A prodigious young artist whose work ranges from photography to his current collection of earthy ceramics, Cape Town-based Ben Orkin goes by the moniker Nebnikro (his name spelt backwards) and, although currently living with his parents, dreams of one day filling his own apartment ‘with beautiful furniture and pottery, and everything I love and have collected or made myself ’. DECO checked in to discuss his work and the design philosophy behind it.
Do you consider yourself to be a ceramicist or sculptor, or both?
Both, for sure!
Do you work with other materials or primarily clay?
Yes, lots and lots of materials. I guess I have lots and lots of ideas in my head of things that I want to create, and so I wouldn’t want to limit myself to one way of making them. I love making my own clothes and bags, and I occasionally do some beading, photography, graphic design, and mosaics.
Each one of your pieces is handmade and therefore unique. How important is this to you and your design process?
This is super important as I can never make the same piece twice. Even if I try to replicate a shape, it will always end up being different in some way. As I make more and more pieces, I am slowly realising how each work affects the next one. Each seems to develop from the previous, and skills I have learned from one are carried into the other.
How do iconic artists and designers, past or present, inspire or inform your work?
To be honest, I try not to look at other artists’ work because I don’t want to be influenced by them. No, wait, that’s not true at all. I try not to look at artists who are working in the same field as I am, but rather look at artists or designers practicing different processes to my own.
I love how music can influence how one creates, and I look up to a few musicians. Björk is one of my favourite artists.
She manages to create an intense energy through sound, yet at the same time, this energy seems very carefully controlled, which makes it even more intense for me. Another musician named Sevdaliza also brings an intense energy through her music. She creates the most interesting audio experiences through her playing with electronically created sound paired together with completely unedited musical melodies of her own voice. I love how these artists experiment with contrasting ideas to create original work, and I try to bring those ideas into my own work. Fine arts-wise, David Hockney is someone who inspires me, no doubt about it. I just love everything he creates. And I like Antoni Gaudí for his ability to take natural forms from plants and the sea and create truly mesmerising architecture from them.
Your current collection is inspired by both the natural environment and manmade architectural façades. How does the complex relationship between man and nature further speak to the concept behind your work?
This is a very difficult question to answer. I can’t and don’t want to speak for the entire human race, but I can say that although we believe as humans we are the centre of everything and that this world was created for us, when in reality that is not the case at all. We are simply existing in a space that in fact would be perfectly fine without us in it. We try to control nature, but in fact, nature controls us. How does this concept influence my work? I guess my work is about bringing together nature, that which is uncontrollable, and the manmade, that which is produced by man and for man using or taking resources from nature. It is also about appreciating the beauty and power of nature. Having siad that, certain aspects of the making of ceramics are completely out of my control. I have control over the shapes that I create, but I can’t control how my pieces shrink slightly in the kiln, or how the glazes react to the clay. It’s up to nature.
How does collaboration spark innovation in your own work and processes?
I love surrounding myself with creatives who are original so that I can learn from their processes of making. Having the opportunity to work with them is the cherry on top and such an incredible opportunity for both parties. When you are a creative, I feel that you have a very particular way of seeing things around you, and so each creative has their own unique idea of the world around them. By bringing together two completely different views or ways of seeing, you can create something completely new and original. Working with The Carnation was a total dream. Both Cynthia [Fan] and Jade [Paton] are such incredibly talented creatives who make the most beautiful floral masterpieces, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have their flowers in my vases.
What would your dream project or collaboration entail?
My answer might seem a little random, but I am still living at home with my parents (I’m 19) and am dreaming of the day I can move into my own apartment to fill it with beautiful furniture and pottery and everything that I love and have collected or made myself.
Do your vases have a totemic or symbolic feel to them?
I think that one of the beauties or downfalls of art (depending on how you see it) is that an artist creates works that they believe have a particular meaning and which have been influenced by various different things around them. As soon as the work is displayed in the public, people bring their own interpretations and understandings of the work that are completely removed from what the artist initially conceptualised. So to answer the question, I didn’t intend for my pieces to have a totemic or symbolic feel to them, but if that’s what you see, then I’m so happy! I am Jewish and I feel that sometimes, subliminally, my shapes resemble Jewish symbols or objects, like a chanukiah for example.
How important is sustainability to you in terms of the materials, dyes and firing processes you use?
It is very important to me, especially in this day and age. We are so quickly seeing how our actions are negatively affecting this earth. I try my best to create works that do not harm the environment or cause any unnecessary destruction of precious natural resources.