Apr 16, 2008

the soft earth

i've been in woods hole the last couple days for a meeting of the biodiversity informatics advisory group for the encyclopedia of life. (about which, more anon.) i got in on sunday afternoon, after driving two boxes of books over to glenn and ilene's and walked out to get a cup of coffee and get some work done. along the way, a poster in a window of the firestation caught my eye: "the soft earth, ocean sediment glazed pottery." i called the number listed and joan lederman answered. we arranged to meet outside the coffeeshop so i could see the studio.

the soft earth neatly encapsulates the approach to art that depends on and embraces a degree of unpredictability in process, as well as the consciousness of ephemerality (of opportunity, material, result). some sediments work well, others work poorly, some don't work at all; as joan puts it:

The more I use a sediment, the better the outcomes are, usually ... but then they'll be gone, so I'm always testing some while relying on others I know better. I have over a hundred glazes, including some untested from recent cruises. That's why my work constantly changes.
the sediments come to her from oceanographers after they're done with whatever tests they collect them for -- each sample of sediment has a relatively precise location attached to it, as well as a bunch of metadata (the collecting vessel, date, etc). she adds water and that turns it into a glaze, but the variability of composition causes glazes made from different sediments to act and look extremely different. despite the variability, there's a certain morphological similarity in how glazes from the same sea look. here's a plate featuring sediments from seven seas (indian, atlantic, bering, antarctic, mediterranean, black, pacific), collected by seven ships (atlantis II, r/v knorr, uscg healy, r/v oceanus, r/v thomas thompson, r/v new horizon, nathaniel b. palmer)*, which of course brings to mind the seven seas passage in john fuller's a skin diary.

joan lederman

some of the glazes automatically produce a dendritic pattern on firing. apparently this is produced by the dead skeletons of foraminifera in the sediments affecting the flow of the fused glaze material. here's a particularly nice one:

joan lederman

it would be great to be able to navigate her work using a map:
  • plate-view: where each work is represented by markers showing the source of the glazes and earths
  • world-view: where pins represent the world of work, with a marker for every glaze source
* the catalogues and lists are deeply evocatory, particularly of ships, since they frequently are qualities or eponyms that bear a certain weight of their own. everyone knows of the catalogue of ships in homer, but iain m banks has also, clearly, taken it to heart (and also here).

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