Studio ThusThat: Kevin Rouff, Guillermo Whittembury, and Paco Böckelmann, explored ways of transforming 'red mud'—a waste material of the alumina industry—into a series of ceramic objects. Red Mud is the first stage of their ongoing investigation into industrial waste. Also known as bauxite residue, red mud is a byproduct of refining bauxite ore into alumina, the precursor to aluminium. It is made mostly of iron oxide, also known as rust, which creates its vibrant colour. However, it contains large amounts of alkaline which is difficult to neutralise. Roughly 2.5 times the amount of Red Mud is made for each part of aluminium, creating vast red landfills.
The designers have developed a process to reuse red mud much like a common clay, to make a series of ceramic tableware. The result is a ceramic body without the alkalinity. When they developed the glazes with red mud, they incorporate its natural oxides to lend its red colour.
The focus of the project is not to propose a 'silver bullet' solution that would remove all the red mud from the land – a gargantuan task that has been researched for decades—but rather to create a new narrative for a contentious “waste” whose many proven methods of safe reuse are curbed by negative press and legislative measures. The opaque nature of the industrial process, its brute mechanisms, and its large scale all run in opposition to the warmth, fragility, and finesse of ceramics. It is precise because of this contrast that they chose to make red mud into a ceramic – to challenge how people perceive industrial waste. Indeed, many of these wastes are problematic when left in landfills; this shouldn't stop us from finding new uses for them, particularly when it’s been demonstrated by research.
The pieces were made using a combination of traditional ceramics production processes, along with scientific experimentation and analyses. The material can be used in a similar fashion to other iron-rich clays, albeit with reduced workability. Press moulding and slip casting were the primary methods used.
Information submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank.
Bauxite residue, glaze, metallic oxides
Collaboration with Joris Olde Rikkert
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