Sunday, December 7, 2008

From Earth To Stone By The Kiss Of Fire ~ Shazieh Gorji

Shazieh Gorji is a Pakistan Native I discovered on FaceBook. The more I learn about this young woman the more I am inspired by her. She lives an adventurous life traveling the world in search of the Anagama. Shazieh maintains two blogs that offer hours of fascinating reading, one is on her ceramic work and the other devoted to her travels. Grab a cup of coffee some time and do some reading. But first read her answers to the So Cal Potters questions!
Why clay?
I took a clay workshop for freshman at college (Bennington) and was mystified and slightly terrified by its malleable nature- I just did not know what to do with it! By sophomore year I needed to not only ground myself, clay being the catalyst, but also try something that intimidated me. A friend once told me “it is only courageous if you do something you are scared off”. My friend and peer Hilary Marshall also played a role in my relationship with clay. She led me to the wheel, would wedge for me patiently and as I would keep asking “is it centered yet” she would always say “ trust me, when it’s centered you will know. You’ll feel it!” At first I was rather insecure about being a late bloomer per say, considering most of the students had some experience with the material during their high school years and felt perhaps this is not a good idea. But a gnawing feeling would walk me to the studio late at night and I just did not want to give up. Bennington’s philosophy encouraged discovery and experiential learning. I believed and still do in “the never too late” theory and clay truly had me hooked and gripped despite my weak know-how with techniques at that time.
Since then it has been a joyful journey with this mysterious material; a challenge to keep working not letting my hands and mind neglect the earth. Clay was the answer to my never ending questions. Its seductive nature transforming from earth to stone by the kiss of fire is always enchanting, never tiring, and each form, each 3D visual tells a story. The fact that it survives for centuries -is all withstanding and is able to write history through its broken shards is thrilling unto itself. It always delights, and never fails to mystify time and time again. The experience is truly emotive and grounding- a personal intimate anecdote.
If not clay, what?
Perhaps a tour guide, leading groups into adventure packed expeditions. Or a pastry chef, delighting the taste buds with sweet delicate treats.
What inspires you?
Nature and diverse landscapes, cities and their delightfully chaotic happenings, anomalies, experiences, change, people, interactions, travels…pura vida…just life and how it unfolds really. Inspiration comes in many forms and shapes. Sometimes after I have been in the mad race of city living it comes through serenity and nature; when I have been in the country side for long enough to be inspired I once again I again need the city to tantalize my mind buds. Contrasts- change. At times when I have just been creating and experimenting with forms one idea leads to another and a world of possibilities present themselves; the story unfolds as the clay is in motion.
What would you say to someone just getting started in ceramics who asks you for advice?
Follow your heart!! Have plenty of patience and never get attached, as the process is rather lengthy till we see a finished piece; and once we offer the work to the fire it is in the hands of the Kiln Gods to decide the fate of the work. We may have experience in many techniques but the fire tells all, saves all and consumes all- there is nothing else to it- surrender and devote yourself completely to the process. To avoid disappointment and to continue creating joyfully- just don’t get too attached.
What do you think of the handmade movement and the artist as activist, or artivism?
Loaded question! All three are connected in some way or the other. In terms of the handmade movement I find it to be a paradox: on one hand it is important to -encourage artists making one-of-a- kind artworks; on the other hand there are so many products bearing the label “handmade’ and yes they are very handmade: hand made in sweat shops! What I am trying to express is the fine line between a studio artists work which is essentially handmade, and the trap of consumer advertising as “handmade” to lure customers making them feel as though they have made a worth while purchase.
Artist as activist or artivism is more conceptually oriented. Performance art and art activism out of the gallery (and more sophisticated settings) and onto the street was/is a movement which aims to make a socio-political statement using art as a tool of expression; a poignant one. Reclaiming public spaces and creating artworks that benefit all whom observe it, see it, and interact with it, is a genre of its own. I feel positively and strongly about it.
