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Slipping through the cracks

by Chloё Lalonde November 13, 2018
Slipping through the cracks

For ceramic artists, patience makes all the difference

Ceramics is an often overlooked art practice that requires tremendous patience. Yet it is the foundation for everyday life. Humans have been sculpting with clay since the dawn of time, making pots and bowls to cook with and store food in. Ceramics branches off of that. Now much more refined, the process creates delicate products to be used and admired. Ceramics are handled daily but rarely contemplated. Have you ever stopped to wonder how long it took to create the mug you ritually drink coffee out of?

According to the Concordia Ceramics Student Association (CCSA), there is a female majority in the program, and it is  entirely run by women. Among these is Sara Sadawi, specializing in functional objects like mugs, cups, plates and bowls. She particularly enjoys working with slabs of clay and using a technique called “slips” to add colour to her work. “Slips” is a form of pigmented liquid clay that can be applied to the surface of a project to add colour. Sadawi uses this method to create layers of colour, that, once carved into, reveal a hidden interior.

Although she usually works on many small pieces at a time, which can take from a few days to about a week to complete, her focus is currently on her first large-scale project: creating complex compositions out of handmade clay geometric forms. Sadawi has been working on the form for this assignment for three weeks, and hasn’t begun the additional two-week glazing and firing process yet.

Ceramic pieces can be made out of several different materials, or “clay bodies,” such as earthenware, stoneware, raku clay and porcelain. Each of their unique characteristics enable ceramic artists to vary the use and temperature at which the different clays can be fired in the kiln. According to Sadawi, stoneware is a mid-range firing clay body, which means the material must be fired at higher temperature compared to earthenware, a low fire clay, which requires much less heat.

Pieces are processed differently in each type of kiln firing. Using a wood, gas or electric kiln will have a different effect on the object being fired. According to CCSA, “the facilities and instructors at Concordia introduce students to a wide range of tools, techniques and processes for working with clay.” Over the course of the program, students learn how to mix different clay bodies, glazes and firing processes.

Catherine De Abreu created her globe, Anthropocene, using a combination of time-consuming techniques. Photo by Hannah Ewen.

Concordia fine arts alumna, Catherine De Abreu and Julie Lavoie are two of the five exhibiting artists at 573°, the Virginia McClure Ceramic Biennale currently displayed at the McClure Gallery in Westmount. Although they have very visually distinct bodies of work, both artists prefer to handbuild and smoke fire their pieces. Handbuilding means to sculpt the product by hand rather than use a mold or other tools. Smoke firing requires the artist’s physical and mental presence and can often take up to 13 hours. It is a time-consuming, hot and labour-intensive process. It can also completely change a piece, causing it to crack or burn to a crisp. While this may seem like a risk, it is a fact that ceramic artists embrace.

It is as though I am in partnership with the kiln,” De Abreu said. “I do my work, then the kiln continues independently.”

Handling rich materials like clay takes self-control, patience and the ability to let go. “As artists, in society, we have to endure a lot of patience not just in creating and completing the work, but also in finding a place to fit in, or not to fit in,” Sadawi said.

Sadawi will be participating in the Ceramics Student Association’s upcoming fundraiser, Come and get your pot! on Nov. 14 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in front of the FOFA Gallery in Concordia’s EV building.

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