Arni Aromaa’s ambiguous Primordial Animals are crafted in small series, making each sculpture a unique piece of art. Design Stories asked the Finnish designer and artist how the adorable creatures came to be and what makes ceramics such a fascinating material.
WHAT SIMULTANEOUSLY RESEMBLES a whale, a wombat, and even an armadillo? Not many things, probably, but one such creation are the Primordial Animals by the Finnish Arni Aromaa. The small ceramic sculptures boast a charmingly rounded, deliberately ambiguous form.
“The name Primordial Animal refers to ancient creatures, the ancestors of animals,” Aromaa says.
“I wanted to leave it vague and ambiguous so that there’s room for interpretation. Someone might see the sculptures as four-legged whales, someone else as wombats or capybaras. Someone once told me the creatures look like their dog. Depending on the pattern on the back, the sculptures might even look like centipedes or water bears!”
Aromaa is best known as an industrial designer, and as his day job, he works as the creative director of Pentagon Design, the acclaimed design agency he founded with Sauli Suomela in 1996. Ceramics function as a creative outlet that he works on in the evenings and during the weekends. Yet, the small series production has developed into a whole herd of Primordial Animals.
“I think I created the first Primordial Animal in 2014, and now I think there are about 20 different models,” Aromaa says. “The first ones I made myself from start to finish, but now I’ve employed a trained ceramic who casts the sculptures from porcelain.”
At Finnish Design Shop, the Primordial Animal sculptures come in 15 different versions. The colors are divided into three main groups or color families if you will: natural tones, red tones, and blue-green tones. The idea is that the sculptures of each color family can easily be combined – although, it is also possible to mix and match the shades as you like.
The cute creatures are made from dyed-through porcelain and finished by dipping them into glaze upside down so that the lower part of the sculpture remains unglazed. In addition, the creatures’ backs are decorated with stripes, waves, or dots, depending on the model. The patterns are created using the traditional shellac technique in which the pattern is pressed onto the porcelain with a lacquer that burns off during the bisque firing.
Due to the methods, each Primordial Animal is unique, and their eye placement or pattern may vary slightly. The glaze may also be positioned slightly differently in each one.
“I usually begin the process by sketching and planning what I’m about to make,” Aromaa says. “But with ceramics, more often than not it is the actual making that begins to guide you.”
This also stands for the Primordial Animals. The sculptures first came to be after Aromaa had visited a museum in Jerusalem, where he admired stone artworks made by removing as little of the stone as possible. Inspired by the primitive pieces, he began creating his own, modern versions that resembled rounded cubes.
“Already on my flight home I started sketching on the airline’s sickness bag,” says Aromaa.
”It was amusing to see that just by adding legs, such an abstract form suddenly became a creature!”
“During the design process, I happened to think about how much easier the firing would be if the pieces had legs. It was amusing to see that just by adding legs, such an abstract form suddenly became a creature! My next thought was that surely, I should also give them eyes. You could say that the evolution of the Primordial Animals started with a single-celled lump that developed legs,” Aromaa says.
What makes ceramics such a fascinating material for Aromaa is its unpredictability. It is also very versatile and adaptable, but what makes it most interesting is the fact that even if your idea seems perfect, it may not go to plan once you place the piece in the firing kiln.
“Ceramics can be used for so many things. But, on the other hand, it reminds us that you can plan and plan and plan but things may not always turn out as you’d expect. Sometimes it’s the material itself that tells you what to do and in which direction to go. And the end result may be even better than the original idea!”
3 x Arni Aromaa’s favorites:
1. Restaurant: Nolla in Helsinki
2. City: Copenhagen
3. TV show: Wheeler Dealers – “In the show, cars are restored to their original state. It intrigues me not so much as a car show, but a show about crafts and design.”
Text: Emmi Ratilainen Images: Finnish Design Shop, Niclas Mäkelä