Saturday, January 8, 2011

Because We Like It (April, 2000)

The pictures below are from a Concordia Fine Arts year-end off-campus Ceramics show, "C'est Rare, Cerart". The piece is called "Because We Like It", and it's a collaboration between me and my friend Garnet Muething.

Above: The "lichens" look like they've been glazed with Cranberry Rust, and the bowl at left was glazed with a layer of matte white with the rim dipped in Cranberry Rust.

The "collaboration" was not a strictly pre-planned one. Garnet and I had met and become friends because we were both take ceramics courses; she was a level ahead of me, and thus had more technical privileges (such as being allowed to make her own glazes). So at some point she offered to split a batch of porcelain with me, and so I got my first opportunity to work with something other than stoneware or earthenware. Garnet was using a special stoneware recipe as well as making her own porcelain.

Above: The lichens have been dunked in a grey-"hazel" glaze made by Garnet, possible with rims in Cranberry Rust. The bowl on the left was glazed matte white and the rim was dipped in "Raisin", a dark bluish-purple glaze made by our co-student Geneviève. It was part of the Cone 11 firing, hence the extreme effects.

We ended up making the clay, bisque firing our porcelain pieces, and then using the same glazes together (several of which were glazes Garnet had made), so although our pieces were for two separate projects, we eventually got the idea of combining them into a third different project and proposing it for the year-end exhibition. These pictures show parts of what we came up with, which we called "Because We Like It". I liked Garnet's project names--she had another one called "You Know You Want To", as I recall.

These lichens were dipped in matte white and then Cranberry Rust; the bowl is a Celadon, oxidation-fired (hence yellow, not green).

All my bowls and (I think) all Garnet's lichens--the name she gave to the little tube-like, organic-looking sculptures--were made with "sculpture" porcelain. We made this in large batches and stored it in our lockers until it ran out and a new batch had to be made. There's a long story here about me accidentally discovering that porcelain improves with fermentation (something the ancient Chinese already knew), but I'll save it for another blog post ;-)

Above: A Hazel bowl with clear blue inside. fired to Cone 9; Garnet's lichens are Hazel, possibly dipped with Cranberry Rust rims.

Porcelain is a clay that can be fired to very high temperatures without melting (though it does "vitrify"). So the glazes we used were for high-firing, and the highest temperature we were permitted to fire to was Cone 9, around 1,280 degrees C (pyrometric cones, designed to melt at certain temperatures, are placed inside the kiln and used to determine when the correct firing temperature has been reached).

Glazes when fired to high temperatures "behave" in a much less stable way than when fired to a lower level. This means that glaze effects are much more difficult to predict than they would be at a lower cone (04, for example, is a low firing temperature appropriate for terra-cotta, around 1,060 degrees C.). It's also harder to achieve "warm" colours (red, yellow, orange) at high temperatures, and to produce "bright" colours in general. That's why the brightly-coloured pottery you see in many stores is likely to be less durable--because it probably wasn't fired to a high temperature.

A nice view of my best "exploding star effect" bowl (Cone 11 firing). The lichens have Cranberry Rust (red ones on the right) and the Hazel/clear blue combo (at left).

Ceramic pieces are usually fired twice when they're glazed, as I explained in this post. After these pieces went through the bisque firing, they were dunked in one or more liquid glazes--many of the interesting effects come from combinations of glazes rather than one glaze on its own (though there can be considerable variation even with one glaze, especially in a reduction firing).

Above: dark clear blue bowl at left, with a Celadon (oxidation-fired) bowl on the right, filled with Hazel/clear blue lichens. The lichens on the left are dipped in another of Garnet's glazes, called "Mustard", with Cranberry Rust (I think; it's hard to tell).

One of the glaze firings went over-temperature by what looked like at least a full cone, but since the third cone was almost fully melted I assumed the firing had reached the equivalent of Cone 11, about 1,315 degrees C. (insert Spinal Tap jokes here). Fortunately for Garnet, none of her work was in that firing. I'll never forget the process of unloading the kiln, during which I learned a new French swearword (uttered by one of the other students when he saw the mess-!). The glazes had run all over the kiln shelves and in spite of kiln-wash, a lot of the pieces had fused themselves to the shelves, which of course had to be cleaned.

Yet from this spectacular screw-up came some of my most interesting and beautiful pieces, which I never would have achieved otherwise since the temperature limit was technically Cone 9. Because the glazes over-melted, they ran together/blended in unique ways according to the types of glazes and the shapes of the bowls to which they'd been applied. And in spite of my sloppy throwing technique, none of my bowls collapsed from the heat.

