Contemporary yet steeped in tradition: The Teapot Project of Hendrik Forster and Kenny Son

By Elizabeth Page

For many of us, teapots are part of our daily lives. They feature in many cultural and historical traditions but also in our everyday routines: enjoying a cup of tea after waking in the morning, making tea with colleagues at work, or sharing a catchup with friends. If you’ve ever had a teapot that just wasn’t quite right, you’ll understand that a well-considered design can transform your experience of the object: an ideal pour, suitable materials and a good capacity makes the world of difference. And when that teapot is beautifully crafted, it takes the tea experience to another level altogether.


Whether you’re a serious tea lover or simply appreciate a beautiful and well-made object, The Teapot Project is a must-see exhibition, exploring the traditions of craftsmanship and excellence in contemporary design.


The Teapot Project is a collaborative project between one of Australia’s most eminent silversmiths, Hendrik Forster, and Kenny Yong-soo Son, a celebrated emerging designer and object maker with training in Korea and Australia. For Hendrik and Kenny, the teapot was the ideal vessel for a collaboration, with its resonance across different cultures and eras.


‘We chose the teapot because it is used in both cultures as well as in Australia, so it would be substantial and challenging,’ says Hendrik, who was born and trained in Germany and whose commissioned works include Australia’s Royal Wedding Gift (1981) and tableware for The Lodge.


Ensuring each object is as functional as it as aesthetically beautiful, process and experimentation lie at the heart of The Teapot Project. The exhibition includes progress sketches and cardboard models, with an accompanying video documenting the extensive process of designing, testing and finishing the teapots. It strikes me as a difficult undertaking, but also a rewarding and fruitful one: the process is mesmerising to watch, interspersed with images of Kenny and Hendrik walking on Forster’s rural property, and the tea breaks and conversations underpinning the process as the sharing of ideas between friends as well as creative collaborators.


This sense of conversation and exchange between the works and between the artists is always perceptible. It is surprising how different finishes and handles on the one design can change the look and feel of the vessel. I can’t help but wonder how the acrylic handles would feel in the hand, as opposed to the red gum or the bamboo. Teapots with marbled green copper patination are placed next to bright gold and silvery rhodium-plated ones, creating a striking contrast of texture and colours. Elsewhere, a grid-like formation of nine teapots presents as a catalogue of different finishes. The effect here is more subtle but showcases the mark-making and minute details of each work, and how these differentiations bridge the traditional and the contemporary.


‘We wanted something that spoke of the traditional skill-set and detail, but to remain minimal and almost timeless in regard to aesthetics,’ continues Kenny. Cross-cultural and historical examples inspired the final design, a nonagonal (nine sided) brass teapot with an elongated handle and triangular spout.
The beautiful finishes, carefully selected materials, and superb crafting of these teapots offer a discussion into the past and present of the object; however, The Teapot Project is fascinating for many reasons beyond the works themselves. The exhibition offers an insight into the processes of experimentation and interchange between these two remarkable makers, and the sharing of their narratives in every aspect of the project.


The teapots are available to purchase for $900 each from Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre.
Telephone 62629333, email shop@craftact.org.au, visit craftact.org.au


What: The Teapot Project
Who: Hendrik Forster and Kenny Son
Where: Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre
When: 31 October – 14 December 2019