The fired ceramic object is consistently linked with permanence, toughness, and decoration, but my focus turns to the frailty and humility of unfired clay, bound in the limbo of unaccomplished function as it hopefully awaits a transformation into higher purpose as fired ceramic material. It is in this state that I give the material new purpose as it creates visuals impossible with fired clay alone. This is accomplished through a variety of works such as sculptures, videos and installations.
Clay has a peculiar story to divulge to us: Created through painstakingly slow erosion of granite rock, it physically breaks off in microscopic layers and becomes permanently changed, stripped of the properties that once donned it with absolute strength as stone. Through the union of water particles, clay exchanges those once powerful properties when it was stone for those of meekness and submission as a plastic material which become whatever the hands of a creator destine it to be. It retains an absolutely perfect memory of every force applied to it, and the plasticity of wet clay means it is receptive to continual change similar to the constant flux of our brain cells through neuroplasticity. Nonetheless this meek behavior remains only as long as the clay contains water.
Water is the life-giving breath that gives clay its delicate existence. As clay dries and eventually exhales the last drop, the clay is no longer pliable, becoming stubborn and fragile as if it has experienced death. In this video work, the hardened heart experiences a baptismal-like soaking in water which brings it from death as a dried out substance back to life with renewed plasticity as it disintegrates, repurposing it as an amorphous material to once again submit to the hands of a creator. This much quicker erosion of reconstitution is paradoxically the process of being reborn despite its apparent decay.
STATEMENT ABOUT WOOD-FIRED CERAMICS
Potters have the pleasure of working with the world's oldest and universal art medium. Shards of ancient pottery tell us about the lifestyle and culture of a people long lost. Not much has changed in pottery-making over a few thousand years, and yet it seems that humans continue to find new uses for clay everyday. From homes to toilets, water filtration, spacecraft parts, sound amplification, teeth, wedding rings, prosthetics, hair straighteners, and a plethora of others, there are few things that clay cannot do.
There is a certain confidence one can have with their expectations for results from an electric or gas kiln, or even in a salt/soda kiln. The glaze is carefully chosen and applied for a certain look or effect. The difference with wood-firing kilns is that the potter takes a somewhat masochistic approach toward the unexpected that requires loads of patience, observation and hope. All of the hard work can be negated by one small oversight while managing a box of fire energy that reaches nearly 1/4 the temperature of the Sun's photosphere. Nonetheless the joy and amazement from a successful firing proves priceless and a worthwhile investment of time and effort.
In an anagama (Japanese for "hole kiln") wood firing, many months are spent making enough pottery and splitting enough pine and oak to prepare for the 7-10 day firing. An experienced team of potters is required for around the clock stoking of wood. The door is sealed and the firing begins; by day three the kiln is close to the prime temperature (between 2200-2350 deg F) and is maintained for the days ahead with constant stoking and strategic influx of the internal temperature. After a final stirring of the coals and taking it to about 2400 deg F, everything is sealed up. The kiln must be slow-cooled over several days to allow the natural ash glaze to mature, form crystals and to prevent any cracking. Most commonly, no pre-glaze is used in wood firing. The vessels receive all of their color and texture from ash that flies throughout the kiln, which then melts and sticks to the pieces between 2200-2400 degrees Fahrenheit. Every firing produces unique results, which is one of the main draws of potters to go through such a painstakingly long process when easier, quicker options for firing are available with electric kilns.
For a closer look at the process, check out the documentary I produced called "The Dance of Autash" here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iozWaPt_Kw