w/ rami, Vienna

rami is a collaborative ceramics studio in Volkertviertel. Their name comes from the middle part of ceramics common in most languages. We spoke to Kate, Anouk, and Teresa to learn about their studio, the value of handcraft, and how travel and food relate to ceramics.

When you get up and open the studio, what does a normal start to your day look like?

Teresa: I first have a look around, check that everything is ready and clean. Then I turn on some easy morning music and check if one of our two kilns has cooled down enough so I can have a peek inside. Even after many kiln openings, it’s still very exciting to pop the hood open and have a glance at all the freshly burnt pieces. Then I’d probably make myself some tea and sit down at the computer to check our emails and start with my work day.

Coffee or tea?

Anouk: I’m definitely a big coffee drinker. Teresa, Kate, and Mira all love their special whole leaf teas. Since we also sell high quality tea, I took a rami tea course to understand more about tea. I actually loved it and it was great! So much to discover, but after a few days I got sucked right back into my good old cup of black coffee.

Inside the rami studio. photo courtesy of rami

What colors can we find at Rami? and what is their significance

T: In the shop, glazed ceramics are the center of attention while the background is a calming white. Towards the studio, there’s a lot of beige and terracotta, earthy tones from all the clay in its different stages around the studio. You’ll find bisque-ware, raw clay and finished pieces, all set on a white background as we created rami in a way that it’s cozy and present whilst not being intruding — so that you can focus on the ceramics without being distracted by anything else.

Your first impression of making something of clay?

T: My first memory is from a summer spent with my cousins in a Czech forest camp for kids, there were bonfires, horses, bikes and clay — I loved it! Later in school, the first thing I did in a ceramics class was to just press my hand into a fist while holding clay, looking for what the shape could look like (the first one became a cat). Making something from clay always gave me some kind of feeling of calmness and freedom.

A: When I was a child, my best friend’s mom was a ceramicist. I don’t really remember what I made back then but I always loved it. 15 years later when I next touched a piece of clay, I was fascinated by throwing on the wheel. Now I feel again like I am more into building with clay and sculpture. There’s just so much to learn and try in the field of ceramics that you are just never done with learning.

Kate: I can’t remember making my first piece but until recently it was still sitting on the mantelpiece at my parent’s house. It’s a small plate with small pieces of fruit on it. The clay is unfired but painted and it was held together by dust! At some point over the last year it mysteriously disappeared. I think my parents had had enough of it…

Do you create pottery with a destination in mind, or does the process determine the product?

A: I often start thinking about the shape before I think about the final glaze or color. I also think it’s nice to try and not think. Sometimes I try to just hold the clay and do something with it without thinking of the result, which I find very difficult.

T: I always try to have a destination in mind — but staying very abstract about it and just kind of defining some frame within which I want to be working. I love it when the process gives those important details to the outcome.

K: When I create a piece with a destination in mind the outcome is usually much better, in a conventional sense, than when not. But sometimes I’m not trying to create anything at all, just have a moment with the clay, knowing that I probably won’t be firing anything. It can be nice when someone takes something that you’ve made and understands it or uses it in their own way — giving it new character that you never imagined.

Does food influence the creative parts of your work?

K: It works in both directions, I think. Using a piece of ceramics to eat or drink from that you made yourself, that was a gift from a friend, or that reminds you of a special place or moment, changes your experience entirely. Similarly, whilst making a piece, imagining yourself or someone else using that bowl every day or knowing exactly what you are making it for certainly imbibes the piece with a lot of life (and maybe even a sense of purpose) before it’s even complete!

One ingredient you would not want to live without?

K: All fresh herbs — is that one? Salt..? I love everything savory!

A: Cinnamon and Cardamom. That’s two — but I need them both.

T: Probably fruit, I really enjoy anything fruity.

As a food lover, I love to get inspired by places that serve their food on nice ceramics… Any food place that made a lasting impression on you with their ceramics?

K: The best are tables filled with lots of food served on lots of different, seemingly miss-matched, handmade ceramics. My favorite way to eat is sharing lots of plates of food with great friends and a table full of colorful ceramics definitely suits that the best! I’ve found this mainly in cottages, in friends’ gardens, and at some small bistros in Croatia and Italy.

A: I loved Mexico and the way ceramics are just incorporated into everyday life. Everything is cooked and served in or on top of ceramics. Of course, the understanding of ceramics is also purely as something useful and not really as something esthetic. I once told a lady that her pot was beautiful and she giggled as if I had just said the weirdest thing.

I always take a piece of local ceramics home with me when I travel. You too? Where and what piece was it?

K: We’ve all started to make sure that wherever we visit there’s some interesting ceramics in the area. It’s so great seeing people’s studios and techniques in different places. One of my favorite things that I picked up is a terracotta pumpkin from the famous terracotta works in Impruneta, which now lives in my garden, under a rosemary bush.

A: My favorite piece is probably a “comal” I purchased from a ceramicist at a local market. A comal is a big flat disc that you normally install on top of a fireplace. It’s used by Mexican families to prepare their tacos and tortillas. Another favorite is two small clay dolls I bought from a local ceramicist in Yucatan. It was fascinating to meet so many local artisans who were so excited to show me techniques that they had learned from their ancestors.

