Sigrid Espelien

Connection to clay as more than a material for art production, but also as land, soil and territory
Norway °1984
research interests: clay, soil, landscape
affiliation: Oslo National Academy of Art, Art and Craft department

A lump of clay doesn’t start its existence in meeting a person’s hand, it has a long history on its own: transported in a truck, being packed in a plastic bag, going through a pugmill, dug out from the ground, and transported with wind, water and glaciers over thousands of years; but first, stones crush into sand, sand crushes into silt, and silt rubs against itself until becoming tiny clay particles under 0,002 millimeters. The moment of a person touching the clay is equivalent merely to a sneeze in a human’s lifetime. 

In Norway there’s no processing of clay (everything available for purchase is imported), there are no brick factories, and there is almost no ceramic industry left. And yet, there is an abundance of local clay. How does this impact our connection to clay? 

I work with local clay, mostly from Oslo and other places in Norway. The clay from this region was formed during the last ice age when the ice pulled back 10-15000 years ago. A moraine layer of clay was left inside the fjords and as the ice slowly melted away the land rose above sea level. 

The clay is seen as a waste product. I get the clay directly from construction sites, from the areas for unwanted masses that remove and redistribute the clay outside of the cities or from riverbeds, fields or landslides where the clay has become visible through geological forces. 

Through collecting the clay and processing it I form a connection to the land from where it is extracted and to the clay itself. The material changes from site to site and I use ceramic craft methods to get to know the clay and how to use it. This gathered information I see as something to be shared, like an open source of clay technology. 

The meeting through clay between me and the site opens up for different ways to read the land. Stories of geology, archeology, city development, industry and territory appear and I enter these different ontologies or layers of information through working with the clay. 

My overall drive is how to connect/be grounded/ have a sense of belonging through clay and also how this experience can be shared. 


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