3Trains … 5 questions

Above: Firing at Strathnairn, ACT, August 2019; L to R: Vicki, Ursula Burgoyne, Montessa Maack and Jen Lyall

The 3Trains project has run for almost three years, starting in 2018 at Clay Gulgong. Before the project the four of you were already in discussion about methods and outcomes. Has this project brought about things that you did not expect? What have you taken out of this slow-burning project?

The complexity of the variables became more apparent every time we fired – placement in the kiln and on a shelf, consideration of wadding size and placement, the different types of wood, the weather, the stoking rhythm, the length of firing …

The project pushed me along to make pots I would not have made. Deadlines and the excitement of woodfiring is a wonderful impetus to make work. 

I didn’t expect so many failures. The thoughtful packing of a kiln takes time, and is a lovely way to spend time.

Other delights:
* The diversity of colour on the woodfired surfaces
* The quiet times just sitting with the fire
* The long conversations around the kiln
* It’s all about doing … it’s the best way to learn
* Simple forms works best and allow the path of the flame to be captured 
* It’s physical and also emotional

Not having my own wood kiln, I didn’t expect to be left alone to fire for hours at a time … I loved it.

I am forever grateful to my fellow 3Trainees for inviting me in for an experience previously unavailable to me. I also thank my husband Keith who supports me every step of the way.

Woodfiring is a means to achieving a particular range of aesthetic effects on a ceramic surface. How is this important to you? Are there other motivations for you to woodfire your work?

It’s as if the movement of the flame is frozen onto the surface. I like the subtle effects which result when parts of a pot are shielded from, or exposed to, the flame. The effects from woodfiring cannot be achieved any other way and so I am challenged to make work which might enhance the marks on the surfaces. 

The processes of woodfiring often require a community or social framework in order to realise an outcome. Are there broader concepts that are relevant to you in choosing to woodfire? Are notions of community, teamwork, gender and/or labour relevant to you/your arts practice?

Gathering together like-minded souls to prepare and then fire a kiln is one of the main appeals of this activity. I am pleased to say that, as an all-woman team, there is nothing we couldn’t do. Whilst it is irrelevant really, the noting of our gendered crew may be of interest  to others.

Woodfiring is like cooking a favourite recipe from scratch, using home-grown ingredients. Although I did not dig the clay I used, the firing process feels genuine, hands-on, grass roots. To be involved with the fuel choice, the decisions during firing, the labour it takes to fire, leads to an awareness of each step. To be outside, with the sounds of birds, a starry night sky, the smell of rain, and inquisitive native animals … it’s a unique experience.

The physical sustainability of a woodfiring practice and environmental sustainability in the broader field of ceramics are important concerns. Are these relevant to you?

Burning fallen timber or timber discards seems to be a sustainable way to go.

The need to fill a woodfire kiln so that it fires efficiently (etc) can be problematic. If time allows, ideally we should be carefully considering the work we fire and waiting for the kiln to be full. Smaller kilns which allow for more frequent firings may be an option.   

The methods and outcomes of woodfiring carry many traditions. There is a line of argument that posits woodfiring as irrelevant in the contemporary context. Do you agree, disagree, or consider this question insignificant and/or of no interest?

The contemporary issues in my mind involve considering our use of resources, how we care for the environment and our desire to make our life meaningful and beautiful. Woodfiring addresses all these issues head-on, so yes, it’s relevant, more so now than ever. I can’t say that the traditions of woodfiring are a priority for me. I try to live more in the present and to consider what’s right for us now, here.


Below: my potter’s mark

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