Ceramics and pottery fascinate me endlessly. There is something so therapeutic about slapping clay onto the potter’s wheel and spending time moulding it into something beautiful. As you can now imagine, there has been a sharp climb in the potters I follow on Instagram — well, at least till the day I get myself stuck in. On the other end of the spectrum, I equally enjoy the reveal of freshly glazed pieces. The drama of these off-white pieces transforming into multi-coloured, amazingly textured pieces is better than any gender reveal I have seen.
Pottery and ceramics is also such a strong symbol of survival and adaptation. It all started with small, disconnected communities all around the world, surviving their own versions of industrial revolutions, adapting their styles and techniques to suit the time. And still standing strong, continually evolving. These designers are writing the next chapters of this ancient craft.
COFFIRE BY ZHEKAI ZHANG
Chinese Designer Zhekai Zhang’s latest collection of lamps, Coffire, might look like they are carved out of marble. They are not; the surface finish of these porcelain pieces was achieved by staining the surface with used coffee grounds that delivered an imperfectly random texture and colouring. A commercial commission to promote a coffee drink led the Chinese designer to contemplate the coffee waste that is generated each year. As a result, he explored the ancient Chinese pit-firing techniques. Using a gas kiln instead of a traditional sand pit allowed the Royal College of Art graduate to mass produce the pieces and avoid the high waste rate involved in the traditional technique. The coffee waste was then poured over each piece. The unique surface textures, pattern and colouring are a result of varying temperatures and humidity, even the density of the coffee grounds.
IGNORANCE IS BLISS BY AGNE KUCERENKAITE
A graduate of the Design Academy Eindhoven, Lithuanian designer Agne Kucerenkaite’s project uses industrial metal waste to lend unique character to ceramics. A statement on circular economy, Ignorance is Bliss explores how industrial metal waste can yield powdered dyes, which can be used for porcelain tableware and ceramic tiles. While some of the metal waste generated by soil remediation companies is mixed with concrete in the construction of new road, most of it ends up in dumpsters. As a result, heavy metals pollute the soil and water. Metal waste is often in the form of a sludge — containing mainly iron, as well as manganese, aluminium, magnesium, barium and zinc, depending on the location of the factory. The sludge is dried, milled and sieved before it can be used as a pigment instead of metal oxides, which are usually prepared industrially. Different metals yield different colours, as does the change in concentration.
ALL DIFFERENT ALL EQUAL BY RUOHONG WU
The Rotterdam-based designer was inspired to re-position China’s infamous mass-production image with this collection. On her trip to China’s porcelain capital, Jing De Zhen, she was shocked at the state of the industry. She arrived hoping to become acquainted with the traditional techniques of porcelain making; instead she was welcomed by abandoned factories and struggling makers producing cheap souvenirs. She wanted to create something that would contradict the current narrate. All Different All Equal was created using discarded slip-cast moulds taken from the streets of the city. She joined together mismatched parts of different moulds to create a family of objects that is characterful, contemporary and yet a celebration of China — both its age-old crafts and also its new-found love for mass-produced pieces.