Day after day, Berta Blanca T. Ivanow arrives at her studio in Teià, kneads clay and starts working on her sculptures. Fascinated with the behaviour of matter and decomposition, she has found in this place surrounded by cut-flower farms and greenhouses a sanctuary where to explore the multiple combinations of the four elements: unprocessed earth, ritualistic fire, ephemeral air and the water that nourishes us.
What do you love about Miquel Barceló? You were studying Fashion Design when you asked him to visit his Paris studio and it turned out to be a life-changing experience.
He is visceral, intuitive and instinctive. His practice is deeply rooted in nature and his language is straightforward.
Then you moved to New York to study and train as a painter and sculptor. What happened there?
I was lucky to meet Pat Lipsky and Barney Hodes, both teaching at The Art Students League of New York. I had the opportunity to learn about their profession for two and a half years. I learned how to stretch a cotton duck canvas or mix oil colours. They taught me about composition and lyrical abstraction, spoke to me about Antonio Canova, Medardo Rosso, Clement Greenberg...
Back in Europe, you trained modelling sculpture in the Arts Academy in Florence, and everything about ceramics’ glazes and colours in La Bisbal d’Empordà.
For me it was crucial to learn the technique and skills to get to know the medium and its possibilities. To later on have the freedom to manipulate it and create with my own voice or expression.
Now you’re based in the countryside, in Teià. How did you find this studio?
I moved here after the lockdown last year. Teià and the surroundings are mainly filled with cut-flower farms and greenhouses and l dreamed about finding my studio in such a bucolic landscape. After asking around farmers, I bumped into a woman who was curiously named Rosa. She was the one who opened the doors of my current studio.
Do you feel that being surrounded by nature has changed the way you work?
No doubt. Nature teaches me to surrender to the unknown, to chance, error, multiplicity, transformation. I am slowly learning to cultivate an innermost patience. That state of serenity that nature distils when destruction and creation coexist. Everything is impermanent and we are the protagonists of the transience of existence.
How is your day to day at the studio? What is the first thing you do when you get there?
My routine tends to be repetitive. Day after day I knead clay and start working. Thousands of times, tons of thousands of times... It is that repetition that frees my hands from thought. And that freedom is the mother of all creation.
Are there some rituals and routines that are important for you?
My performative routine is deeply rooted in exploration. Triggered by the fascination with the behaviour of matter and decomposition, my work sprouts from multiple combinations of the four elements: the unprocessed earth, the ritualistic fire, the ephemeral air we breathe and the water that nourishes us.
Why did you start using organic, raw materials in your practice?
Raw materials should not be conceived as mere physical material, since they contain the will of nature. The Universal Consciousness is present in the mud unearthed after having been buried for ages. The Anima Mundi is latent in geological materials such as basalt, sulphates, selenite or volcanic stones collected to formulate glazes. Melted in the remaining ashes of a wood firing or the hair of wild horses, all these organic materials are interwoven in my practice in a ritualistic manner to transmute and tell new stories. The memory archived in their core metamorphoses, creating highly symbolic connections.
Where do you source these materials from?
You talk about this search as ‘geological research’. How important is that quest for your practice?
The materials I collect, such as clay, dolomite rock, pumice stone and ilmenite contain history in its particles. They are a reminder of my journey, one that calls me to the land and its innate wisdom.
You often expose your canvas and clays to the environment before starting to work with them. What do you want to achieve through this process?
Placed outside, the canvas is like a photosensitive plate. It records the radiation of the sun, the moon, atmospheric precipitation, pollen and dust carried by the wind, bird droppings and twigs… Once settled on the cotton surface, all residual, significant materials will mark the trace by oxidation, degradation and time.
Some of your more recent sculptures show voluptuous shapes and textured surfaces, spaces and voids. They seem to suggest ancient goddesses. Is femininity a relevant theme in your practice?
All these words resonate with my practice and the quote by [German-Sierra Leonean writer, film-maker and activist] Mallence Bart-Williams that says “All is born in the depth of her womb. The source to all life; her emotions, her wisdom and her intuition.”
As a sculptor, you studied anatomy. What fascinates you about the human body?
What lays beneath it. Its emotions. Its ability to create life, to regenerate, perish and be gone.
Do you think touch is the most neglected of our senses? It’s almost a taboo in institutionalised art, and now with the pandemic it’s become the rule in our social relations.
I have absolute faith in the sense of touch. As [Japanese art critic and philosopher] Yanagi Sōetsu once said “The hand is the most precious gift that nature has granted to humanity. Without it, beauty would not exist.”
The conscious gesture holds a strength coming from very far away. It contains the wisdom of an ancient soul. A caress to delve into the profound depth of things.
Just to end up, we would like to ask you about your skincare routine. Is that something important for you?
Crucial. My work involves being in contact with materials that can be harmful for the skin. So cleaning and protecting my face and hands is part of my daily routine. My skin is pale and freckled, it needs extra care because is super sensitive.
What are your impressions after a few days using ROWSE?
I love the smell of earth, citrus and flowers from the oils and The Super Volume shampoo. It reminds me of those winter mornings picking lemons from my garden and stirring up the damp soil where I planted lavender, rosemary, and lemon verbena.
Photography by Nuria Val