Online Seminar

Process and Materials

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Hi, My name is Elise Eeraerts and I am from Belgium. I'm currently based in the Netherlands as a participant of the Jan Van Eyck Academy, I'm going to talk about a few of my works in this video. My works are usually experimental and often site specific, but some of my works revolved around soil, ceramics, clay, and I'm gonna focus on these works.

The first work I would like to talk about is Bumbu. It's a work which consists of a video and ceramics. The video is 22 minutes long, and it shows the whole process of how a series of sculptures were made. These sculptures were made in Senegal together with local crafts women. It was a participatory collaborative process, through which ceramic objects were jointly created.

An important part of the video is that it shows the whole making off process, including the parts where raw materials come from nature and it's shown how they're processed. For instance, the weeds, the dung, the soil itself, the clay soil, all these things are collected and at the end of the video you see how the ceramics are burned, how they are fire-hardened in the landscape through these traditional technique.

The word Bumbu means the beginning or the foundation of a pot. Specifically, it means the beginning of a pot which is produced by the use of a mold. The ceramic series were a collaborative process with the local crafts women, each of us would make parts of one object though our own methods. I would work with a mold of a geometric and modular shape and they would work with more organic form. Together these objects showed a lot of contrast because because of the different ways they were made, but also because of the different techniques we were using. It was nice to see how these objects came together.

Another project is called Burning Mass, like the previous project, it's a video and a sculpture. The sculpture is site specific and it is created in Belgium. It uses the traditional method of a brick clamp. The bricks were also made by using a mold, they were made one by one though a manual method. In total we had more than one thousand bricks, after the bricks had been made, they had to dry and after being dry, they were fired in the landscape through these traditional technique.

In order to make the sculpture we had the support of a brick-maker who knew the traditional method together with his father. Because these traditional techniques can be very specific, you really need a know-how through experience in order to make a sculpture like this. It was very beautiful to see the work being fired in the landscape, it was fired in the same location where the soil was sourced in order to make bricks.

At the end you had some parts from the outside shell of the brick clamp, which would fall apart, like some parts would deteriorate and they would just go back to the soil and be recycled there. Other parts were very hard and cause of the heat differences there were different colors. Some shapes would also deform a little bit because of the extreme heat in some places and less heat in other place. The core part of the sculpture was so hot that it melted together. In exhibitions I usually show the video as well as these big chunk of bricks. Most of the sculpture consisted of individual bricks, these bricks are modular, so they can be placed together in order to make a wall or any any possible shape.

The work Burning Mass originated from visiting the brick-maker several years ago. When I went there for the first time and I saw this huge clamp with bricks, I was really struck by seen such a big mass of bricks together. I also didn't know at the time what it was used for, or I had no knowledge at all about this creation method. Then when I was informed about why it was put that way and I knew what was the method about, it stucked with me for a long time. I think when there's something that you are not familiar with, especially when it's so big in scale, it can really have a lasting impression. That's why I finally decided to make the work Burning Mass.

The next project I'm going to talk about is called Surfaces. I have one module here from this work. This particular module has been executed in another color than the original because the original was black, so this is a variation. Surfaces was an installation which was mostly comprised of units in porcelain, in plaster and prints. The reason why I got interested in porcelain is because doing a kind of marbling technique, I thought the material could be quite deceiving, so you wouldn't immediately recognized the precise material. Then I also started to photograph or to scan a very small fragments and enlarge them in prints, that's how this installation was inspired on the marbling technique.

In churches you can see huge pieces of marble that are incorporated in the architecture. But then, in new classicism, a lot of these surfaces were made in a fake way, they made marble imitations by using plaster or by using paint. When I went into these kind of churches, I thought the approach to the material and also the role of the surface could be questioned. For instance, the overlap between the stability of the church and the role of the elements, a fake column doesn't play the same role as a really column. I found in this neoclassicism buildings it's very fascinating how these things come together and how they are not what they seem, that's the inspiration for this work.

In Surfaces part of the installation is made of porcelain, and I thought it's interesting in comparison to previous ceramics I used. Porcelain seems to be a more fine and more advanced technique, where you also need a much higher temperature. I gradually dive deeper into ceramics.

The shape of these objects are modular, so actually, they're the same shape that is used in Burning Mass, they go together. The name Surfaces and the concept behind, relating to Neoclassicism, also refers to a more general limitation of our perception as human beings we are confronted with, when looking around us. For instance this is a surface, we can't see through the core of the material, we cannot see if this is full or hollow if we just look this way. We're always limited, even if we have a massive marble piece and we know that it is real marble, the only thing we can really distinguishes is the surface. Then putting it together with feeling, the weight and so on, we kind of puzzle in our head what something is. I think in sculpture and being a visual artists, especially with ceramics, I have to know the material and process it myself, so I do get the knowledge about what things are made of.

The next project is called Recursive Volumes and it a project from last year, 2018. It consists of a video and sculptures, it was produced in France at the Atelier Calder. For the sculptures I have some scale models here, so this is their shape. The sculptures consist of a series of smaller sculptures which are about 30 cm, and then there's also a larger spatial sculpture which is 10 times bigger. It has the size of a space and you can actually go inside. The larger sculpture has an opening and all the sculptures were made out of clay. The smaller sculptures were fire-hardened inside the shell of the larger sculpture through which the larger sculpture itself was also fire-hardened. This process took place in the landscape and the firing process is documented by photograph and video. The firing process took place for long periods, so it was day and night, per session (one day and one night per session). In the video you can see where the clay was sourced, which was a local clay quarry very close to the residency where the work was produced. In the clay quarry, filmed in the video, you see the clay in its natural condition in the landscape and you also see (in the video) the working process in order to make the large sculpture from clay, which is a very direct method to create something. So you see the raw material being converted into final object.

In this project, not only the material and the process is important, but also the shape of these objects. Because you have the object in two different scales I can question how we project meanings onto objects through their size. In the work itself you also see the large sculpture containing the smaller sculptures while they're being fire-hardened, so seeing both together also creates this image where a scaling operation could occur infinitely.

The last project I'm showing you is called Ritual Reality and it's also a project from last year. It's comprised of photographs as well as a site specific sculpture which was made for the space where it was exhibited, which is also in France. This is the flyer from the exhibition and here you see Ritual Reality, in the background you see Recursive Volumes which was also in the same space. This project, however, was really made for that particular space because the space contained empty rooms under the floor level of the exhibition, which are usually covered by wooden boards. But I opened them again and integrated this work, which is also made of soil that had been fire-hardened. These parts had been fired outdoors in the proximity of the exhibition space and then they were transported into those empty holes. The way this project was made is also documented and it's being shown through photographs in the exhibition. You can see in those photographs how each sculpture is made out of two halves, those two halves contained soil and wooden beams which are stuck. You see the firing process of those wooden beams, after they have been burned completely the ceramic substance or the soil has bean vitrified in all the edges. Then the work had been put back into the space to be exhibited in those negative spaces and hey have been surrounded by the same kind of soil which has been used to make those sculptures in the first place. So you see deconstruction of the raw material the source material and then the processed material in the sculpture itself.