Interview: Ingegerd Råman
Ingegerd Råman is one of Sweden’s most successful designers. Throughout her long career she has produced many objects, especially in ceramic and glass, which are now considered icons of Scandinavian design. She has worked for brands such as Orrefors, Kosta Boda and Ikea. Her work is characterised by simplicity, warmth and elegance. Here Råman describes the pleasures of working with the Koransha factory for 2016/.
- What did you know of Arita and its history of porcelain production before being approached for this project?
I had visited Arita around 5 years before with the intention of doing a project there, in the end, didn’t come through. I found it a beautiful place and I was impressed by the knowledge and the many small factories. So when I received the request to be part of this project for 2016/ I was really thrilled to go back.
- You have experience of working in ceramic but have you worked with porcelain before?
No, never. Although I did know a little bit about porcelain and how it works, but nothing in comparison to the Koransha craftsmen. Porcelain is difficult. I can’t understand how they could make the objects so well. There is a very high quality of skill and knowledge that includes everyone involved in the process; the glazers, the people on the factory floor, all the workers have the same eye; the same very sharp eye for details.
- Can you describe your collection for 2016/ Arita to us and explain what your main ambitions for the objects were?
When I came to Arita it had already been thought out which designer was going to make what and which factory they would work with. I got the main ‘tea set’. Japan is the tea drinking country so it was an honour to be asked to design a tea set but also scary. I began with a little bit of apprehension. I immediately said that I would make a set with different sizes of cups and one large and one small teapot as the drinking habits are very different in Europe and in Japan. Also, very early on I decided to take the handle away from the cup. The handle is always the first thing to break. It also meant that the shapes lent themselves to more uses than drinking. The Koransha company are well known for extraordinary decoration. But after my initial three days I knew I wanted to leave all the decoration out. I wanted to concentrate on the elements I thought most important; the shape and the material.
- How was the process of working with Koransha pottery?
The first time I visited Koransha I had a discussion that I would never have had anywhere else in the world: We sat together and talked about the colour white. It was wonderful to meet people that understood that there are thousands of variations. At Koransha they have the accumulated knowledge of many, many generations and this is so fantastic. They see all the small differences and details and take such care about them. This is the way I love to work. I often say that ‘millimetres count and they are my decoration’. I was very happy about the communication between us, even if we did not have the same spoken language. When I discussed glaze with them I described a matte surface with a silky feel to it, not shiny. I wanted a white that was not cold but not yellow either. I was so pleased with the first sample I received in Sweden. I was so happy, it was just love. When I came to Arita again I walked into the room and I immediately saw it was not the same glaze as the sample that had been sent. I asked; ‘please can you take another round?’ and they did and it was improved. I was very pleased.
- You have experience of working with industry and alongside makers, for example your work with glassblowers and other industries, but you also make ceramics yourself, alone, in your private pottery studio. How do you find the two different processes?
It is very different. I love the projects where I am collaborating with glass blowers and with other makers. When you are a designer you suggest a shape, and have in mind a spirit but you also must listen to all the production people around you and see what is possible to make, you must have them with you and there needs to be give and take from both sides. As a designer, you should be very careful and listen to the workers: All together you can take the design a bit further. I like to take time to make my own pottery but I would always want to work with production.
- How does this collection for 2016/Arita fit into your wider design ethos or larger body of work?
Every new project is like starting from the beginning again. I try and make the ultimate objects that I would like to have around me; the designs reflect me. I think it is important that the user always feels that there is someone behind the objects. In my work it becomes obvious. I have never said yes to designing a product that I don’t believe in. People might think I am difficult to work with, but I know what I want. One of the beautiful things about this project was that everyone in Koransha wanted the end results to be extraordinary. It was such a good atmosphere. The makers have their knowledge and I have my mine and everyone wants to get to the same point; we all had the same dream.
- Lastly, can you tell us what your lasting impressions of Arita are: the place, the people and the porcelain industry there. When I came to the 2016/ project I had a dream of what my product would be. You always have such dreams but here they became fulfilled. This really is the product I dreamt about. There is a lot of power in the amount of knowledge to be found in Arita and the 2016/ project is unique. Not only in the objects but also in the idea. I hope it is a success so I can come back and work with the people at Koransha in the future.