Clay Shapes the Hand
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Clay is a ubiquitous and malleable substance that records history at the scale of geologic time. Present in creation stories and found to be one of the first human tools, clay runs parallel to humanity. Clay acts as a vessel, carrying information across vast time spans both physically and metaphorically. The physical permanence of ceramic objects and the chronological endurance of craft practice provide a unique window on objects and techniques across centuries, linking the contemporary world to past cultural contexts. But today, the scale of commercial use and mass mining distances clay from its meaningful link to place, time, and the human hand. Through a careful analysis of clay and participation in the craft practice of ceramics, the intention in this thesis is to re-learn how to look closely, read material, de-centre human understanding, listen, and gather clay’s story. Beginning with a review of mythical, historical, theoretical, and scientific literature, I attempt to unravel clay’s interwoven path with the origins of humanity. The work then turns to site analysis and material experiments to gather information and form a picture of one of humanity’s oldest functional materials. Clay is the lens through which I study three sites, one in ancient Rome, the other in Qing dynasty, Jingdezhen, and a third site in Southern Ontario, where I locate, dig, harvest, and process wild clay. By writing the microhistories of these ancient and contemporary clay sites and engaging in the production of two series of ceramic works, the thesis documents learnings about land, ownership, iteration, and consumption. Contemporary craft practice is deeply connected to material questions, bringing up consideration of their extraction, transport, transformation, and significance. How do I interact with the materials I use to make work and make a living? How do I situate myself as a settler, architect, or potter? The journey of an intimate material relationship with clay becomes a means to think critically about materials, their place in the world, and our own.
Cite this version of the work
Kelsey Rose Dawson (2021). Clay Shapes the Hand. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/17770