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1257 °C

Not one degree more or less. 1257 °C is precisely where the magic happens. Behind the iron door of the kiln, where the clay takes on its character and becomes the sought-after crockery that restaurants crave. There is a great demand. So great in fact that Aage and Kasper Würtz are having to say no to new customers at the moment. The two are father and son and the men behind KH. Würtz, which they run in the small town of Hatting outside Horsens, Denmark.

Aage was practically born above the kiln, he says. Aage’s father owned Hatting Bakery, famous in the little town. Perhaps this is the reason the kiln is the heart of the workshop

for Aage:

“It’s the same as I imagine chefs have the oven as the core of the business. It demands reverence and respect.” At KH. Würtz there are two kilns: “the electric kiln that just stands there and goes click ... click ... There’s no drama in it.”

BACKGROUND

For Kasper, aged 34, it was a long road from studying literature in the early 2000s, to ceramics, which was the path he chose to take together with his father. Kasper quite simply

found it easier to express himself in clay rather than words. It was a more limited field, he puts it, unlike literature studies. It was just better suited for who he is. For Aage, aged 62, the story began somewhat earlier. He got his hands on clay in 1971. In his words, it was the time when Jimi Hendrix played music and ceramics was the sort thing you were supposed to do. Aage opened his workshop in the early 80s, after completing his training as a potter, and at the same time also studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.


PASSION

The clay takes its shape on the potter’s wheels in the workshop. An employee is in the process of glazing and then places it on a shelf. Once glazed the clay is still a whitish colour, the glaze becomes visible after the second firing, in what Aage describes as the “proper” kiln. Everywhere the workshop has the same whitish tinge. The white clay forms a pale layer on all the surfaces that blur the natural colour of things. It reveals imprints and traces that have been left around the room. Even the toes of Age’s shoes are cracked with white splotches of clay.

Both the younger and slightly elder Würtz are driven by a love of what they do every day. In addition to these two, there is a small team of seven employees engaged in the daily work. Aage is the expert on the potters’ wheel and Kasper on the glaze, both of them are involved in the design process.

“You can definitely get emotionally involved in a dish,” says Kasper. “The passion manifests

itself when I take something good out of the kiln, and there can be a long time between, because we make a lot of things. It’s when you find expression and get hold of something that affects you,” says Kasper, who explains that in the passion there exists a quest to make something that must continually be better - the small details, the whole impression and the sense of the object.

Aage adds, “It’s a form of operation, but of course it’s absurd to spend as much time as we do on something that’s aimed at perfection. We’re trying to make it better and better and better. That’s our little world. Fortunately, there are people who like what we’re making, but it’s strange to go and be so happy ... ‘wow ... look at the glaze – it’s almost completely tranquil and perfect.’”

But there are emotions at play. The passion is present with a decisive effect: When the great people we collaborate with buy into my experience of aesthetics that we are aiming for. I actually get quite sad every time they come, because they take everything that I think was the best,” says Kasper. It’s especially the bigger things that Kasper finds it hard to part with, but he tries to console himself in the thought that he can always go and look at them, although he knows it’s not going to happen.


DESIGN PHILOSOPHY

For people with a taste for ceramics, the showroom is like a sweet shop. There are ceramics lined up on the shelves along the walls in shapes and colours that vary in expression. The colour scale is balanced in a subdued neutral universe with a few detours to deep blue and pink. But still with that KH. Würtz recognisability. There is something raw, something simple, something stylish that draws a line through cups, vases, dishes, jugs and whatever else fills up the shelves of the oblong room. As if an inspiration pursues a specific expression.

“Many years ago I saw some Japanese pottery at the Industrial Museum in Copenhagen. Two crooked raku pots. They were almost a little nervous in their expression - I thought they were falling apart. With an asymmetrical decoration - a symbol that was almost as if it had been strewn up,” says Aage, and at the same time he makes an arm gesture to explain the upward direction. I haven’t seen them since, but I’ve worked in their style. I don’t dare to look at them again. I know how I think they look. The sense of the pots. What I saw was so different, it was simply beautiful. Our ceramics are a hybrid of that and all our ceramics come from that sense.”

Words such as nervousness and deconstruction crop up in the design process and as an inherent sense in every single thing that KH. Würtz produces. It’s on that level. The almost nerdy, sometimes abstract, but sometimes there are absolutely no words for the considerations behind it. Paradoxically, they both have lots of words for what their expression should be, as one that does not have to be explained. They have a harder time relating to everything that is outside of the craftsmanship – where the object has a utility value. Aage says that he cannot comprehend that part.

“It’s an inspiration when you talk to a chef who has a new thing and he talks about how happy he is with it. To begin with, I also tried to understand what you could do with that. I’ve stopped that completely,” says Aage and sticks to his own field: “Perhaps there isn’t any explanation about our ceramics, yet we talk a lot about it. We talk a lot about having to make ceramics that shouldn’t be explained,” says Aage.

“ It’s sensuality. Everything from the contact surface of your feet with the ground, to the chair, to the table, to the light, the lighting, to the sound. Everything plays together, in the way everything is staged and it intensifies the experience.”

