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Our experimental clay workshop was a hit and we succeeded in most of the goals we had assigned ourselves. On the first day there were 21 attendees and around 15 members took part in the burning the following day. Some came only for the kiln building and clay collecting, while others were more interested in the burning and the surplus-metal-work. Some members had assigned themselves as mere observers. We developed the workshop program very fast and were fortunate that our open call appealed to a very skilled set attendees. Some were knowledgeable of ceramics and experienced in construction work. The flow of events mirrored our previous trips to Kurängen spring and our efforts to work with the clay we collected from there. The burning process replicated the events of our first kiln building session but this kiln was built with more precision using mud cement to secure the bricks. The chamber where clay objects were placed was bigger then previously.

The program structure was easy to decide on, as the labour chores we needed to perform in order to built the kiln and process the clay, were well defined and simple. Preparing materials such as the mud cement and reclaiming the bricks, was demanding but the actual work did not require intricate or specialized skills. Mud is an educative technology #ॐ. The materials afforded improvisation and the development of makeshift tools. The attendees were divided into sub-groups based on their interests (kiln building, clay collecting & cleaning and Vartiosaari island strolls) which occasionally self organized to complete chores. I served mostly as a supervisor of the kiln building process, overseeing the hive of attendees assembling it.

The layout of the kiln was based on the affordances of the bricks. I think the geometry of the bricks had a stronger impact on the design then our desires. The kiln was made by the bricks. I think we all wanted to work with mud, bricks and heat and this guided our work. Before building we disassembled the previous kiln, which gave the group a good idea on how the new unit could be constructed.

The burning took place the following day. The temperatures inside the kiln chamber were uneven. A corner of it was overheated which lead to to clay melting and the opposing side was cold. None of our ash glazing experiments succeeded, which indicates that we did not reach a temperature above 1170°C. I think we were close because some objects with ash glazing had almost a glazing like surface. Sadly none of the object I made from the Kurängen clay showed any persistent glazing effects. A vase I made, which I intend to place inside the Kurängen spring for visitors to use, feels solid and looks great. I now prefer that the spring water will penetrate the earthenware object and that it comes a part of the spring ecology. Perhaps in time it will better document the taste of the water it will be submerged in. I will continue working with it as a part of the Nomadhouse-program.

I’m not a teacher by trade but I have strong ambitions regarding collective work and how collective labour efforts should be organized. I prefer to know how materials behave and what to expect from them before engaging. When working with wood (which I know a bit), this affords me the opportunity to guide attendees out of their comfort zone and to engage with tools or processes which they fear. I count a child using a power-tool as a success. I particularly remember a workshop where I showed a shy member how to use a dozuki saw. In the process I guided their hand and I remember that this physical contact activated something in our relationship. I knew how to touch them in a manner by which they could saw a block of wood with at ease, while maintaining and even expanding their personal agency. It was a gentle touch.

Laying bricks and preparing clay cement, required the adaptation of new skill sets and material knowledges. Because I was personally out of my comfort zone, I couldn’t reach out to the attendees as sensitively as I would have liked. The burning ended up being a show rather then a collective achievement. Similarly some processes of the kiln building felt deceitful. I was physically exhausted from the work, internally second guessing the design while attempting to assist people with masonry work. The stress resulted in situations were I presented my gut feeling as authoritative knowledge.

At times, this authoritative tone was needed to steer the processes, so that we could meet the schedules and facilitate the work cycles other sub-groups. But the tone does not emancipate the attendees. Rather it enforces pre-existing biases and hinders the attendees eagerness to engage with crafts & materials. Hence, material engagement with the environment, remains a matter of specialization and it does not emerge as a process which benefits from personal grounded stances and motivations. Personal, grounded stances should be the foundation of new mineral sciences.

This is sort of what Joreen writes in The Tyranny of Stuctureless (1970), mentioned earlier: The work was personified and the flow of events depended on our charisma. Our skills became embodied as the infrastructure of the kiln but we failed to include the skill sets of the group in it.

