An Archaeology of the studio
In an era defined by heightened environmental awareness and the need for circular practices, the world of ceramic art faces its own set of challenges. Among these, the age-old craft of glazing poses particular difficulties in terms of recycling and environmental impact. Leftover glaze materials, often infused with glassy components, introduce complexities into the recycling process, ultimately contributing to various forms of pollution, including chemical and toxic contaminants in the soil. Additionally, the disposal of glazed ceramics often uses high-temperature kiln firings, resulting in increased energy consumption. Recognising the importance of considering the complete material life cycle and the intrinsic value of materials, this project endeavours to instil a sense of circularity within the ceramic studio. The essence of circularity revolves around the idea of upcycling previously used materials and waste, repurposing these resources to breathe new life into the world. The research on the ways the waste produced in the studio can be reused happens through rethinking traditional techniques such as slip casting, the agate technique, and the technique of terrazzo making. As ceramic artists, our daily connection with clay forms a profound link to its ancient history. This integration, drawing from various historical disciplines and practices, finds its inspiration in the realm of archaeology. Archaeology, with its diverse nature, serves as a collaborative bridge between diverse fields of human knowledge, offering a deeper understanding of material’s rich history and their potential for various innovative applications. Terrazzo, traditionally a flooring material characterised by the arrangement of marble or stone chips within a concrete mix, has been revisited to confront the challenges posed by glaze waste in ceramics. The artist derives inspiration from the improvisational character of terrazzo, where the arrangement of materials constitutes a creative and organic process. This tradition undergoes a reinvigoration, in order to align with the principles of circularity. Salvaged and seemingly unusable glaze remnants find their place in the clay body, in a manner reminiscent of the traditional technique of terrazzo making. In the initial phase of the research, the artist undertakes the creation of a series of handmade tiles, made from a circular adaptation of terrazzo. Engaging in an improvisational, action-centric, embodied, and situated activity, the artist draws inspiration from craft traditions and archaeological insights. Through further exploration of the aesthetics and practicalities of glaze, a series of unique vessels emerges, in which the viewer can discern a relative chronology based on the sequential layers of reclaimed matter. Each layer represents a distinct moment in time, as if mirroring the strata of geological formations. When fired in the kiln, the two materials create a surface that reminds of geological formations. Eventually, each piece is named after a different type of rock formation.
Employing tactics of reverse archaeology, the artist provides insights into the historical context of the materials, while envisioning the potential for an alternative future. Each piece is meticulously crafted projecting forms of anonymous art and architectural forms, reminiscent of archaeological artefacts. They embody a sense of continuity and transformation, as they are born from an atelier that reverberates months of creation within a single unit. The final objects serve as tangible artefacts of a circular perspective. As we begin to view waste as a resource, new chains of value are forged, turning artefacts into not just isolated elements but cables of remembrances and history.
This body of work has been meticulously crafted using a material formulated from reclaimed ceramic studio waste. The making process passes through a lot of stages and employs various techniques each one of which results not only on a different visual effect but also from a technical point of view on a different way of use. The initial objective was to create a circular version of terrazzo while simultaneously repurposing surplus glaze remnants. Employing a distinctive method reminiscent of the traditional terrazzo technique, the artist got involved in a process of layering reclaimed clay and repurposed, unused glaze fragments. The initial stage involved utilising the slip casting technique to create an array of tiles in varying dimensions.
Throughout the research phase, the artist subjected specimen tiles to a variety of firing temperatures, ranging from the lowest to the highest, to assess the material's durability and its evolving aesthetics. At lower temperatures, the residual glaze retained much of its original form, culminating in a terrazzo-like finish for the final product. However, at higher temperatures, the glazes melded more extensively within the clay, resulting in an unknown type of marble effect.
The next phase of this research involved the creation of vessels crafted from the material to further investigate its structural capacity. Drawing inspiration from terrazzo-making techniques, the artist utilised a blend of clay derived from sink sludge and fossilised glaze. To achieve the desired shapes, the mixture was meticulously placed into plaster moulds. Once the material had dried sufficiently, it was carefully released from the moulds, and the artist initiated a process of carving the interiors. The excess material generated during this phase was retained for later use. Subsequently, the artist employed a pottery wheel to refine and sculpt the vessels, each of which underwent a bisque firing. The artist's commitment to circularity is further evidenced by the reuse of excess material, which was repurposed to craft supplementary components for the vessels.
Taking inspiration from the agateware technique, the artist executed a meticulous wedging process, melding clay and glaze in a manner similar to the agateware tradition. This technique ended up to agate slabs, their colours enhanced by the deep integration of residual glaze into the clay. These slabs, in turn, served as the foundation for the creation of additional components and tiles with a different visual effect, enriching the artistic process with their distinctive character.
After nearly a year of intensive material research and experimentation, the artist has successfully implemented an efficient waste management system within the studio. Notably, the sink sludge has been repurposed and stored for use as a substitute for liquid clay. This innovative recycling process minimizes waste and enriches the artist's repertoire of materials.
Furthermore, the disposal of glaze now follows a meticulous categorization based on their respective melting points and food-safe properties. This classification ensures that, in subsequent phases of the project, the artist can have better control over the visual effects and the suitability of the final objects for food-safe use. This conscientious approach not only enhances the creative process but also promotes the circularity and safety in the production of the artworks.
Information submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank.
Reclaimed clay, glaze residue