Ceramics have been made and used for millennia. Products such as drinking vessels, furniture and jewellery have been made from clay all over the world. Clay is derived directly from the Earth, making it a natural product. Some of these clays include; kaolin or china clay for porcelain, red clay for bricks, and stoneware. These mineral bodies are abundant in the earth, and when fired create a variety of products. However, although ceramics are more sustainable than materials such as plastic, there are ways to reimagine the materials used and the ceramic production process. Instead of harvesting new clay and using potentially toxic virgin materials for glazes, what if we could utilise other sources, such as waste.
Agne Kucerenkaite has used industrial metal waste to create ceramics for her project ‘Ignorance is Bliss’. The project explores how industrial metal waste can be turned into powdered dyes. To showcase this Kucerenkaite has produced a number of objects, such as porcelain tableware and ceramic tiles. It is estimated that soil remediation companies generate around 30,200 tonnes of metal waste per year, but even with these numbers there is no way to safely deposit this waste as it can be mixed with concrete and cannot be burned. Lots of heavy metals can therefore pollute areas near these sites, and can get into waterways. But as metals are important to the production of glazes and as they are non-renewable, Kucerenkaite wanted to utilise them to make desirable objects. The materials she used were collected from a soil remediation company, a water purification and treatment plant. As well as gathering some from an area that had been polluted by a zinc factory. The raw material itself is in the form of sludge. This is a mixture that is mainly made from iron but contains manganese, aluminium, magnesium, barium and zinc, depending on location. To process these metals into pigments, they are first dried before being milled and sieved. Different qualities are created depending on the metals and the concentration. Kucerenkaite states that 10% pigment creates a green colour, whereas 20% creates a brown.
Gianantonio Locatelli has developed a clay composite derived from processed cow dung. The dung used is collected as an abundant by-product of dairy farming, as Locatelli realised that his 2,500 cows were producing 100,000kg of manure. To process the waste Locatelli extracts methane gas from the cow dung and then turns the material into ‘Merdacotta’ (which literally means ‘baked shit’ in Italian), a material used to create products such as tableware. Although similar to terracotta, it is lighter and more resilient to cold. It is in fact the methane and urea, which creates the unpleasant smell of dung, but as this is extracted the final products are odourless. The process not only creates these desirable products, but it also transforms waste into energy.
Using dung is not a new concept, as it has been used historically to create homes. But others are using dung in many other ways, such as elephant dung for paper and threads made from snail poo. Therefore Gianantonio Locatelli has created something called the Shit Museum (Museo Della Merda). Here there are a number of objects on show that are made from dung. The methane collected from the production of Merdacotta is used to produce energy and heating for the museum where tiles, vases, flowerpots, benches, mugs and dishes are produced.
Toxic red mud collected from aluminium production was used to create objects similar to terracotta. Studio ThusThat formed during their studies at Royal College of Art, and is made up of Guillermo Whittembury, Joris Olde-Rikkert, Kevin Rouff and Luis Paco Bockelmann. The project aims to find the value in waste by using byproducts as an alternative to virgin materials to create desirable objects. Bauxite Residue is a byproduct residue of the aluminium industry, where the bauxite ore is refined into alumina. For every one part of aluminium, two parts of the red mud is produced, which equates to over 150 million tonnes each year. This huge amount of material is then left in giant unused pits. The studio was able to work with research labs and the factories themselves to transform this waste material into ceramics and glazes. The material mainly consists of iron oxide, which is what gives the finished product an orange rust colour. This project also makes people aware of the impact of the materials they use. The satellite images that accompany the pieces show the huge pits and factories, and how they impact surrounding areas.
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