CITyartny and The Lyceum School (where I previously worked in Karachi Pakistan) collaborated over CITYarts “Pieces for Peace” mosaic with youth from around the world. We created a 180 foot mosaic with more than 100 students on a wall across a park and adjacent to a slum. The reason we chose the location was due its diverse amalgam of people from all spheres of society. Getting the students out onto the streets to make art, most of who do not interact on the streets due to Karachi’s infrastructure and due to the construct of society and its limiting notions of class differentiation and intense classism, we literally broke all barriers by working and encouraging all who passed by regardless of caste class creed to join in. Most of the public on the streets are men, and most of our team of mosaic-ers were young high school aged girls. We took the streets of that particular area by surprise; the sight was not the norm but we were not harassed. The colourful mosaic and the energy that was visible made all stop to admire it, ask questions, and break that barrier for those few moments. One young girl’s mother, when she came to pick up her daughter, asked me to tell the men standing around to leave. I gently explained to her that the street was free for all and is not “my property”, hence it was not in my place to ask them to leave; if she chose she could do so, or simply not let her daughter come to our sessions- that was her decision. Her daughter did return, albeit, her brother accompanied her! I feel such experiences and projects are a part of artivism. They inspire and break certain boundaries which leave their mark on the audience, participants and those directly and indirectly involved. It is an expression of an ideology which is rooted in trying to bring about societal change through art. Personally I am not a believer of “imposing” change, though I do believe in creative expression which leaves room for interpretation, and feel strongly about public art. The more we look the more we see, and any art, in whatsoever its form will inevitably do just that- penetrate the hearts of the people, warming, softening, and bring joy, thoughts, inspiration, a reaction- positive or negative, a reaction!
What is it about wood firing that has captivated you?
Wood firing is enchanting starting from the process itself. The element of chance involved, the amalgam of quiet, warm, juicy, dripping textures, the embracing of the accidental sometimes being fortuitous all contribute to entrance. The markings caused by the flame, the hot and cool spots in the kiln being determined by the marks on the pieces- these markings document the flow of fire on the works forever, and since no kiln will fire exactly the same way more than once, it preserves the memory and experience on the works.
Like most firers using wood, I find wood firing to be an extremely intimate relationship- it is this intimacy and warmth, the camaraderie between the firers and the memory etched into one for life that initially captivated me. I have only fired with wood a dozen times per say but can close my eyes and recall each team, each firing and the works which emerged form it vividly. The labour that one puts into each firing is phenomenal- and that is what we offer the kiln each time; that intense devotion and belief in fire transformation.
“Occasionally one gets a sense of a cosmic blessing emanating from woodfired work- the feeling that everything and everyone was in the right place at the right time, and the only way to prove this improbable conjecture is the existence of the work itself. Encounters between matter and spirit, the linking of human with non-human forces- the interface between consciousness and chance.” Jack Troy My works and the kiln are synonymous; the kiln is the temple and the works an offering of peace.
Can you tell me about your process, when you go into the studio do you have a set idea or do you just go with the flow, let the universe guide you?
It’s usually a combination of the two. Lately I have been working more conceptually and have a form in mind which I try to execute, however, I am flexible. If the clay is looking to bend a certain way I am not going to force myself onto its path or course. My hands are a mere catalyst; the clay knows I have a form in mind but it, just as me, has a direction. We work hand in hand.
Who are your favorite artists??
I could not name just one. There are plenty of artists I admire for various reasons both from the clay community and many who are not working in ceramics at all. Jeff Koon, Andy Goldsworthy, most recently Louis Beourgoes. Within ceramics I particularly enjoy Marilyn Levine, Peter Volkous, Jack Troy- I really could go on and on. Each artist has a quality with their works that speaks to me; be it their process, techniques, aesthetic choices, the feeling their work evokes, the concepts, the manner of installation- it differs all the time, however, each component inspires and teaches something anew- I enjoy looking for these characteristics and unique peculiarities within their works.
I love Shino Glazes, When I see a piece I really like it is most often a Shino. What is it about them that attracts you?
Their surface texture mainly. The simplicity and complexity in the make up of the glaze. They are rather basic in component, however, their transformation never fails to bring amazement. They are pure wonderment, and the beauty lies in not just looking at it but seeing it- every time something is just slightly different; the more you look the more you perceive. Shinos are just that- the more you look the more you see- glimpses unnoticed previously suddenly emerge.
Whats your favorite quote?
“The challenge is to do the thing you have to do because you are in love with it and can’t do anything else. Not because you want to become famous or rich, but because you will be unhappy if you can’t do it. It is not something you can turn on and off.” by Warren MacKenzie


Linda Starr said...

What an amazing woman and lucky to be travelling around the country and working in clay. Thanks for another great interview.

Shazieh Gorji said...


Thank you for the wonderful layout and the platform*~*~*

Chris McCormick said...

You are most welcome Shazieh!