Fortunately my crafty blabbers, nervous laughters and the contradictory guidelines revealed the de-stability of my masonry & ceramic skills. I think the attendees mostly called my bluff and will build much better kilns in the future. Still, it would have been more fun and more rewarding to work from a more based position, to facilitate and not only to perform. Also, I don’t know what Elina and Monika were doing or how they felt during the two intensive days (and the four intensive days of preparation). We were all exited and happy with the results but it will require an intricate debriefing to set a trajectory to usher the experimental clay initiative forwards.

Towards new sciences!

Experimental Clay Workshop at Artist House Vartiosaari (6.-7. June)

Experimental Clay Workshop: Digging, shaping and firing from nature at Artist House, Vartiosaari island (FULLY BOOKED!)

Artist House in Vartiosaari island warmly welcomes you to the first workshop from the speculative nature series focused on CLAY. The workshop is hosted by  artists Monika Czyżyk, Elina Vainio and Eero Yli-Vakkuri who have formed an experimental clay group. The workshop has a DIY approach with a keenness to material experimentation and research. The goal of the workshop is to learn where and how to collect clay from its natural environments. How to clean and work with it. How to build your own ceramic kiln, how to fire it using local area resources as fuel and to enjoy the abundance of energy natural settings provide us. We will also prepare your own ash glazing, to complete a full geoartistic cycle.

Location: Taiteilijatalo, Artist House, from Reposalmentie 1 you can take the sun ferry.

Monday 6th of June. 10:00-18:00 (or as long as it takes). Building a kiln and preparing firewood.

Participants are welcomed with tea, coffee and spring water in the garden of the artist house. The group will share insight to Kurängen spring, a site where clay objects which will be burned in a kiln are prepared from. The group will divide based on their interest. The first half has the opportunity to join a sensual walk and dig or commence work on the kiln.

On the walk participants can either partake on a walk together to the heart of the island. The area with the richest biodiversity and swamp, the rich bacterial microflora allow more rare plant species to grow. From there we will respectfully collect clay. After the walk the clay will be cleared. Tools and stations will be provided. Participants can make their own small objects. The kiln building group will prepare mud-cement and lay bricks to form a functional kiln and prepare a lot of firewood for the next day’s burning session.

Tuesday 7th of June. 10:00 (or as long as it takes). Firing the Kiln We made and forging iron to pass time.

Participants will be welcomed with tea, coffee and spring water in the garden of the artist house. Participants can bring their own dry small objects ready for firing. Note that for the wood firing it is recommended to use more sandy clay. You are welcomed to experiment with glazing ceramics, arranging ceramics in kiln. As soon as the kiln is ready the firing of the ceramics begins. We will use three different techniques of increasing temperature and work on site by adding wood for 6+ hours.

You are welcomed to invent rituals by the fire with us. We can learn a bit about forging using scrap metal bits and rail track for an anvil. During the firing time we will eat a vegan lunch. It will be possible to visit gardens, and some sites in Vartiosaari island. At the end of the day after the ceramics have cooled a bit we will sneak a peak to them and leave them to cool overnight.

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We build a kiln with Elina and Monika. The construction was simple. Old bricks formed a square base for the fire (~40x40x20) with a half-a-brick size vent on the side opposing the opening. Bricks were laid to form a ~60cm shaft and a steel grill built in the middle. We used ceramic tiles on top of the grill to support the ten(ish) items we burned. The shaft was covered with a steel plate to keep the temperature. The opening had a partial brick door and holes in the kiln walls were filled using a clay/sand mixture for insulation. I had small bellow for building up temperature and a electric fan for building high heats (from Jesse).

