Reaching the shores of Ithaca

But when the morning-star with early ray

Flamed in the front of Heav’n, and promis’d day,

Like distant clouds the mariner descries

Fair Ithaca’s emerging hills arise.


From The Odyssey

 

Why am I doing this? What does justify this struggle which comes hand in hand with making? Why going through this constant battle with materials and their nature, forcing, rejecting, compromising, restarting, losing or winning, accepting…

There is a different answer for every person.

For me, there is one intimate and deeply personal that keeps me going, trying and persisting when situations become precarious during making. It is the answer to the question whether this can be done.

Can the idea and design that my mind created take flesh and blood and become real and tangible? Can I get this moment of truth where I can lay my hands on the wounds and believe? As a sculptor, I feel like the doubting Thomas; I am not satisfied by the world of ideas and thoughts, by the world of the unconstrained and unlimited dreams. I want to touch, to see, to grasp, to caress, to smell, I want to sense the reality of matter. And only then I am happy, knowing that my ideas have transformed into material shapes, knowing that what I have made is out there in the imperfect world of reality. It does not matter if it is for only a fraction of a second. I long for a fugitive moment of a glimpse of the shores of Ithaca. This view of reality is enough to keep me going to the next adventure.

The installation of Dendrite was a bigger challenge than I expected, even after a month of thorough preparation, testing and planning. I knew that I would have to adapt to the conditions on site, but as in most things, experience is only gained the hard way. The first day unfolded mainly as expected and the foundations of the initial section were completed just in time before rain forced us to withdraw for a lovely dinner with our generous hosts and fellow artists. The surprises were kept for the second day. After raining all night, the ground was very damp and soft and took 3 long hours and lots of ingenuity to fix the central supporting leg. Then the race with the clock started as the fitting of the 2 branches should take place after the curing of the adhesives in order to avoiding stability risks. After 4 hours of wait I decided to remove the supports and see if the sculpture could hold itself.

It was a moment of splendour and horror. The first glimpse of the work in its entity was much better than what I had in mind. The real thing was truly there and so rightly placed. The angles were right and wrong in a perfect balance, the colours were strange but inviting and the arthritic form had the internal energy of a compressed spring. Hellas, this energy proved too strong for the joints where the adhesives had not fully cured, probably due to the wet weather. As the slow tension showed signs of opening joints, I had to stop the process and start repairs. But it was then that the rain started again and after a couple of miserable hours I realised that the materials were not setting and it would become messy if I continued working. I felt bad on the one hand because I would have to keep my good father in law another night away from home and on the other hand because I would have to ask Rinus for more time than initial planned for. But the understanding, support and hospitality of both Rinus and Aniet was exceptional and they kept us for another night making us feel as comfortable as possible.

All it was needed was time. The next day the structure has proved itself strong enough and within a gentle 2 hours of dry weather we managed to finish the repairs in the joints and complete the job. My heart was back in its place and the end of this journey was now within grasp. It was long and hard but wonderfully adventurous and full of exciting discoveries. Raising more questions than the answers it gave. Sowing the seeds for the next one to come.

The Dry Run

I was very pleased that the firings went well. The majority of the rings came out well, some slightly warped, very few cracks and generally they fit well into each other. They are not perfect but they never meant to be. Each one is different, individual, with its own character. They do get along well with their neighbours but they are not a perfect fit.

It was now time to see if the original design can be reproduced. The ‘Dendrite’ is meant to sit in 3 points which will create a triangle that will help support the weight of the main body of the ceramic branch. The question was whether the rings fit well enough to support each other and whether the different angles of the consecutive joints will level with the ground at the 3 points of contact. As I could not know this as I was making the rings, I made some spare ones hoping to use them to level the height.

