“A porcelain pig’s skull is a teapot. The tea cosy is made of rat’s fur. Imagine that bourgeois ritual moment, when tea is ready with several people already gathered around the small table. And than the furry animal skull lands. A delicious shock, a clash of contradictory thoughts. Horror and delight, celebration and menace. And while your friends silently wonder what kind of tea this might be and how it will taste, there is a moment in which the tasty and the unsavory, harm and delight, can no longer be distinguished.”
The High Tea Pot, designed by Wieki Somers in 2003, is presented in the Stedelijk Museum along with the story above. This storytelling is an important element in Somer’s design [x]. She has her own studio since 2003, and can be considered as a part of the second generation of Dutch designers who gained international reputation. Whereas the previous generation was focused mainly on the conceptual ideas, this new movement revalues the aesthetic element. Her works always contain a narrative element. She doesn’t like objects which are completely finished, to smooth, to ‘design-like’. Because, as she states; “in that case you can’t continue the story, you can’t get your fantasy going and can’t put anything of your own in it”. That is the reason why she attempts to design her products in such a way that the user can dream away. Like a story in a book can have an open ending.
She works on intuition, according to the question she wants to rise. She sees a story in her surroundings, designs a piece, and again creates a story. She makes people create their own stories. And so did I. My story started as soon as I saw this piece the first time. So therefore I have decided to make my research a visual story rather than merely factual text. I will guide you along my own associative journey.
Listen to your eyes.
I got a memory flash of a room I’ve been in. A medieval castle in Vianden, Luxembourg. It was autumn, windy and I must have been eight years old. The smell was humid, and came from the old wet bricks through the flaked off plaster on the walls. The candlelight was dimmed, as so was the sound of the thousands of feet which once walked the tiled floor. The large robust wooden table in the middle of the room was apparently meant to display how the previous kings of this castle had their rich meals. Therefore the table had an overload of fake food. Stuffed wild game lay on the stable. Glassy eyes of swines stared lifeless. Meat of the surrounding forest took their position of being decoration seriously. Some sporadic fake apples painted in a gold cover.
A display of luxury, covered in a thin layer of grey dust, the dust of the stories happened here.
It reminded me of other displays of dead animals, especially these two pieces I saw when visiting the Verbeke Foundation in Antwerp. It shows a typing dead hare. The dead animal is turned into a machine by a human hand. Think of words as ephemeral, fragile, organic, rattail. Wieki Somers does the same, she turns it into a pig’s skull an object of use, with a functional purpose.
When talking about dead animals, roadkills popped up in my mind. How damaged and used their bodies lie ruffled up at the side of the road. With their wet fur stuck together in the dirt they look gaunt..
Then, think of fur as a luxurious product. Think of the ‘bourgeois ritual of having high teas’. The ability to afford luxurious products. Arrogance and superiority of wealth. To place ourselves above others, above animal living, degrade them to a decorative coat.
As I got deeper into the matter, and after I had associations relating to the Hight Tea Pot itself (the material), I thought of a spherical scenery in which it could fit. Sinister, wicked, fairy-tales with a dark twist. Images from movies as the Adams family, Tim Burton’s Vincent Price, and Lemony’s Snicket appeared.
As I sunk in these atmospheres I discovered a fascination I have for this High Tea Pot. Both the materials that Wieki Somers used are ‘cold’, by that I mean the deadness of the animals. But these remaining of different animals become alive again when the hot tea is poured in the pot. Then the skull heats up, the rat fur is warm and touchable. You feel the heat from the inside, like a breathing organism. And so, I stumbled upon Victorian post-mortem photo’s. These photographs portray recently deceased people. Sometimes the person seems deep asleep, or arranged to appear more lifelike, or even together with alive family members. These photographs contain the same weird mix of death and live, cold and warmth.
As a last note I would like to conclude that the High Tea Pot is a narrative object, and creates a room around it. The invitation to make your own stories, was resulting in this path for me. And whereas the starting point for every story is the design object every time, the paths can lead up to total different stories, so therefore there exist a lot of different endings.