Thursday, April 19, 2018


Rebecca writes "On Compression or There is a Crack in Everything"

Process is an important site for learning things.  And I have been learning things in the process of working with clay, particularly working with it in an effort to create pendants that I call "multijuridical musings" (pendants in which different colours/legal orders interact with eachother).

Clay is sometimes a forgiving medium to work in, and at other times, it is less forgiving.  This summer, the clay reminded me that time matters.  I have always found waiting for the clay to be 'at the right stage' is one of the difficult parts for me.  

So here is the 'recipe' or 'process' for the pendants I was making this year,
  • Take a bit ball of clay.
  • Divide it into smaller balls.
  • Add powdered oxide/stain to the individual balls to transform their colour.  Remember that the process of adding oxides is messy. If I don’t clean up after each colour, its trace follows me to the next ball of clay, muddying the colour.
  • Once the individual balls of colour have been made, wait.  Seriously.  Wait. They need to dry out a bit.  The plan is to put the balls of clay into conversation with each other, but if you do so when they are still too soft,  the colours will blend and you will end up with a new ball of a different colour.
  • Once the balls of clay are a bit firm, cut them into smaller segments.
  • Layer them into each other.  
  • Take time to ensure no bubbles of air have been captured while you are layering the clays together.
  • Knead briefly.  Then wait.   Again, the clay needs some time to firm up before being moved around.  Then, knead again.  
  •   If you knead them too much, the colours will blur.  If you don't need them enough, there will be no internal movment.
  • It is hard to know if I have kneaded the clay enough without cutting it open.So..  guess, and wait and hope.

fired and out of the kiln
my part of the Testify! Indigenous Laws + the Arts project
And it is hard to know when enough is enough.

I hope for the colours to be tightly or loosely swirled against each other.

When the clay has dried enough I take a metal rib and begin making slices through the clay.

If I am too soon, the blade of the clay will blur the edge of the colours.

If I am too late, it will be hard to cut and I risk cracking the slice, or cutting my own fingers against the edge of the rib.

I smooth any edges of my product, taking care not to muddy the line of the clay.

If I don’t smooth the edge, then the piece fires and the edge will be transformed into something with the sharpness of a knife.

... lining up the cracks ...
Every touch of my fingers on the piece leaves a trace of my hand and any dust lingering there. In short, minimize contact with the piece. It needs to dry somewhat before I proceed to the next stage. I watch it during this phase as the edges will continue to curl. It is best to lay something flat on top to hold the pieces flat while they are drying. It is best if it dries slowly, but again, if I am in a hurry there are tricks to speed the process along.

The phase of cutting is both magic and repetitive. Each slice reveals something unexpected.

Each piece requires careful handling to pull it away from the main piece without muddying the colours.

Watch out for repetitive strain injury.

I watch out but I can’t stop myself. I continue well beyond the point when a rational person would stop for a rest, part of the intrigue of wondering what the next slice will reveal. Once the clay is firm enough to be handled, I take a cutting hole tool and make a chord for a hole or a chain. If the clay is too soft, I will muddy the piece. If it is too dry I risk the clay cracking. I wait for the clay to dry.

This is one of the next big places of loss.

... such a beauty before cracking ...
Will the piece dry without cracking? This time around, I saw the one of the batches of clay, my favourite, was drying in a way that left a huge crack appearing in more than ½ the centre of the pieces. I have been thinking about why.

I remember the discussions about the bottom of clay bowls.

When I am throwing a bowl, one of the first stages is to make sure I have adequately compressed the bottom.

That is, I need to run my fingers back and forth across the bottom, applying pressure to force the clay molecules more tightly against each other.

That is, I must apply pressure.

If I don’t apply pressure this is the mostly likely place for a crack to emerge.
Sometimes I see the crack as the pot dries.

... necklaces sitting on the tool I use for compression ...
Sometimes the crack only emerges when I fire the piece for the first time.

I can’t tell you the number of pots I have grieved for, pots that have been heavily invested with love, only to emerge from the kiln, looking as beautiful as they did when I put them in, but having a crack across the bottom, rendering them unusable

Sometimes the crack doesn’t emerge until the second firing, after the glaze has been applied.

Many the mug I have, that is now a pencil holder, since any beverage that is added to it will leak out through the fine crack in the bottom.

In short, my weakness?
... tools of the trade ...

Failure to apply adequate pressure.

Fear that the pressure I will apply is too much.

And so I am left with a batch of necklaces, the ones I thought most beautiful in the making, so beautiful that I feared to apply any pressure to the centre, worrying only about the edges.

At first I thought I would throw them out.

But I think I will fire them through to the end of the process.

They don’t need to hold a liquid.
... measuring for shrinkage ...
But I think they will be holding the trace of a thought.

A question about the challenge of finding the right amount of pressure to apply.
 Or maybe just a reminder for me to think about the places where I fear having pressure applied to me. 

Maybe there is a way for me to think about my own capacity to understand the pressure at the centre, and particularly the pressure early in a process as being useful for what will later be possible. 

So maybe the insight is not for me to apply more pressure to others, but to think about myself as the clay.


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