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The total artist: Uli Aigner shows porcelain vessels in the New Museum

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Five hundred year guarantee. A user-friendly promise made by the artist Uli Aigner. Namely on each of the porcelain vessels she turned. By the end of life, there should be an incredible million pieces. If one breaks, she makes a new one and also wants the shards back. “They also tell a story,” she says. About the flow of time and the passing of things, which are sometimes surprisingly long-lasting.

In the New Museum on the Museum Island, more precisely in the Museum of Prehistory and Early History, you can only see vessels that are thousands of years old. In the middle of the collection of mugs, bowls and amphorae from the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages, Uli Aigner is now placing her goblets, jugs and plates with the show “The Porcelain Code – One Million”. Archeology and art form a timeline that stretches from the past to the future.

Construction is still going on today. Uli Aigner and her team, which also includes her husband and one of their four children, are busy. Above the monumental staircase is a massive wooden table, covered over and under with porcelain. There are also shards among them. Aigner’s daughter assembled this “archive sculpture” from 800 parts, reminiscent of mountains of crockery at a bachelorette party.

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They mark the beginning of the white porcelain trail, which in the showcases is clearly distinguished from the archaeological finds dug out of the ground and yet resembles them. Confronting contemporary art with craftsmanship appeal with cultural-historical collections is currently the fashion in museums. Here Aigner’s invitation, initiated by the director, makes sense immediately.

Scooping, pouring – these functions are as old as civilization. Pottery is the oldest handicraft technique in the world, says Aigner, who, as a white lathe operator, only produces sequentially numbered, unique pieces of porcelain on the lathe and no ceramics. Whether in the so-called drinking cup culture of the Neolithic Age or today, eating and drinking makes everyone equal, across continents and thousands of years, is Aigner’s de-hierarchical understanding of society. “That’s why I want to go through all milieus with my vessels.”

Where death affects everyone. It is the subject of an urn she formed, which shares the display case with ancient cult vessels. Aigner has shot 7,000 vessels since 2014 and has already distributed them across five continents and fifty countries through sales, donations and exchanges, which is illustrated by the world map on display and its sentence “I am making a world service, but with more than 24 parts”.

Uli Aigner’s pieces, placed in a showcase in the Neues Museum.
© Michal Kosakowski

A five hundred year guarantee, a million vessels – detailed thinking is not the thing for the conceptual artist, who was born in Austria in 1965 and sees herself in the tradition of date and number artists such as On Kawara and Roman Opalka. A few hours earlier, Uli Aigner opens the door to her studio apartment in Wilmersdorf, where she is expanding the porcelain empire together with her husband, the filmmaker Michal Kosakowski and an assistant.

Aigner has just returned from Budapest, where she has opened an exhibition of large-format drawings in the Ludwig Museum. Both turning and drawing are part of her almost artisanal way of working, says Aigner, whose eloquence is no bit inferior to her zest for action. “I’m interested in time, process and physical work.”

The porcelain mass comes from Limoges

The center of her lathe workshop is the turntable on which she forms the vessels. On gypsum boards that suck out the moisture. The porcelain mass comes from Limoges, pre-kneaded packets rest on a shelf. The way to the 1,300-degree kilns, which are powered by high-voltage current, is through the kitchen. They are located where the pantry is otherwise in old buildings. Living and working in the same place, together with family and other people, corresponds to Aigner’s philosophy. “I’m such a total artist.”

Her vessels are also created through communication and exchange with the people who hear about the “One Million” project by word of mouth. Becoming part of a living work of art at prices ranging from 50 to 200 euros, in which you can purchase an individually made, signed, numbered vessel and be immortalized on the “One Million” website, that’s what people like. After the Walter König bookshop in the Hamburger Bahnhof, other museum shops also offer Aigner’s mugs. All the way to the Whitney Museum in New York. One of her bowls is also at the BER airport, in the room of silence.

Uli Aigner's Item 3501, a monumental vessel made in China.
Uli Aigner’s Item 3501, a monumental vessel made in China.
©Marie Paul

The next step is to turn the interactive map into an app that people can use to exchange ideas directly. The digital part of their project is just as valuable as the rotated vessels, says Aigner. Without the internet, she would never have started One Million. “It’s a digital iceberg with a tip made of porcelain.” An experimental arrangement consisting of an object and a data set.

For Uli Aigner, who was the third person in Austria with an e-mail address, digitization is the same as turning porcelain: a craft. “And it communicates visually, like art.” After an apprenticeship as a potter and studying design with Matteo Thun at the Vienna Academy of Art, Aigner studied digital image design at the Baden-Württemberg Film Academy and then turned to free art.

It was only in Berlin in 2014 that she fell back on the hub, which had been completely ignored since her apprenticeship. Also because of their children. “I wanted to show them something very simple: if you do something, something happens.” Doing something with your own body is an important keyword for Uli Aigner. “I believe in the logic of the plot. It’s something much more complex than any thought.” It doesn’t matter that she can’t turn a million vessels in her lifetime. However, even the assertion creates a huge space of possibilities. Ideally beyond their limited lifetime.

Equipped with a small research grant from the Berlin Senate, Aigner now wants to develop a language-based AI over the next ten or fifteen years that can recognize and also implement 3D hollow bodies. So create an apparatus that turns vessels for them posthumously. The artist is not lacking in visions of how “One Million” should continue to grow. Then only the housewife question is missing. Uli Aigner smiles and nods. Of course, the porcelain vessels are dishwasher safe.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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