Martina Schoder
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A sculpture project with site specific works of third year students of the ceramic design department at the Mount Scopus Campus of Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, Israel in May 1994.

The Project
"Large scale self-firing clay sculpture" is a hands-on exploration of materials and techniques under unusual, not fully controllable conditions. The open-air „oven-sculptures" with their visible traces of woodfire show a unity of form and the petrifying firing-process. Prime importance is placed in the experimental nature of the working methods. Team-working of two or more students is recommended.

Participating students
Amir Afrimi, Erez Biton, Ravit Birnboim, Revital Ben-Asher, Jaara Carmi, Sarit Etinger, Brigitta Hybholt, Tamar Kasher, Daniela Kosis, Michael Potilov, Igor Uskin

The Concept
The main subject of the project is the idea of "the way being the goal". This sounds simple, but to find a healthy dialog between analytical thought and intuition is one of the hard things to achieve in artistic practice.
Process oriented work is leading to such a dialog, where practical experience can be transformed directly into aesthetic concepts. Both the handling of large amounts of clay and the use of unconventional firing-methods are exercises in learning to take risks. Not only practical risks, but also aesthetic risks. Working with chance-operation is training the artists creative muscle and imagination, it is an exercise on how to let new ideas enter your work.
Beyond these fundamentals of the creative act the project touches upon 2 main conceptual issues:
1. aspects of temporary art objects and site specific installations as a temporary art form
2. the relation between art and the environment, in urban places referring to the quality and scale of architectural space, and in rural places referring to the landscape.
Technical Information
The work is built from a heavily grogged, low-shrinkage, mid-range clay body. Each student needs about 500 pounds of clay. Cracking is unavoidable, it is part of this fast working-process and typical material language. We may be finishing off the top of the work while force-drying the bottom already with a small fire. While raising the temperature to about 1100° C during an 8 to 10 hour wood-firing, an insulating shell from straw and slurry is applied to the sculpture to maintain the heat. This shell and the temporary fire chamber are removed from the final form.

After the project: large scale self-firing clay sculpture
In 1990, Bezalel Academy changed from an urban campus, spread all over Jerusalem city in various locations, to move to its new building at the University campus on Mount Scopus, one of the prominent mountains outside of the city. I had never visited the new location before, but none the less planned an outdoor sculpture project for an intensive work period of 4 weeks with the third year students at the ceramic department. The site augmented all my expectations, offering a breath-taking view over the expansive landscape of the Judean desert.

Our project has brought the first site-specific outdoor sculpture to the new academic building, a multi-level, cascading structure and highly original piece of post-modern Israeli architecture. We left archaic signs of fired clay visible to every passer-by right outside the ceramic department located at street level.

For the students it was a period of new beginnings in many ways. They left their accustomed studio space to trade it for the rough outdoor conditions of burning sunlight and gusty mountain winds. They learned how to cope with large amounts of clay and to explore unconventional firing methods. Our process - oriented work was not fully controllable and thus both exiting and frightening. Students mostly seek to master the material and techniques, but this time they learned to trust in chance-operation and discovered that „to go with the flow" is a most inspiring way to innovation. The process, not the result entered the focus of their work.

Open-air kiln-building was not entirely new to the students, but to build an oven-sculpture for its very own sake was new. The result was not a kiln to be reused for firing wares, but a form fired only once for its own vitrification. The sculptures were coil built from a heavily grogged clay body , forming thin walls which dried as fast as the building proceeded. The speedy sun drying caused numerous minor cracks which did not grow larger in the firing process.

The final sculpture was fired with an insulating shell of clay-slurry and straw, a method based on age-old primitive house-building techniques common in dry areas like Africa, India or Egypt. It is also known as simple kiln-building method in Greece and Turkey. I have encountered this method with the Belgian artist Anne Ausloos, who herself was inspired by the traditional brick production in her home in Flandern. The method is highly flexible and adaptable to different conditions, depending on the clay used, the location of the work and the ultimate purpose of the final structure.

Our main objective in the project was to experiment with clay building and firing methods. This primitive technique offers a fast way to arrive at large scale fired sculptures, yielding relatively temporary results. The sculptures may last for several years, but the porous material will gradually change and deteriorate under erosion. This aspect of temporary presence links the sculptures to the site, they become part of it and erode like the landscape they stand in.

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Großformatige selbstbefeuerte Keramikskulptur

Open-Air Studentenprojekt am Bezalel Campus, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem

Large scale self-firing clay sculpture

Open-air student project at at the Mount Scopus Campus of Bezalel Academy of Art and Design

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