All three bowls visible in the picture above came out of the Cone 11 firing. At the back, the blue bowl was dunked first in matte white then edged with a clear dark blue glaze. The middle bowl was matte white with a Cranberry Rust rim (compare it to the other one above, with the same glaze combo; which was fired to regular Cone 9. Quite the contrast!). At the front is a bowl dipped in Garnet's Hazel glaze, edged with what could be Geneviève's Raisin or Cranberry Rust (again, it's hard to tell). The lichens in the centre are all fired to Cone 9 with Cranberry Rust; those at left were Hazel with dark clear blue.

That white/orange "starburst" bowl, one of the best from the firing, had attached itself solidly to the kiln shelf; I remember feeling afraid that I'd lose it (i.e. it would have to be broken off the shelf in chunks). Then a fellow student took the shelf, put her foot on it, grabbed the bowl and yanked it off in one piece--taking a chunk of kiln-shelf with it! I had to use a grinding wheel on it for about half an hour before the bottom of the bowl was flat again. Good times.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Development! 2: Commute (February 2007)

For twelve months during my Master's degree, I commuted from Hamilton to North York, in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). I took the #47 Go bus which travels along the "express" highway, 407. During the same period I also bought my first digital camera, and the many hours I spent rolling along through this landscape were just as often employed in photographing as they were in chewing through my course readings in linguistics.

The day I took these pictures, it looks like I took the 11AM bus from the Hamilton GO Station scheduled to arrive at York around 12:45PM, probably for a class at 1:30PM.

11:36AM: Carpool lot, Burlington, near Highway 407 & Dundas.

The pictures I took during this time were grouped in my mind with another set of images taken several years earlier, which I'd called "Development!"--they were taken in housing developments around the Hamilton/Burlington/Oakville area. I'm both fascinated and repulsed by what I call "cookie-cutter housing"; these kinds of buildings were the impetus for the original "Development!" project. The contemporary "row-houses" seen in the picture above lack all the charm of their distant ancestors in the city of London, England (for example). Somehow I doubt that in 100 years they'll have become any more appealing; in fact given the low quality of construction, they probably won't even be standing.

11:37AM: Carpool lot, Burlington.

This lot is the first of three we at which the bus stops. The second one is at Highway 407 and Bronte Road, and the last one is by 407 and Trafalgar Road in Oakville. I always found these lots very isolated, oddly located (for the convenience of the highway and the bus, not of travellers) and quite lonely-looking. I often saw people waiting late at night in the cold, and thought I'd prefer not to be in that situation.

11:54AM: Heading east, Highway 403, bound for Square One in Mississauga.

This is a detour that makes up for about 20 minutes of the bus route. And Square One is a strange outpost, like an groundlocked spaceport in a bad sci-fi movie, a cluster of faux-futuristic towers housing goodness knows what--perhaps the ubiquitous superficially lavish condos or office space well under the Toronto Downtown price--dotted around the large mall that doubles as a transit terminal.

12:11PM: Towards Bramalea.

My impressions at the time: "Canada—in some ways only this part of it, but to me, every part of it—is an amplified landscape: everything built bigger, split apart, fragmented and not made for human feet to traverse—now I know that part is Southern Ontario specifically, this GTA area as the real example. Southern Ontario’s sprawl. Highways, office towers, endless rows of identical houses separated by grassy spaces that hold massive pylons. It all marches off towards the horizon. And it all repeats, with the systematicity of technological reproduction."

12:12PM: I think this is the turning onto Dixie Road at the 407.

That sense of "amplification" that I wrote about at the time, during the trips I took, came from the impression of space taken for granted, assumed to continue without obstacle. It makes me think now of the differences between cities built on islands and peninsulas, and those like Toronto, Los Angeles, Atlanta, even London--that just keep expanding like little universes.

12:13PM: Another shot from the same position. Something dusty blue yet crisp about the light on super-cold days like this one, which was probably why I was taking so many pictures.

I've written here before about the contrast between the physical spaces of habitation in which I've spent my life--how when it was new to me, Canada was a simple hugeness, an incomprehensibly exaggerated version of what I had known previously. Even now, that early dim formation stays with me as a kind of rough schema that's been much worked-over and complicated over time, like an evolving collage of experiences and memories. The cities and highways are only a small part of that, but the impression is one of weird extremes of quirkiness and sameness.

12:23PM: Heading away from the stop at Bramalea, the last stop before York.

Sometimes on this bus ride, which I now make once or twice a week, I think about the space taken up by highways and roads and the way that space is in some sense nullified by its purpose, as space to be crossed only--or to be used for traversing space itself--not to be dwelt on or dallied in. There's no attempt to integrate these roads into a living space. In fact it's more the opposite--they are designed to segregate and to aid segregation (something I mentioned here as well), pushed out as far as possible from the places where people make their homes, ironically used as conduits for the passage to sub-/ex-urban retreat.