Human activities have caused territorial, structural and climate changes to such an extent that a new geological era, the Anthropocene, is now in place. Data demonstrate that the alterations to the earth's surface caused by mineral extraction and construction have reached such an impressive scale that they have surpassed the transformations due to natural erosion processes. Man can be considered the most significant geomorphological factor of the twenty-first century.
The observation of the environmental crisis we are experiencing, combined with the interest in the origin of the materials that constitute the objects of our daily life, urged us to delve deeper into the implications of our ceramic production, to broaden the reflection on the responsibility we bear, both as artisans and consumers.
The use of materials and resources, required in the making of any object, cause transformations to which we, ceramists, contribute too. This thought materialized in a collection of "extracts", that comprises the most common objects in our homes: a set of ceramics for the table. The collection is completed by three containers on whose surface the shapes corresponding to the negative of the pieces are shaped: each element can be inserted or removed from the corresponding location when necessary. In the daily ritual of setting the table, the act of extracting the clay used for the objects themselves becomes explicit. The empty space inevitably left by the use of minerals remains visible in the center of the table, to remind us that the creation of ceramic products also involves the consumption of natural resources, and therefore contributes, although on a smaller scale compared to other industries, to the environment and landscape modifications at the hands of man.
Trying to avoid any moralism, we developed this collection to stimulate critical – and self-critical – thinking. Far from providing solutions or answers, the work leaves us with many open questions, representing a starting point to reflecting on our life styles.
To create the pieces in this collection we used three different clay bodies, similar in physical characteristics, but with a different story to tell. The choice of three materials is motivated by the desire to compare the narrative related to each of them. Indeed, they represent different approaches, each on with specific implications, the strengths and unresolved problems.
The first material (pieces 1A and 1B) is produced by a German company, which sells various stoneware mixes from the Westerwald region, rich in refractory clays. The clay colors depend on the specific chemical composition, which varies for each deposit. The history of stoneware is quite old, it began in 1300 and intertwines with historical events, the development of other materials, and the advancement in technological processes. To me, stoneware is interesting not just for its physical, aesthetic and material characteristics but also because it provides an example of how materials exist in a specific historical and social context, from which they cannot transcend.
Nowadays the exploitation of clay minerals in Europe and in the Westerwald region continues at full speed to serve the entire ceramic sector which includes many different industries. Concerning our small production: most of it is made of stoneware, because it ensures resistant and long-lasting products in line with the studio's philosophy. Using a non-local resource offers an advantage in terms of the durability of the objects produced, but has an environmental cost.
The second material (piece 2) is a mixture entirely reclaimed by collecting the water used in various studio operations. A sludge is first separated from water and then brought to the right plasticity. In this case the recycled material is made up of a mixture of clays, the color of which is variable and unpredictable. This material reflects a responsible use of resources, while embodying a paradox: a recycled material exists if there is an inefficient process that produces waste upstream.
The third material (piece 3) is a local clay collected manually in an area 75 km away from the studio. The site is Tretto, a hilly area in the municipality of Schio (Vicenza), where clay minerals have been extracted since the sixteenth century. The "white earth of Vicenza", or the "caolino del Tretto", used for the production of local ceramics, was an important resource for the district, as it contributed to the development of an industry that ceased activity in the 70s of the twentieth century, when it could not compete anymore with cheaper products for abroad.
By repeatedly visiting this site, it was possible to directly observe the transformations due to the clay extraction activity in a very contained context compared to central Europe. But above all we had the opportunity to observe how the landscape continues to transform, more or less autonomously, when the human activity ceases. The area today is dotted with abandoned buildings: an industrial archeology that seems to be about to disappear like the history of which it is the last testimony, while nature regains possession of the land, camouflaging its traces without probably ever being able to completely erase them.
To obtain the clay necessary for this work, the least invasive approach possible was adopted, collecting a few kilograms of clay found in a roadside site, where natural soil and material of anthropic origin had been accumulated and abandoned.