Urban design magazine


Gérard Borde: an ode to ceramics

Image of "Beirut " chairs
"Beirut" chair, 2013, Marc Aurel and Gérard Borde © Aurel Design Urbain

At the crossroads between art and industry, Gérard Borde’s ceramics reflect his endless search for creativity and innovation.

For 25 years, Gérard Borde, “Maître d’Art” ceramist, has been developing dialogue between art and technique by combining his savoir-faire with artistic research from artists, designers, architects and sculptors. His latest creation is the “Beirut” chair, the first piece of ceramic street furniture made in collaboration with Marc Aurel that won the Liliane Bettencourt Prize “Pour l’Intelligence de la Main”. Director of CRAFT  (Research Centre for Ceramics and Enamel) and teacher at the Art and Ceramics “Ecole Supérieure” in Tarbes, he strives to promote creativity and innovation in industry.

Gérard Borde, you are a ceramist given the title of Maître d’Art by the French Ministry of Culture. Where does your passion for ceramics come from?

This passion started when I was 17-18 years old, when I started to be involved in creative projects. I then went to the fine arts school in Limoges. I really enjoyed drawing, modelling and sculpture. On graduating in fine arts, I started working at the Manufacture de Sèvres porcelain factory, before leaving to orientate myself more towards the artistic world.

Image of Gérard Borde

Gérard Borde © Pour L’Intelligence de la Main

What makes this ancient material so modern?

Ceramics is a generic term that encompasses many materials. It has infinite possibilities and applications from medical uses to space exploration and planes. People don’t imagine all the different things we can do with ceramics such as building car engines, satellites and mirrors. It is a key element in helping to modernise techniques and technologies. Silicon carbide, for example, is used in aerospace to make optical mirrors and for mapping the stars. It can resist temperature of up to 2200℃, which makes it more resistant then precious stones. As it doesn’t exist on earth (only in space), we re-create it.

Ceramics are also used in the medical and biomedical fields for any elements that enter the human body. For example, we make aluminium oxide sponges on which to regrow skin. We are increasingly able to master ceramics, in the same way as plastic. I am passionate about making this material available to artists, so that we can be more innovative, and go faster and further. It’s fabulous!

You’ve worked with artists such as sculptor-engraver Francois-Xavier Lalanne and painter Zao Wou-Ki. What is the common theme running through all your collaborations?

I’ve worked a lot with Marc Aurel. We met more than three years ago at a project bid for the Ministry of Culture to create street furniture. Before this, we never street furniture made solely from ceramics. Sometimes ceramics were stuck on to concrete, for example in Portugal, but rarely more than this. There was no good reason not to use ceramics – it’d even been used to make bullet-proof vests! As Marc Aurel and I had a lot in common, we decided to work together. I work with all kinds of artists from designers to architects, plastic artists like light designer Yann Kersalé. There are so many different ways to use ceramics.

Image of the "Beirut" Chair by Borde and Aurel

The “Beirut” chair: a painted metal structure with ceramic seat © Pour L’Intelligence de la Main

Sketch of the "Beirut" chair

Preparatory sketch for the “Beirut” chair © Pour L’Intelligence de la Main

You’ve just won the Bettencourt Prize for your collaboration with Marc Aurel. Do you think that this meeting place between art, craftsmanship and industry is a direction that has lots of potential?

Industrialists are often short on money. Our role to develop objects that add value in terms of innovation. An artist can’t contact companies directly, they need an interface like ours to act as an intermediary. Manufacturers trust us because they have already worked with us. We develop industrial projects and we are constantly creating. This is a huge advantage for them as it means they don’t have to worry about product development.

Light from Ceramics Collection

Light from the Ceramic® Range (Technilum), Gérard Borde and Marc Aurel

What projects will you be working on in the next few years?

I have lots of projects with Marc Aurel. The Bettencourt Prize has opened up many doors and we’re firstly going to finish several ongoing street furniture projects particularly regarding lighting. Artists are also increasingly keen to work with me. They are more interested than ever in using ceramics to diversity their activities.

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