The firing had three phases. 2 hours low heat using only wood as the fuel (this failed as the temperature rise too fast breaking an item), 2 hours of medium heat with more wood and energy form the bellow pumping up the temperature and 2 hours extreme heat with charcoal and the electric fan for extreme temperatures. We suspect we reached temperatures above 1100°C because a store bought glazing designated for 1050°C we used was burned. Some pieces which were closest to the heat also burned and showed charred glazed like surfaces, indicating the clay turned into lava.

While heating we practised forging using scrap metal bits and rail track for an anvil.

It took a day to build the kiln and prepare the firewood and a day for the firing. The items were left cooling over night. We used various clays and mixtures for the objects but clay from Kurängen spring worked best. We suspect it has sand particles in it which prevent extreme shrinkage, helping the items to not break in the heating. A thick jug I made from clay (partially found from the basin of the spring and three meters north east from it) is thick enough that contains water even without glazing.

We will do a new firing next month for glazing and making new things. For the glazing we’ll use a 1:2 ash and 1:2 clay mixture. The ash is from wood produced by the first burning and the clay from Kurängen. I’m in the process of washing the ash. The recipe and science comes from Phil Berneburg. We’ll build a bigger kiln and aim for a steadier pre-heating phase.

Using clay from a spring, to drink its water completes and begins a ritual a geoartistic-cycle. It feels powerful and I love that the process of preparing clay objects is thoroughly holistic: Using ashes from the first burning for the second burning glazing feels like a gaiaistic design. We also prepared small cups, which I’ll built a wooden tray for. The long term plan is deposit the items submerged into the Kurängen spring water, were they can be used by visitors and forest dwellers. The design of the items is utilitarian. The cups which we made don’t have any straight edges, which works well for the forest as it does not have any straight edges either.

A visit to the spring in long due. I should groom the garden of peat I planted.

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There are a few statues depicting Lenin in public spaces in Finland. I don’t care much for them, they look boring but I get a melancholic vibe in their presence. They feel like puzzles or glitches which echo desires from a past, in a language I don’t understand. They feel displaced and lonely.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, there has been an urgent push to remove all references to Lenin from public spaces. Turku is having their minuscule Lenin bust, situated at the corner of a silent street removed and Kotka is planning the same. Helsinki has a park called Lenin’s park which might get renamed. There might be others too.

Right-wing conservative politicians in Turku argue that their statue is due to removal because it “depicts an undemocratic and tragic phase in history, which does not manifest the developing cities strategy or the humane values of contemporary Turku city” (A loose translation of a statement by Turku major Minna Arve). Their critique does not extend to statues depicting different Russian tsars or Swedish kings. They want Lenin removed because it reminds them of communism.

Their argumentation is populistic and manifest the spite which past right-wing generations felt over the achievements of organized labour movement.  Moreover, the project is an attempt to evade discussing present day political relations and ties with Russia. Debating the removal of a statue is a convenient way to evade guilt over the fact that we –as the west we were– enabled Putin’s regime to emerge.

This evasion is useful for the present day Finnish politicians, who have leaned on Putin’s Russia and benefited economically from its exploitative and corrupted regime. For example Turku Energy was invested in the Fennovoima/Rosatom nuclear initiative and remained onboard in the project despite the Russian invasion of Crimea. Similarly National Coalition Party politicians have been acceptive to Russian oligarch investments (and a lot Finnish companies still operate in Russia), past Social Democratic Party leaders have worked for Nord Stream II lobbies and Centre Party leaders have taken positions in Russian banks and institutions.

The manner which the statues of a past communist figurehead is discussed, portrays them as been erected by an invading force. They were not. We did it because wanted to. It felt like a good idea at the time. Similarly, we have not been coerced into working with Putin – We took him as an opportunity and this backfired.

Removing a Lenin statue is much easier than removing the stench of failed business deals. The attention they are receiving is a symptom of diminishing political agency. People feel powerless, that they cannot change the current system. They are taking revenge on an image of past communist leader, because this is easier then figuring out why establishing liberal economical ties with the Russia state failed in developing a democratic society.  Lenin has a few theories as to why… #☭