Gidon Bing vessels and Kowtow garments share an understated craftsmanship and sense of purpose. Gidon & Kowtow founder Gosia discuss the creative processes and challenges of making ceramics and clothing.
Gosia Piątek: When I first saw your ceramics, I noticed they were quite perfect. I was trying to work out how they were made, because they’re not spun on wheel – are they poured into a mould?
Gidon Bing: It’s a process called slip casting which has been around for thousands of years. It is effectively using a negative mould and pouring liquid clay into it and it forms a deposition on the wall. Because I arrived at ceramics from a sculpture background with experience in carving, wood turning and sculpting I often make my own models out of wood or solid plaster and then from there I make a three-dimensional mould of that object, which allows me to then make iterative changes to the design.
GP: Amazing. Have you done that for all the objects that we have done together?
GB: Yes. The flask vase and breakfast bowl models were turned from plaster; the twin wall cup model was 3D printed according to precise tolerances and then finished by hand and the desk tray mould was made from wood.
GP: I thought so. The desk tray reminds me of the 60s wooden trays you would see in a classic New Zealand bach.
GB: Yeah, a lot of my products have something of the generic to them.
GP: The double wall cup is really interesting. How did you make that?
GB: Well, I wasn’t really sure that it would work. It’s quite counterintuitive that it would be possible to control the two walls and end up with a precise pocket of air between them. It was a punt but it worked, so it’s really just a matter of calculating exact wall thickness carefully.
GP: It’s one of my favourite pieces. Where does your research come from?
GB: Both colour and form are a reductive process. Not so much about formulating design, but reducing things down to the barest elements and making something that avoids any type of contrivance, to something that is effortless. Sometimes I have arrived there by accident, just by playing.
GP: Yeah, everything we do is from scratch which means there is an exact science to achieve our desired colour, look and feel of a fabric. I imagine it is harder with ceramics. Like, you can glaze something blue and it can come out pink!
GB: Well there is an element of science in ceramics too, which is a double edge sword, because on the one hand you can make all sorts of serendipitous discoveries with a little bit of alchemy involved and it can be romantic and nice, but on the other hand, your ability to control the outcomes is limited to all sorts of variables, raw materials and performance of the equipment. It can be frustrating and challenging.
GP: Yet you have quite a calm feeling to what you do and there is a real sense of minimalism to it. Where does this come from?
GB: I think it’s like it is for a lot of people - it a bit of a conglomerate. I have a background in archology and anthropology and personal interests in architecture. I grew up with parents who are interested in Japanese design, ceramics and have close friends who are designers and graphic designers and we share all sorts of interests. It’s a big mix of things I guess.
GP: That’s interesting. Some of the things you have mentioned: architecture and Japanese design, which for me has a connotation of minimalism and simple lines, is something we are drawn to in our work as well. There are many similarities in what you are saying and what we are doing. It’s a nice little thing we’re doing, especially because it extends further into what you’re doing for our flagship store.
GB: How is the store fit out coming along?
GP: It has been challenging but I am surprisingly okay with it. We have been slowed down a little bit so decided to open up a pop-up store in our new Workroom. It’s really lovely having this connection to our customer for the first time. The workroom is almost there – it was always going to be done in phases and we are working with a great local architect.
GB: I hear you have been working with Rufus [Knight]?
GP: Yes. Rufus brought in local architect Beth Cameron from Makers of Architecture. I love having a younger team drive the project because they seem less rigid with their ideas. As soon as Rufus gave us his design we confirmed 90% of it, which is great because at 600-square meters it’s quite a big project. Kind of opposite to you really. You’re in a boatshed, right?
GB: Yeah. I have a digital and model making studio where I do most of my clean design work and cleaner sculpture work, and then I have a home studio where I do all the plaster and ceramic design and dispatch.
GP: That sounds really idyllic and peaceful.
GB: Yeah, I enjoy it. I’m really interested in the creative relationships you’re involved in. How much of it is part of your process?
GP: It’s quite significant actually. I never envisioned Kowtow to be static and one dimensional. We’re never too rigid because in the end you want the creative process to take its own form. I find great value in surrounding yourself with like-minded people and so we have found that collaborating with other creatives is one of the best ways to keep us on our toes. Sometimes there is an element of frustration but there is real success in that. It can never be smooth sailing and I don’t think it’s ever supposed to.
GB: That’s a big part of it for me too. Sometimes the biggest innovations have come through the pain of great failure.
GP: Exactly! You start to want to challenge yourself so that you come up with a solution that is even greater. If you didn’t have those challenges or need to innovate you just wouldn’t do it.