“Some shapes talk intuitively to you, and some shapes are perhaps not as meaningful. It’s again a feeling and the uncertainty and nervousness that can lie in a shape,” explains Kasper and he elaborates on how they work to bring out the expression, which actually cannot be explained:

“If I’m experiencing some systems or I can recognise or see some repetitions, then I try to break the patterns and systematics I’ve seen used. Or when we have made something that is stable and neat, then we deconstruct the neatness. The very core of our philosophy is to push things from recognition and a pattern to the disrupted. The things we make must stand on their own and be themselves,” explains Kasper.

AESTHETIC TECHNIQUE

The pair are aware that aesthetics play a role in the experience that people are buying into when they eat at finer restaurants. They are also aware that their product contributes to this experience. But when they are standing in the workshop in Hatting, those types of thoughts are very distant. It is entirely about the craftsmanship, about the material and the glaze.

“Our aesthetic is based on technique and material. To see what we can get the material to yield. So how do we work with aesthetics as a concept ... well, if it’s not ‘nice’, then we won’t make it,” says Kasper.

Kasper is holding a black-white dish on which patterns form what resemble puffy clouds, divided by sharp straight lines in a herringbone pattern. “And Kasper’s fingers did this in 20 seconds,” says Aage and draws his fingers down over the dish, as if it was through the glaze. “This is very primitive, what Kasper does,” he adds. This is perhaps how it can be expressed when real human hands are deeply involved in the process of creating and experimenting. At KH. Würtz, everything is made by hand.

“I’m very influenced by the chefs’ engagement in our crockery. Some take ownership in things. It’s so important that it’s made properly,” says Aage.

THE FOOD EXPERIENCE

One thing is contemplation of your own aesthetic approach; another is to experience it as part of a meal. And they both experienced it.

“I was revitalised when I saw how noma used our crockery, how beautiful it was. I was in rapture over their handling of the food. The aesthetics they have,” says Aage.

Kasper adds: “It’s sensuality. Everything from the contact surface of your feet with the ground, to the chair, to the table, to the light, the lighting, to the sound. Everything plays together, in the way everything is staged and it intensifies the experience. A coffee can taste much better if you have the experience that the cup you are drinking from is also exquisite. And I’m also sure that the food tastes better without a pneumatic drill outside. When everything plays together from materials and ingredients, it is a better experience overall, where everything feels right and genuine.”

Kasper and Aage are aware that their crockery is part of the experience. The staging that people are subconsciously buying into when they go out and eat in restaurants that ‘tell’ a story. They have felt in their own bodies that it works. Just with the exception of when the food is served on a plate from KH. Würtz.

“I look at a plate and then I sit and think how it could be better. At noma, I sat there many times thinking... ‘ahhh, that bowl there, we’re much better at making it now. It’s really frustrating it’s not that one,’” says Kasper.

“Yes, it’s extremely annoying, at least if you’re out with your girlfriend, and she’s sitting and enjoying it, and then I’m sitting there saying, ‘it could be better.’ She asks isn’t it fantastic to eat food from ‘my’ plate. So I’m honoured that there is someone who likes it. But it’s my daily life, so I don’t think about it like that. However, to see some parts that work, that’s of course why we’re working all the time,” says Aage.


KH. WÜRTZ

In 2006, René Redzepi from noma called. He had received a plate as a gift with a Würtz signature. He would like to use the plate in the restaurant and wondered if it was something they could do. And before long the crockery was part of noma’s aesthetics. Afterwards the restaurant Geranium and Thomas Herman came along and a single retail customer. Even though the names had the right ring to them, there were not enough customers to support the two. This meant they chose to slow down: “In 2009, we shut down a little and ran on a part-time basis in recognition of the fact that there were no shops who wanted our things. They didn’t like it. They thought it was messy and non-uniform,” says Kasper. The same year, Kasper had taken over the company from his father and the signature on the clay changed to KH. Würtz, which stands for Kasper Heie Würtz. KH in Danish is also an abbreviation of Kærlig Hilsen, which means With love.

“It’s a form of operation, but of course it’s absurd to spend as much time as we do on something that’s aimed at perfection.”

However, in 2010 something happened that changed the part-time business and staffing. Restaurants and chefs discovered the crockery. From there it really took off. Restaurants from Japan, Russia and the United States, amongst other places, were added to the customer portfolio.

“Yes, it’s a fantastic contrast. We had been to trade show after trade show. Kasper had been driving around the country and realm for many years. And people ... ‘ahhh it’s too big, too small, too green, too blue ... and suddenly people thought that we were brilliant ... And I can’t remember having had two days off since,” says Aage.
“You can definitely get emotionally involved in a dish. The passion manifests itself when I take something good out of the kiln, and there can be a long time between, because we make a lot of things. It’s when you find expression and get hold of something that affects you.”


Published by HOUNÖ

Text: Journalist Lousin Hartmann

Photography: Rasmus Bluhme, Moment Studio and Signe Birck

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© 2018 by HOUNÖ A/S, Alsvej 1, 8940 Randers SV, Denmark. www.houno.com

Photography: Rasmus Bluhme, Moment Studio and Signe Birck

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