Rävemåla Residency 2019
Myself and the artist Jessica Mason were selected for the Rävemåla Residency in Kalmar, Sweden and spent the month of July 2019 there collaborating on a ceramics project.
Jess and I met whilst working with ceramicists and jewellers in Seville and came to realise that we share a passion for focusing on the experience our products give their user. We believe in embracing organic forms and traditional processes to create functional objects that feel human. We wish for them to create a connection between us and the natural world to make an everyday experience a valuable and joyous one. These are the concepts that we focussed on at Rävemåla.
At Rävemåla we would like to explore the concepts of storage and preservation as a reaction to the harvest season. Harvest traditionally connotes rural traditions and yet still is an integral part of all societies, rural and urban, in all countries and cultures.
We would like to explore the harvest specific to Rävemåla by exploring the local landscapes as well as meeting the local community to understand how crops and produce are currently valued and stored. As harvest has always been a community activity we would like to learn from the local population and be inspired by Sweden’s methods of farming and gathering.
Through the turmoil of Brexit in Britain we feel driven to find ways that we can creatively connect with European Cultures and traditions. With this in mind we would like to explore and learn from Swedish culture and history and draw parallels with our own country.
The first week at Ravemala has been weird and wonderful in so many ways. The clay from the local island of Gotland was waiting for us on arrival and we did not take long to convert a spare bedroom into our little studio. Jess and I are very similar in our need for a clean and uncluttered space to work and so we moved the majority of the room’s furniture into the loft and replaced it with two desks, two chairs and a plastic sheet on the floor.
We opened the first packet of clay on Wednesday morning and began by kneading grog (molochite) into it to give it strength. We attempted to work outside in the beautiful sunshine but sadly the clay dried out far too quickly so we hastily retreated to our studio and began our first coiled vessels. Using the ancient technique of coiling has been extremely interesting for me because it forces me to make in a far more organic way and is also teaching me the art of patience. Initially I used vessels found around the house as a template to make the base of my forms (to ensure they stayed symmetrical) but I quickly changed to ‘freehand’ coiling to allow me more freedom with my shapes. Although we have produced a fair amount, I feel daunted by how fast the first week has gone. We are hoping to do a test pit firing on Wednesday of next week (if the clay has dried sufficiently – hence the patience issue) and from then we will build the final pieces.
I am also really interested in how our ideas around the project have developed. Although our initial plan was to simply create food storage I have become interested in alternate vessels to promote sustainability in other ways such as reducing water waste. The house has played a major part in producing these thoughts due to the lack of running water….
Experimenting with mark making and realising how different textures can affect the way that you use/react to an object has also been intriguing me and as I get to know the clay better my textures are becoming more extreme and outlandish.
We would like the outcome of this residency to be a collection of large storage jars/urns to be used to gather the ‘house’ harvest for years to come.
These would help encourage future visitors to gather and preserve the produce of the local land and promote sustainable living. We would like these vessels to be informed by the land surrounding the house and we also hope to transport several pieces back to the UK to exhibit and develop further.
The second half of our stay flew by and we had a few days of panicking that we were not going to get everything completed. We also received the unfortunate news that the Swedish government had introduced a fire ban which meant our plans for a pit firing were scuppered. We dealt with these set backs by drinking gin and swimming in the river and soon came up with an alternative plan.
As the fire ban does not restrict fires which are raised off the ground we decided to fire our pieces in oil barrels. We were kindly given two of these by a local farmer which we then drilled holes into to allow sufficient air flow. The downside to an oil barrel firing is that you have less control over the temperature and there is a danger of the clay heating up too quickly and smashing. To avoid this problem we put each piece into the oven to ensure they were bone dry. We also wrapped each piece in tin foil with a variety of organic materials including saw dust, coffee, seaweed and copper. Prior to the firing we had done a lot of research into colours which can be produced naturally but we didn’t know what to expect with so many variables in the firing.
As can be seen in the images above getting all the pieces into the two barrels was a bit of a squeeze and we worried about them crushing each other when we piled on the logs. We were definitely right to be worried as when the fire was lit we began to hear the disturbing sound of smashing pottery. Clay shards started spilling out some of the air holes and we genuinely believed that we had lost all of them. So we did the only thing we could and opened a bottle of wine…
By 11pm that evening the fire had died and the barrels were cool enough for us to lift the lid and fumble around in the ashes to see what was left of our 3 weeks work. Doing this in the dark was probably not the most sensible idea but we were too excited to wait until the morning. To our surprise and glee there were several pieces still intact. Many had handles or lids missing but their colours were amazing and together they looked like they’d been dug up on an archaeological dig.
The next day we brushed and cleaned all we could and photographed them before arranging them in our studio room to leave for the next visitors to Rävemåla.
We brought 40kg of beautiful Gotland clay back to the UK with us to develop our favourite pieces into market ready products - so watch this space.