The National Conference on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) opened their 57th edition in Minneapolis, MN on March 27, 2019. This year’s conference, Claytopia, questioned the future of society and of clay. This questioning revolved around sustainability, social justice, and technology in the clay community, and how this community can lead social change through addressing these topics. Technology within ceramic practice was given its own space in the Clay FAB Lab. This space allowed lectures and demonstrations to explore how current technologies are integrated into practice. In attending a lecture on 3D printing in this FAB Lab by Bri Murphy, three major ideas regarding the future ‘Claytopia;’ and ceramic practice came forward—the wide range of 3-D printing capabilities and their uses, accessibility of 3-d printing, and the impact of it on ceramic practice.
Artists, like society at large, are always looking towards the newest technology and to understand the ways it benefits life. It is an innate desire to find the easiest way to do something, and technology usually provides the way of doing so. Technology has evolved and is become highly applicable to ceramic practice. While technology in the ceramics practice began with advanced kilns or wheels, today is has evolved into virtual reality, 3-D modeling, and 3-D printing. 3-D printing is not a revolutionary new system, but it has become an accepted practice as its application is now widely recognized. Three types of ceramic 3-D printing exist—extrusion, powder, and resin. Like any art process, each come with its own challenges. In Murphy’s presentation, it was demonstrated that the strong differences between these techniques provides different expressions of work. Extrusion creates a layered coil appearance, while powder leaves a grainy surface. While resin creates a smoother appeal, it requires a more complicated process. Extrusion is the most common due to cost and ease of use, while resin is the least common due to the same factors. While not an exhaustive comparison or contrast by any means, Murphy highlights what is available and how each of the techniques meets a specific need.
With each type of printing has unique qualities, the technology involved is also different. Murphy focused strongly on the importance of open source for not only designing the product, but also on how to construct your own printer. Murphy also strongly emphasized the price differences between building your own extrusion printer for a few hundred bucks as opposed to purchasing a pre-made resin printers which can hit the couple thousand dollar mark. This lecture further addressed the level of accessibility that exists to 3-D printing, and ways in which to make more widely usable. By providing information on open source, building instruction, and clear information on what options are availale for diving into the 3-D ceramic printing realm, artists have the ability to utilize the technology in a way that works best for them.
3-D printing has been around for years, and is not a new piece of technology in the ceramics world, so why is everyone talking about it more now? People have come to realize that it isn’t replacing the handmade work of ceramic artist but enhances it. Bri Murphy is a conceptual ceramic fine artist. Pieces that were shown in her presentations used the defects and efficiency in 3-D printing to create social commentary. In a way, the use of 3-D printing allows ceramics artists to have a new way of expressing themselves. While it lends itself heavily toward sculptural work, 3-D printing can be useful in functional ware. The point is that the ceramics community has far less uncertainty about 3-D printing. No longer is it a danger to the art form or livelihood but instead it is the ceramics field evolving to participate in the 21st century techno-centric society.
From the many lectures at the conference, artwork presented, and Murphy’s presentation, the idea of a Claytopia involves the active participation of the clay community. It means using ceramics as a conduit of social justice, pursuing sustainable lives and arts practices, and integrating technology to keep the ceramic practice advancing with society. As Bri Murphy shows in her works, the combination of these three leads to powerful work with a loud concept that also has notable artistic quality. While her work is far more sculptural than the more common functional work, the impact of technology and social change can be displayed through simple choices such as eco-friendly sourced clay, ethical hiring practices, energy efficient kilns, open source programs, and countless other choices. These choices can make the ceramic community a driving for art by torpedoing its way as a social change agent in the years to come.
About the Author:
Nathan Bussard is a visual artist with focuses in ceramics, painting, and printmaking. He is currently duel-degree candidate in Master of Arts Management at Carnegie Mellon University and a Graduate in Innovation and Organization of Culture and the Arts at the University of Bologna with the goal of working with visual artists to enhance both their creative and professional growth.