Friday, 12 April 2013

Caring for Our Dirt

So far this blog has been a bit of a scatter gun approach to things that I am passionate about and you may ask when is she is ever going on focus on ceramics?

Well the truth is I have a female brain, so I don’t focus on just one thing at a time. (Actually my brain is more like an electronic toy left in damp conditions and just annoyingly firing randomly and constantly :P ) My work with clay brings me into deep meditation with the actual clay and its history and biology while also focussing on its future life and impact. It is beholden on me to be responsible to create the safest, earth nurturing practices and while playing and experimenting, to not produce more junk in the universe.

Therefore my practice has to be holistic.

I have to be mindful of where my refuse goes. Refuse in this case can be anything from clay mixed with water at the end of the day to dry glaze materials made of combinations of dry minerals and metals, as well as bisque clay (fired to hard but still porous), fully fired failures, off gassing, and carbon output from firing as well as transport. Not to mention plastic bags and plastic containers which seem to grow like topsy in the studio.

My first rule is that whatever can be reclaimed is. So breakages get smashed up and buried in pots as drainage or broken up for mosaic projects (more about that another time).

Super soil  as found in South America has developed over centuries as healthy microbes have built up on the surface of discarded, broken Mayan pottery shards. The miniature crevices in the low fired clay provide just the right conditions for successful proliferation of the microbes so I use that as one my guiding criteria and feel comfortable in burying smashed up shards in deepish holes around the garden. The worms and critters seem to love it.
Water and clay slurry at the end of the day is left to evaporate and is reincorporated into new mixes of clay. None of it goes down the drain! I cannot afford the plumbing.

In my sink I have a large plastic sink bucket. Everything is washed inside this and the following morning when the levels have settled the top water is poured off into the garden via a filtering system .
This is a 1.2m deep plastic lined pit of layered broken pottery, building rubble, scoria, sheep’s wool, sand, more scoria ,more sand and topped with decorative pebble. It is purpose built, based around a building oversight when the slab was poured for our house. It was a lot of work to rectify in one day but I believe it works brilliantly.  It is also a pretty courtyard.

There is a small drainage pipe at the bottom which then leads the filtered water into the first part of my garden through irises and native grasses and tree ferns which are all renowned for different filtering capabilities. Beyond that line most of the plants that follow are edible and so I am constantly aware of not poisoning myself or the environment. The happy sound of frogs in my garden assures me that it is pretty healthy out there.

Glaze materials which can include copper, manganese, nickel ,cobalt, iron and various encapsulated colourants are all treated with due care. They also mix with clay sludge and because of their weight fall to the bottom of the sink bucket. After the lighter water is poured off, the really dull sludge is poured into a settling bucket to dry out. So far I only have half a bucket of this sludge after 18 months. If this is later mixed with clay it can be fired into paving stones or just lumps and will no longer be able to leach into the soil.

Water is collected from our roof in a 10,000litre rainwater tank and flushes our toilets, and waters all the gardens as well as feeding our air cooling system in a closed cycle. Electricity comes from a roof full of solar panels offsetting any electricity from firings. I also use a gas kiln for large sculptural pieces and it is only fired when it is full which may take months. The off gassing from the kilns is kept as safe as possible with minimal use of heavy metals, endeavouring to fire when air is moving in a northerly direction towards the enormous park opposite, for the trees to filter the air first. My bedroom lies in direct line between the kiln and the park so I am also keen to not poison myself. From what I have read about the materials released every time a cigarette is lit, my rigour is chickenfeed but it helps me sleep at night. And all those plastic bags and plastic containers can have several more years of use before they eventually get fed back into the recycling stream washed free of clay residue.

When you buy ceramics from 3rd world countries, just remember that the waste products are much worse, the working conditions are horrific, safety practices are non existent, effects on the environment are cumulative and destructive because of lack of education and that the true cost of manufacture and shipping does not reflect in a fair price for workers and destruction of habitat. Think global buy local.
I found this trailer for a movie I am keen to watch The stuff we are working with every day is going to be harder and harder to come by in the future if we don’t keep recycling our organic waste and nurturing our soil. It’s just dirt but we can’t live without it.


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