A bridge between Architecture and Ceramic Art–The work of Patricia Mato-Mora
By Purva Chawla
Prior experiences with ceramics have led us to think of ceramic artifacts as pristine, somewhat solitary objects, that belong on pedestals and behind glass displays. We rarely imagine them having a relationship with the architectural spaces they inhabit, other than capitalizing on what the spaces have to offer–a tidy shell and good lighting.
This familiar paradigm is shaken up entirely, however, at the sight of Patricia Mato-Mora's work. First and foremost, is the fact that the London-based ceramic artist lifts ceramics to the scale of architecture. The clustered, vining formations of her works wrap themselves around pillars, create towers of their own, and seem to hug walls and floors, among other surfaces.
Clay–both fired and unfired–terracotta and resins in both natural and brightly colored hues make up the material palette that Patricia uses, as she creates monumental pieces of art with an undeniable relationship to architecture.
With a background in architecture, architectural journalism, and ceramics, it seems natural, in retrospect, that Patricia would seek to bridge this divide between ceramic art and architecture.
There are many more layers to Patricia's work, though; among them, her intent to bring a 'bodily scale' to the acts of making and experiencing her works, and her desire to blur the lines between what is 'natural' and 'man-made.'
Recently, MaterialDriven spoke with Patricia, wanting to learn more about her current work, her process, and her trajectory from architecture to ceramic art. The fact that she has pushed the boundaries of clay as a medium, and combined individually cast ceramic vessels to form monumental sculptures, seeking the inherent stability of natural and organic forms has made her the perfect candidate for our 'Master of Material' series. Her knowledge and mastery of the material she works with and her innovation is what we will uncover in the interview below.
MD: Patricia, from architecture to ceramic art and sculpture. How did that transition happen?
Patricia: In 2011, just before my last year at the Architectural Association, I was invited to be part of a ceramics residency at the Joan Miró Foundation, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. This residency came at a crucial time, during the period dedicated to my technical studies at the AA.
During the residency, workshops were led by a talented instructor who seemed like an alchemist in my eyes. I was fascinated by her deep understanding of the medium, and the richness and detail inherent in the making of ceramics. I wanted, then, to take that studio-like understanding of ceramics, to works in Architecture.
Later, in 2012, I undertook a residency at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, in Venice, Italy. On the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, where I was based, I visited an exhibition of glass works by Carlo Scarpa; which I believed helped me to understand the crucial relationship between craftsmanship and architecture. I haven’t looked back since, and I am still investigating how this relationship could be re-invented.
Last year, I was part of a project by Heatherwick Studio, where I was able to bring ceramics and architecture together in the way that I had imagined back in 2012. The project, titled 'Tangy Silk,' consists of Terracotta cladding for a facade in Shenzhen, China.
Another residency and its culmination, in 2014, was instrumental in shaping my work, as you know it today. At the end of the residency, participating artists were to exhibit their work at the R.C. Turner Gallery, in Alfred, NY. The gallery space is over 20 feet tall, and this height and volume of space prompted me to work with and grow the clay structure in an organic way, stretching vertically in ways that I had not done before.
This was the first time that I felt connected to my work in a way similar to what a termite might; and to the entirely animal nature of my organism.
MD: You often describe your artworks as 'Natural occurrences,' and believe the divide between man and nature to be illusory. How have these ideas manifested in your work?
Patricia: Since I began working with clay and ceramics in the organic way that we spoke of earlier, my work has developed in two directions or along two themes. The first has been the idea of 'architectural ornament.' I have looked to nature, natural and organic growth patterns as the inspiration of a new kind of 'natural ornament' in my work.
Even as far back as the classical orders, say in the Corinthian order, there has been an interest in natural forms and patterns being the basis of ornament. For me, the definition of 'natural formations' is broader though – barnacles, and oceanic growth, even that which has formed from the occupation of human-made objects (say a shipwreck) is of interest to me.
The second direction that I have explored in my work is the importance of 'bodily interaction'– Interaction between the artist or maker and his work. Drawn to Sir D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's writings on 'Growth and Form,' I find myself constantly thinking "How do I articulate a space with an ornament that responds to the scale of the body?"
MD: One of your most recent works is 'The Fine Line Between (Symbiosis and Parasitism).' Tell us what drove you to create it.
Patricia: For this work, I was exploring the theme of architectural ornament. Something crucial that I was exploring here was the relationship of the artwork with architecture, since the artwork cannot exist without the architecture ('The Fine Line Between' wraps around a tall, rugged column in the space, a wink to the twist-fluted Solomonic column found in European architecture since late Antiquity.).
I am not defining if this relationship is Symbiotic or Parasitic. The artwork does, after all, give back to the architecture. So this piece was indeed meant to provoke and raise questions.
The making of this work was an experience in itself for me. It was physically exhausting but allowed me to relate to and build in response to the scale of the space. The way that I experience spaces by having to climb onto surfaces when I build these things is something that goes back to my childhood. I think the sculptures are traces of these unorthodox movements, moving through space, and I would like to work in other mediums such as video, to show this part of the process to the audience, as well.
MD: Patricia, how do you put together your works?
Patricia: I work with clay in two ways. For unfired clay, I simply mold the structure of the artwork at the site, with fresh clay, and the pieces are demolished at the end of an exhibit, ground back to powdered clay that can be reused.
For fired clay or ceramics, I cast and fire individual clay vessels in a kiln, before assembling a structure together at the site of an exhibit, often using resin as the binding glue. The thing you may find surprising is that these organic forms are inherently extremely stable. Growing them slowly, organically by hand, one finds that they need little reinforcement or binding. I have found that ceramic vessels simply like to be organized in this way.
MD: What is next for you, in terms of new materiality for your works, and upcoming exhibitions?
Patricia: While I have thought about exploring bronze as a material for my work, I have held back. Clay has felt like an obvious choice till now, especially for its strong relationship with architecture (bricks). And with raw clay, I have been able to work at a massive scale, one that a kiln would not allow me.
I think the next material that I would like to explore is concrete. I do believe, though, that I haven't yet exhausted the possibilities of clay as a medium.
What is next for my work? I am preparing for a workshop at the Royal College of Art next year, titled 'Subtractive Spaces,' as well as two residencies that I will be a part of–one in New York and one in Stockholm.