As it was all ready for the ‘dry run’ my back ‘betrayed’ me. I am left with severe pain and incapable of lifting myself. But I was fortunate to have a good friend to help me out. Stelios came over to my garden and he was extremely patient following my instructions and extremely inventive in improvising ways of supporting the rings and measuring positions. With the help of the extra rings, it looks that the core structure fits well. The levelling of the 3 points is acceptable and I believe that any small differences can be sorted when I install this in Broomhill, with the help of some kind of a cemented basis. The size is good, very close to my original maquette. The colours and textures work well creating a feeling of ‘unexpected’ when seen in the garden. Some of them have industrial references, others are more ‘crafty’ and others are reminiscent of homeware pots.

The other thing we did was to make some templates mimicking the curves of the branches. These templates will be used to create a steel skeleton which will run inside the rings and ensure enough stability to hold the whole structure together. The plan is to make these from rebar which will be anchored in the ground at one end, and the other will follow the curves of the branches. At the installation, the rings will slide in and will be joint with sealant and secured internally with foam. The idea is simple and workable, but it will require more work on site during the installation.

20160430_200026_resized_2.jpgWith the clock ticking and the days approaching, I have to start joining some sections together, finish the skeleton, make a last test and prepare any supports, materials and tools for the final trip. Crossing fingers my back gets better…

Resorting to divine intervention is not my cup of tea. I am a stranger to the world of spirits and superstitions. As a sculptor, I am more of a materialist; I have to touch to believe. Sometimes I trust more my hands than my eyes and I don’t worry about mistakes. I find the accidents from experimentation fascinating. A whole world of discoveries opens up when things go wrong. It’s a new world to me even if others have been there already. I usually set up my firings in a way that there is room for uncertainty, there is a precarious balance, an untested glaze mix, a window of surprise and hope when I open the kiln.

But with Dendrite, I am in a different territory. The parts need to fit, the glazes need to work, firings need to be completed successfully. There is no room or time for things to go wrong and I dread to think of any cracks or misses.

Many years ago, I have made a small statue of a kiln, very rough and primitive, with a long chimney and I named it The Kiln God. It was a tribute to the good luck charms used since antiquity by potters around the world. I thought it would be nice of me to make a small offering to this Kiln God, hoping he will keep my firings safe and prevent any disasters until this project is done.

I leave now a jelly heart in his mouth every time I put the kiln on. Even if Jill, my studio mate, complains when the jelly melts and smokes, I still think it’s a good sign; he is satisfied.

TKG
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As the work progresses mixed feelings of satisfaction and stress emerge. One by one the pieces of the puzzle start matching and as I move into larger rings there is an element of wonder and a sense of achievement. Objects of unfamiliar big scale start filling up the small studio and I find myself surrounded by these remarkable tubular vessels. They are all individual with their personal form, texture and colour though they are part of the same story; they need to talk to each other. Their imperfections should be complimentary, and when the day comes to meet each other it should feel as they were meant to be together. But it’s a long way to Ithaka and a million things can go wrong. As they transform from mud to stone there are temptations and dangers and these clay characters have such volatile personalities.

Iacta alea est. Since the journey has started, there is no way back. I should hope the journey is long and full of adventures and experiences and this kind of wealth is what I should be hoping for. The wise words of Kavafis will keep me company:

http://www.cavafy.com/poems/content.asp?cat=1&id=74

Getting started with ‘Dendrite’

Dendrite’ will be an articulated assemblage consisting of high fired ceramic modular rings. The rings will be wheel thrown, altered and re-assembled, then decorated with texture and coloured slips and fired. Finally they will be glazed with a variety of different glazes. It is meant to become an arboreal mutation evoking a feeling of reconciliation between natural and manmade.

The making process is long. You can not not rush clay, you have to follow its timings. So I have to start early as the next 2 months will fly….

With the generous support of Potclays I have received 120kg of crank stoneware and white stoneware clay!

I started throwing and measuring connections, trying to stay loyal to the original maquette as much as possible. It is the first time that I will work on such a big scale and every part needs to fit precisely. A great challenge and a big stress! Keep reminding myself that I have to enjoy it!…