T: My current favorite ceramic piece is probably one I got from a ceramicist in a little Argentinian village at the foot of the Andes. It’s a hand built and pit-fired vessel from self-dug local clay, and she gifted it to me as a goodbye present after we spent some time making ceramics together.

Cups by Eva Pelechova, photo by Charly Glawischnig
Tea Set by Vaclav Kugler, photo by Charly Glawischnig

What role does Vienna play for the creative parts of Rami? Is there a specific niche or style you pursue with your ceramics?

A: We’ve all been living in Vienna for quite some years now. Kate and I moved to Vienna in 2012 and Teresa grew up here. We love the feeling of the city and how Vienna still has a hidden side. You still need to know where to look to find the creative scene.

T: Regarding ceramics, we care a lot about being a place that is open to both beginners and advanced potters. There’s so much to learn from each other, so at rami we enable people to meet and exchange their knowledge and experiences. We also invite ceramicists from around the world to teach their techniques. There’s just such an incredible diversity in ceramics and we are trying to bring it all together at our studio.

How are the people coming to your studio? What are they looking for?

K: People come to rami for a lot of different reasons. What they have in common is they all feel something special when they hold a unique, handmade tea bowl or sink their hands into some, cool, fresh clay. Handmade ceramics hold a lot of value, not only for the piece itself and its beauty but for the connection to this old craft that has been passed down between generations all around the world.

Ceramics is an activity — for many a meditation — and it also produces an object, sometimes practical, sometimes not. What is the value of what you create, and what is the value of the experience of making it?

A: Both the process and the final product are of course very important in ceramics. It is so satisfying to hold a piece of clay in your hand and turn it into something completely different, be it a plate, a bowl, or a sculpture. While you can imagine what your ceramics will look like, you never really know until it’s coming out of the 2nd firing. It takes weeks to create a piece because of all the different steps as well as the drying, so I do grow emotionally attached to each individual piece I create.

On the other hand, it’s super fulfilling to hold your finished piece in your hand and use a cup you created entirely by yourself to drink your coffee or tea. We are witnessing a great development over the last years where people start to really value handmade things more. It’s now common to invest in buying a handmade cup you really love rather than buying 6 identical cups from a bigger shop.

Ellen Levenhagen crafting at rami, photo by Charly Glawischnig

What ceramics speak most to you and why?

T: It’s something about a subconscious connection — a piece needs to resonate with me when I see or touch it. I imagine that the artist incorporates a feeling or message into their work and when that piece evokes a feeling in me.

K: I think that there’s a lot of intuition involved. It speaks to you or moves you and you know that you want to see it every day.

A: If I had to say I would probably go for hand built abstract sculptures with special surfaces right now, but next month I might give a different answer…

People can’t come to your studio right now, what would you recommend to them to feed their passion for handcraft?

K: To work with clay all you need is clay. If you’ve still got some at home or have managed to order some then there are endless things that you can work on. Otherwise, watch videos, read books and articles — it’s amazing what you can learn during a break and then practice when you get back in the studio. Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you planned to do ceramics every day during lockdown and have only managed once then that’s great too! This time is not easy for anyone so just do what you need to do to feel alright.

Throwing on the wheel, courtesy rami

A song. A travel destination. A smell that inspires you?

A: Here comes my cliché answer: my kids. It’s the best to see how free they are in their thinking, how they allow themselves to discover and be curious. I love watching them create and play with material to experience its limits.

K: And another cliché answer from me: nature! I feel most inspired in the forest, in the grass or in the water. That’s when I feel the most calm and can let the ideas flow through my mind. Clay is a natural material and lends itself perfectly to natural forms and textures. The smell of pine trees and oranges and the sea all stimulate my creativity.

T: For me it’s stories and the countryside. I’m inspired by talking to people about what’s important, what they care about. I’ve always felt most creative in simple countryside settings, ideally involving food cooked over open fire.

Imagine we meet at a big table with food and people in a few years, where would it be, what would you tell me about Rami and where would we eat our food from?

A: I imagine this happening in summer. We are outside on our rami land somewhere in the middle of the Austrian countryside where we have 10 different outdoor kilns. There are some big cherry trees under which we sit at a long wooden table with different chairs and stools.

T: Oh yes… And there would be lots of people that are interested in ceramics from around the world and so many different languages being spoken. We have all brought our tents and are cooking over the fire. Everyone has brought some ceramics and some food that we all share and eat with our hands.

K: I imagine something very similar, which is probably a good sign! Spring or summer, under the trees in the countryside. We would laugh and share delicious, fresh food from a big, heavy table in the garden. We’d be telling you about all of the great people we’ve met through rami and showing you around our new countryside studio space. In the evening we’d light a fire, have a beer and chat all about ceramics.

Kate, Anouk & Teresa by ManiFroh

rami is open for a few hours a week, and soon returning to regular hours. You can find wonderful ceramics, clay, and tools during opening hours now.

Vouchers are also for sale. Come by the shop during opening hours or send an email to hello@rami-ceramics.comto purchase.

Salt & Wonder is a limited run independent magazine portraying the roots and new movements of the culinary startup culture in Europe.

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