Charlotte Eta Mumm, Grund, Kunsthuis Syb, 2022, photo CMumm, courtesy de kunstenaar

Charlotte Eta Mumm – a take on the concept of ‘Grund’ Frisian soils, palm reading, and glaze made of local soil

Issue no5
Oct - Nov 2022
Neo-90s

Visitors ate and drank from the plates and cups with glaze made i.a. from local soil at Charlotte Mumm’s presentation of the residency at Kunsthuis SYB in Beetsterzwaag, Friesland. The presentation rounded up the two-period residency in a village still defined by the mansions noble inhabitants built in the 18th and 19th centuries. SYB is based in an 18th-century old bakery. The place looks like an archaeological site with old brick walls covered with an exterior metal-glass structure evoking an on-site museum.

Charlotte Mumm is an artist of German origin, based in Amsterdam. Her works were presented in multiple European countries. The work presented at SYB is sober in its design but layered with social and abstract meanings. Earthy glazed ceramic dishes mirror the characteristics of the region and texts on the cups refer to the meanings of the German word ‘Grund’.

Charlotte Eta Mumm, Grund, Kunsthuis Syb, 2022, photo CMumm, courtesy de kunstenaar

She explains herself: ‘The word for soil in German is Grund. This word not only means soil or ground but also; reason, motive, fundament and cause. It asks for Why?, and is looking deep down for a reasoning. Reason on the other hand unfolds in different meanings, shifting from rationality, argument to cause.”

The ceramics she produced represent several local characteristics through the use of different materials. As she explains, each type of soil and organic material will lead to its own aesthetic appearance during firing and sintering. This still fascinates her even though it’s a basic technique of glazing used already in ancient times. This glaze will tell a story about what is inherent in it what she describes as ‘an autonomous and poetic way’.

The final presentation offered an exploration of the region through types of soils, organic material from plants and interacting with people. “My idea was to create a public event to have a classical coffee moment with traditional Frisian pastries. I think the most fruitful moment is when people meet and have a dialogue,” Mumm noticed that people of Beetsterzwaag took their time to listen and were open to talk and share knowledge with you. The presentation was intended to engage people in a low-threshold and relaxed atmosphere.

Charlotte Eta Mumm, Grund, Kunsthuis Syb, 2022, photo CMumm, courtesy de kunstenaar

Charlotte Eta Mumm, Grund, Kunsthuis Syb, 2022, photo CMumm, courtesy de kunstenaar

The process of work there was a quest for matter, both in the truest as well as in the figurative sense of the word, that brought a personal touch to it. The glaze of the earthenware was made from different soils characteristic for the region like peat and sand with the help of locals . The works were glazed with the ashes of organic materials such as plants from the local botanical garden and nearby woods, and Frisian horse droppings.

Mumm draws upon her relations to the ground as a foundation for chances rather than misleading national pride. “I’m aware of the ground based ideology of Nazism, Blut und Boden. Rightly it’s a highly sensitive topic to mention questions of ground and identity in the same breath. For me it’s a personal approach and going in dispute about all these topics. ,” she tells. For her ‘Grund’ is meant to be a re-orientation, leading away from right wing explanations, their xenophobia and hostility to foreigners, serving a more social sense of community connected to the ground. It tells us “how the base forms you in a way and offers diverse ways of expression.”

And how should we see this? For example in the glazing, which will change according to the organic materials used and how it individually reacting during the sintering process. The glazed plates have different textures and colors. Some of them are smooth grayish, others are rough and matte. “The input (soil and organic material) will turn into different aesthetic forms depending on their very own characteristics. It is more to show the potential that lays in there - as literally a feeding ground,” Mumm says. The plates and cups were meant as a gesture of gratitude to the people who shared their time and knowledge of the region with the artist.

Charlotte Eta Mumm, Grund, Kunsthuis Syb, 2022, photo CMumm, courtesy de kunstenaar

The handwritten text on the plates is taken from the palm reading session Mumm did together with Vanessa van t' Hoogt from the SYB’s writer program ‘SYB Çircles’. The poetical sounding texts give the work a personal and mystical touch. The text elements on the plates are accompanied with minimal loose drawings. One plate depicts the following quote of the palm reader: ‘Je hebt veel lucht dus het is veel denken. Het luchtig zijn, de vrijheid nodig hebben…’ (You have a lot of air so it is about a lot of thinking. Being airy, needing the freedom.) Another plate’s text explains the difference between lines on the right hand and left hand in chiromancy ‘je linkerhand zegt iets over je privéleven. En je rechterhand zegt iets over je maatschappelijk leven…’ ( your left hand says about your private life and your right hand says about you social life). Some text is barely readable, it almost disappears under the surface of the glaze. Most of the text bears a seemingly personal character to the artist such as interpreting and describing her life or feelings.

Charlotte Eta Mumm, Grund, Kunsthuis Syb, 2022, photo CMumm, courtesy de kunstenaar

Charlotte Eta Mumm, Grund, Kunsthuis Syb, 2022, photo CMumm, courtesy de kunstenaar

She also produced textile works. “When I came here, I took my sewing machine with me. I thought I would like to make a sort of easy diary with the textiles that I found here. So, I went to the thrift store here and discovered popular culture textiles and also lots of embroidery. It’ such a time-consuming technique which has suddenly no value once it’s left the personal context. Thrift stores like flea markets as such an intimate insight of households and the region where they are based in.”

Mumm collected these fabrics with specific motives and themes of the region that she came across such as horses, embroideries, and marine objects and made collages. A sort of playful and tongue in cheek visual scrap book. The textiles hang like curtains in the space with mismatched prints and colors sewn in a theme. One of them catches the phrase “Fishermen collect FEELINGS they catch during fishing,” around bluish and reddish textiles, colors of Frisian flag, with one picturesque embroidery of seagulls flying above the sea.

Charlotte Eta Mumm, Grund, Kunsthuis Syb, 2022, photo Stefan Ruissen

The residency and Mumm’s work brought to the center a theme that is controversial to some degree in the world. ‘Grund’ (Ground) represents the attempt to redefine the term in a more positive lens, grounding as a base, as an activity, as a way of finding a sense of place in an ever changing world. It particularly shows the uniqueness of Friesland and the specificity of its local sense of community and its particular social habits.

Charlotte Eta Mumm, Grund, Kunsthuis SYB, final presentation 31.7.2022 

Maia Paduraru
studies journalism at the University of Groningen

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 5 — 2022