying to understand the space inside a vessel, inside the hands that hold the bowl, the space between breaths - and now the space that is held by this small house.