We're so excited to present Ellen Cline, a super talented ceramicist, to you all today! She was responsible for the amazing installation featured on the back page of The Dirt Issue. Her body of work was inspired by rich red dirt and dealt with releasing burdens and pain. You can check out the films and more here.
The only thing harder than bearing the weight of tragic events is to stand by helpless
as others bear it. One evening out for a run to clear my head I was stopped in my tracks by a hillside of rich red earth. I scooped some into my water bottle and took it home mysteriously comforted. That earth became a primary material in my show. It came to stand as a kind of metaphor: earth-blood. Full of red iron it contains the same element that makes our blood red. Borne in these thick veins in the hillside excavating it and putting it to use felt like a transfusion. Difficult painful necessary helpful.
Material, body weight and process were key components in these works. I bore my sister's body weight in the first installation and my own in the second. In each the weight was carried for a time and then laid down. The weight of the red earth grows lighter as the installations progress - ending up in the final installation buoyant: light-borne.
Tell us a little about yourself and your creative endeavor (when you began, medium)...
I began making work in earnest in college. I'd always written a lot, but in school I began to connect my inner fidgeter and doodler to a maker whose creativity needed skills to be expressed. So I committed myself to acquiring skills, and was drawn to three dimensional work. Using natural materials both met my need for free/cheap materials and the aesthetic I was drawn to -- felt most sincere.
I think honest art requires sincerity and stewardship. Using materials that don't add to the clutter - rearrangements, not additions - is one way to honor the earth. It also makes me feel more sincere in practice, working with raw material like dirt or stone, because the piece is less processed. It's just me, my body, the pieces of creation that have always been there. When I'm dealing with visceral or emotive things, I want to stay close to the elements in order to preserve a raw or fresh feeling in the piece. I also grew up moving a lot and rarely feel a connection to a physical land or place, and so working with earth or clay feels really good - both in installation-wise and pottery-wise it grounds me to be focused on an element that comes from where I am and involves full physical attention to exactly where I am.
What does your daily schedule look like?
My daily schedule varies, with a few consistent bits: I work 3, 12hr shifts a week at a local coffee shop. I nanny for my niece on Mondays. In between, I spend the majority of my time on my budding pottery business: throwing pots in my ramshackle bedroom studio, or glazing pots at the Glassell School, or on the computer piecing together invoices and other fascinating logistical things.
Can you talk a little bit more about the logistics of the project _ when you did it, location, was it just you, did you leave the dirt or 'clean up'?
This project probably took about 2 months, but the actual pieces were created in very concentrated bursts within that time frame, with a lot of wandering the woods, trying to "hear" the next step for the next piece in between. Because of the video component, there were large chunks of time spent in the computer lab in between as well. I had never worked with video-ing a process before, so there were also lots of learning curves: times when I would make changes to a piece and then realize I hadn't caught that on film, so it would need to be re-done, or time wrestling with editing software.. For the most part, it was just me - but I did have several friends who pitched in to help with filming and editing. My younger sister spent a long time moving an inch to the left or right and following my particular orders from the other side of the camera.
I left the dirt in the middle and last installations. Creating the piece and then driving away and leaving to to disintegrate was essential for the piece to work. I wonder what happened to those pieces.
How often do you take a break from ceramics to pursue projects like this one?
I haven't made another piece like this since. It's been about a year. This kind of work can't be forced; it required listening and patience and receiving the parts of the process... and in order to set aside that kind of attention, there must be a concept or material that compels me. I'm waiting for the next one. Much like the dirt caught my attention, there is a location in Houston that seems to be asking for exploration. So maybe something will be coming soon!