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The new anorexia (c(r)ockery)

In Gmunden near the Traunsee lake is the bossom of Gmundner Keramik a special Austrian design ceramic tradition. Nina Levett’s twisted ceramic design is not similar to Gmundner Keramik, it is much more “dirty” and doesn’t follow the simple colour code of the traditional pieces. It is more colourful, experimental and bright. However it is inspired by the very simple decorative glazed lines. And impressed by the long tradition of the “Grüngeflammt”.

This collection encapsulates much of what makes Nina’s style so challenging and bold. The work was commissioned in 2009 by Illustrative an organization that showcases fresh, innovative and new design, and Cult Work. The purpose was to celebrate the centenary of the Italian car manufacturer, Alfa Romeo. Nina had spent a month of frantic activity and considerable financial expense to interpret the design brief. In her wallpaper and ceramics she creates a complex swirl of action and movement in which she juxtaposes the hard, metallic, powerfully male automobile against the softer, more sexual and provocative female figures who tangle the design. She explores the car as an extension of male power that impacts forcefully on its environment. Her work fearlessly explores the negative impact of the automobile. For example, she transposes the Alfa Romeo snake logo into a human intestine, expelling faeces. In the accompanying collection of ceramic lampshades, cups and bowls, female figures and phallic cars dissolve into one another and are absorbed into the structure of the object.

Ironically, although perhaps unsurprisingly, although Nina worked with many of the unspoken, subliminal values and images that are crucial to the success of car advertising – power, masculinity, sexual dominance and sexual prowess – the explicitness and exaggeration of Nina’s interpretation might have been too bold and unsettling for Alfa Romeo. They withdrew support for the project, leaving Nina considerably out of pocket and demoralised, but artistically invigorated by the design process itself. The project crystallised in her mind the difficulty that she faces when trying to make her frequently difficult work commercial, but the experience also resulted in the birth of a new style of art. The dense, complete coverage of a surface that she created for this project was to reappear in much of the art that followed on from it and has become a hallmark of her design technique.

Small Alfa Romeo cars out of porcelain on crockery. In this way the crockery made the cars sink into their structure. Also human bodies are merged into the structures making the apocalyptic effect: man-machine and it’s natural boundaries.

The fertility theme is a general one, and regards each individual. Every one of us is derived from a little victorious sperm! The sperm patterns can be funny, but they can also be in orderly or chaotic. Each plate seems to be made for a certain personality.

My identity as a mother is a very personal thing. And yet it has been really THE moment in my life; it’s been the most fundamental change in my life to date.

The fertility and sperm series was originally meant to tell a very sad story. I wanted to show the growth of a baby, and then tell the story of how the relationship with the father of the children deteriorated.

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Porcelain plates by Nina Levett.