‘Waiting for the sunset’, 2020
IN CARTOONS, A light bulb pops above a character’s head to hint at a new idea. For Los Angeles-based Swiss ceramicist Carmen D’Apollonio, however, light bulbs provide her lamps’ transition from sculpture to function. “During the day, these human-looking lamps sit as sculptures, but at night, their functions arise when they’re turned on,” she says.
Her ceramic and bronze lamps are currently on view in her first solo exhibition at New York’s design gallery, Friedman Benda. The show’s humorous title, ‘Don’t Wake The Snake’, summarises the tongue-in-cheek attitude of D’Apollonio’s lamps, most of which echo the human form both through their silhouettes and life-like sizes. Pensive, curious, vibrant or timid, each lamp expresses a personality – and is finished with a rice paper, linen or bronze shade in lieu of its head.
‘Waiting for the sunset’ (2020) is a perfect example of D’Apollonio’s approach to conveying narrative in design that flirts with sculpture. Suggestive of its title, a drooping figure sits on a surface with a slight arch in its supposed back. The character lacks limbs or any bodily traits, but the sense of anticipation is somehow evident. The shade’s airy teal tone contrasts with the dark brown of the figure and the identical-coloured surface it perches on. When turned off, the character seems to be lingering, and when lit, it finally has an idea. At a height of nearly two metres, the lamp is conspicuous whether exhibited at a gallery, or placed in the corner of a home.
At this scale, patience is a requisite. D’Apollonio explains that it took around six months for the ceramic to dry. It is also a gamble in the kiln; in this case, one that has paid off. Two similar scale ceramics cracked in her room-size kiln.
Humour is as essential to D’Apollino’s ceramics as clay, she says. “I live with my lamps and they sometimes start talking to me,” she muses. “They each have a different character, but they also give light.” This lightheartedness is perhaps what led D’Apollonio to discover her potential with clay. After opening her fashion line, Ikou Tschüss, in Zurich in 2006 and working at multidisciplinary Swiss artist Urs Fischer’s New York studio for ten years, she moved to LA in 2014. Before moving west, she returned to Switzerland where she took a class on raku pottery. What started as a hobby turned more serious when she decided to make vessels at her LA home. “Urs showed me everything is possible – you just have to figure it out and you don’t stop getting better at it,” she says.
She posted her early attempts on Instagram – friends and friends of friends bought a few objects – and eventually French luxury fashion house Celine commissioned a few pieces from her for a campaign. “The days when I wasn’t at a ceramic workshop, I was working in my own backyard with some clay, water and a few wooden tools,” she remembers. After starting with easy and minimal shapes, human figures started to appear which led to today’s whimsical figures. D’Apollonio writes down lyrics, poems, texts, or observations into a notebook which she later returns to while naming her lamps. “’Waiting for the sunset’ found me while I was looking at a beautiful LA sunset, almost as if I was waiting for something.”
Carmen D’Apollonio: Don’t Wake The Snake is at Friedman Benda until August 13th 2021.