The firing and the preparation of the kiln are a performance, documented by the resulting 5.75 x 8.75 inch finished clay slab “paintings.”
Each piece is made unique during the firing. As chemicals oxidize and are absorbed on the surface, a range of colors and shapes are deposited upon the hand burnished stoneware from different combustibles; banana peels cause grey and blue marks, fine black lines are created by burnt hair, and sawdust causes planar and irregular black shapes. This process has affinities to exposure in photography but instead of light, exposure to heat and chemical oxides create a range of marks, colors, shapes, and cracks on the bare clay surface. The slabs become objects for looking and seeing, recollecting the process of the performance and our relationship to the Earth’s materiality.
The work in Mineral Vocabulary was fired in April 2017 near Fishkill, New York. The document of the performance, nine rectangular ceramic paintings, hang side by side. This series plays on the nature of time and links the material of fired clay conceptually, as it is one of the formative human technologies. Clay is used abundantly in contemporary society but again relates to prehistory as the materials that make up the clay body have theoretically existed from the beginning of the universe and time itself, condensed within the solar nebulae.
Leah James is a Canadian artist living and working in New York. She received her BA from University of Waterloo (2006) and has exhibited her work internationally. She co-organizes Side Effects Gallery, an artist run project space in Brooklyn. The work in this exhibition is the fifth piece in an ongoing series of pit firing performances. Leah will be conducting firings throughout the summer in Ontario, upstate and on beaches near New York City.