By: Nathanael Chrzan
The manipulation of clay into hollow and concave shapes for a utilitarian purpose has been documented as early as 18,000-17,000 BCE. My recent work titled Functionless Structures embraces techniques that have remained consistent throughout history while challenging the convention of functional pottery. My intention was to divert from utilitarian vases, and transform their common forms into structures that tower their ancestors and reject functionalism.
The structures of my work are distinguishable from traditional functional objects through their form and size. What was once considered a vase to hold water with its wide amphoric form and narrow neck has been transformed into a three foot structure that prioritizes form and lacks functionality. My process began with a sketch and from there I would work from the bottom up. I threw individual pieces that acted as building blocks, stacking one on top the other. I would then blend those seams together to create a unified structure. Some vessels adopt forms that replicate familiar objects while others explore more ambiguous interpretations.
As my project expanded, so did my influences. Danish ceramicist Turi Pederson invites communication between her vessels using the negative space between them. The forms in Pederson’s work compliment another and feel incomplete without each other. The idea of communication between vessels encouraged me to produce structures that feel related to each other. They can stand alone but also be grouped together creating a stronger impression because of their forms. In doing so, it’s clear that these vessels are encouraging the idea that they compliment each other.
Clay is a material that lacks recognition when it’s beneath our feet and should be appreciated when it’s manipulated into something functional and even functionless. Therefore, transforming common forms, like vases, into structures that reject functionalism is as much an attempt to redefine as it is an expression of appreciation for an ancient material.