Studio ThusThat, composed of recent Royal College of Art graduates Kevin Rouff, Guillermo Whittembury, and Paco Böckelmann, explores ways of transforming red mud—a waste of the alumina industry—into a series of ceramic objects. Red Mud is the first part of their ongoing investigation of industrial wastes. 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 (a.k.a. rust), lending it its vibrant color. It packs an alkaline punch and is difficult to neutralise. And there is a colossal amount of it: roughly 2.5 times the amount of Red Mud is made for each part of aluminium, leaving vast red landfills.
The designers have worked out ways to process and use red mud much like a common clay, to make a series of ceramic tableware. The result is a ceramic body without the alkalinity. As an added touch, they then developed glazes with red mud, using its natural oxides to lend it color. The designers explain that the point of the project was 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 obscured nature of the industrial
process, its brute mechanisms, and its scale all run in opposition to the warmth, fragility, and finesse of ceramics. It is precisely because of this contrast that they chose to make Red Mud into ceramics-- to challenge how people perceive industrial waste at its core. 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 push is there—we just need the pull.
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.
Studio ThusThat – Red Mud (Video)
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Collaboration with Joris Olde Rikkert