Times collide in the work of the Vienna-based artist Laurence Sturla. His ceramics, in the form of (ash)trays and teapots, play with bourgeois notions and tell stories of the industrial revolution, medieval feasts and an uncertain future all at once.
After seeing your work, I can’t resist asking you what kind of teenager you were?!
I think I was probably quite a subdued teenager. I grew up in a small town in the South West of England, worked all sorts of odd jobs, and went to college in Swindon. Spending time in pubs, trying to play music, working in a tattoo studio, and eventually finding myself living in Paris.
Your work is seemingly charged with medieval and early industrial age aesthetics, what are your reference points?
I don’t only focus on one era, but instead pull references from many different time periods, drawing links, conjoining histories and trying to then map them out. Some series of my works directly focus on periods of great cultural shifts, discovery and innovation, I think it’s curious to see how these cycles repeat themselves throughout history, and how we learn and develop from these. However what I’m working with is not true history, it’s a biased history mixed with fantasy.
How did you develop your practice as a ceramist? Did you use other media before?
I mainly work with ceramics, but there are several other materials and processes which I think are compelling – it is just that clay is such a versatile material and perfect for my current methods. A few years back I acquired a broken kiln from an old technical college in England, after fixing it up I was able to fire and experiment with ceramics a lot more, and this formed a basis for my work that I have since developed. Having access to kilns is crucial to how I want to work with ceramics and this reclaimed kiln was really helpful.
Over the last years ceramic art, hand in hand with other categories of craftsmanship, had quite a revival in fine arts. Why would you say this is so, or are you completely annoyed by this discussion already?
No, I find it very interesting, it could come from a desire to keep practices and technical skills alive, rather than constantly outsourcing work. For me, it’s a labor of love – I like the hands on element, I like craftsmanship, that notion of learning something and following it through; plus, with a do-it-yourself attitude you’re gifted a better understanding of the materials that you choose to work with.
Would you mind telling me what the bottoms of your works look like?
Well, the bottoms of a lot of the pieces have sections of drawings hidden on them. I make a lot of my works through a technique called slab building, when rolling out a slab I will draw a sketch on the wet clay of what I imagine the piece could look like, either with a pencil or with a piece of clay of a different colour. These drawings are only visible from the bottom, or on the inside of the piece, a hidden line. These aspects are also present in other works, whether they are moving parts, or whistles that imitate bird calls – only known when the pieces are handled or through hearsay.
On the one hand you used your objects to serve food or you invited people to use them as ashtrays. On the other hand some of your objects would break as soon as they are used. How do you make these decisions?
It feels like the pieces sometimes dictate these decisions – whether it is an objects function, or lack of. There is a sense of transformation, which occurs when one of the objects is used, the pieces absorb traces, smells and stories for example. For others this is stopped by a refusal to work, a piece that may be stuck in a hibernating stage, not finished enough for its intended use, but perhaps there is a future to it – after it breaks. This refusal from the piece can also be mirrored in the way in which we interact with the objects, interactions that usually occur on a break from work, a forced pause, be it a smoking break, a lunch, a tea break.
It seems to me as if every work of yours functions as a »container« whether it literally holds something or not.
Yes, because of the way that the pieces are made they are all hollow, giving them a sense of being husks or parts of a strange exoskeleton. But I treat the works in a somewhat archaeological way, so I feel that they instantly absorb a history – fantastical or not – acting as tools, timepieces, clocks that are constantly ticking over, being refilled and reimagined as they become entangled in the real and the mythical.