Challenging the perception and materiality of Porcelain–In conversation with Alissa Volchkova
What comes to mind, when you think of the term 'Porcelain'?
The visuals are likely those of pristinely white, or perfectly painted, and impeccably formed objects. These objects invariably stand alone, delicately perched on pedestals, and really, they want to remain untouched.
It is this perception of porcelain, and age-old trends, which Franco-Russsian designer Alissa Volchkova is challenging with her work.
Most recently, the London-based designer created 'The Liquid Series'-a set of colorful, and undulating porcelain vessels. Born from a fascination with the liquid state, and in particular, that of clay, this set of objects explores the physicality of the porcelain 'slip', by pushing the limits of a material that is considered fragile and precious.
Looking at images of 'The Liquid Series', one sees, not only an uncharacteristic (to Porcelain) burst of colors and flowing forms, but a series of objects that can layer themselves, and stack up together, to create a beautiful, combined composition. Traditionally, Porcelain objects have shied away from such a collision and interaction of individual objects, but Allisa Volchkova's work embraces it and deliberately creates pieces that want to come together, naturally and intuitively. This is another example of how Alissa's work turns the entire way of making and using porcelain objects on its head.
'The Liquid Series' comes from a manipulation and personalization of the age old technique of 'Slip-casting' ceramics. On the whole, Alissa's work interprets and explores familiar industrial processes of production in a more poetic way, revealing their uniqueness, and developing the potential of many different materials. She has a particular affinity for ceramics and glass, as is evidenced by several of her beautiful works, beyond 'The Liquid Series'.
The graduate of the MA in Ceramics and Glass, from the Royal College of Art, has created several excellent series of works, such as 'Volcanos', 'The beautiful imperfect', and 'Samovar'. These works illustrate themes such as the beauty of irregularity in form, a bridge between the past and present and a strong interaction with users and their social norms and traditions.
This year, Alissa joins a diverse collective of designers–Form&Seek, as they exhibit their work at the London Design Festival of 2016. On display, will be Alissa's 'The Liquid Series'.
Just before the start of this prestigious festival, we spoke with Alissa, to learn more about her works, her 'making' process, and her trajectory from being an architect to becoming the creator of exquisite ceramic and glass works.
MD: Alissa, Tell us a little bit about the work you will be exhibiting at the London Design Festival this year.
Alissa: With 'The Liquid Series', I am exploring and pushing the limits of clay as a material, and more precisely the boundaries of porcelain–a fragile and precious material. We are used to the classic idea of precious porcelain objects, which are supposed to be white and shiny, with perfect rims and patterns. I wanted to disrupt this perfect image of porcelain objects and create the complete opposite of what is considered a luxury object.
I am more interested in the process here, rather than in the final product; the result is always a surprise for me, as I don’t control a part of the making process in this series, so each object is unique, formed by colors that become tactile and three-dimensional during the making.
MD: How does your work respond to the broader Form&Seek theme of 'De-Construct- Re-Construct' this year?
Alissa: I am deconstructing the traditional process of making porcelain objects, revisiting this fascinating material in an unconventional way. I am literally constructing objects with colors: I draw colorful, irregular patterns, which then becoming three-dimensional when they dry. From two-dimensional to three-dimensional.
MD: What are the primary materials and techniques you have employed to create this series of objects? Were you involved hands-on in the fabrication and final production?
Alissa: I have used only porcelain and colored stains to make this series. I was fully involved in the making process; one that needs a lot of control.
Two processes of production were combined for the making of these objects: first, a vessel–a bowl or a plate –is slip cast, then the perfect circular shape is disrupted by randomly pouring on it the dyed slip until it freezes and creates irregular edges. The final result is uncontrollable, determined by the unpredictable and spontaneous 'slip' movement and kiln firing. Once completed, these liquid series are not only functional but can be stacked into endless variations to create unique, graphical compositions.
MD: How has material experimentation been seen in your previous work, and how has it fed into your roots as a designer?
Alissa: I worked as an architect for three years before resuming my studies again, this time, at the Royal College of Art (RCA), studying Ceramics and glass. During my time in architecture, I was working on a computer always; the reality of the profession disappointed me, and I realized that I needed to touch what I was drawing–something which I couldn’t do with architecture/spaces. So I changed the scale of my work and started to make objects. The RCA gave me the opportunity to develop 'making' skills and experiment with my ideas. Paradoxically, all my projects are about deformation, imperfection, and disruption–in contraction to my time in architecture, where I was made to construct and draw perfect layouts.
MD: What reaction to this series of objects are you anticipating (and hoping for) from viewers at the London Design Festival?
Alissa: I hope the reactions will be 'Surprise' and 'Reflection' about the making process, and I hope it will all be refreshingly new to people’s eyes.
MD: Tell us about Form&Seek as a platform for your work, and your involvement in this unique collaborative of designers.
Alissa: Form&Seek contacted me during the RCA degree show in June this year. I knew about this group of designers before, through their excellent projects, and was jubilant when they approached me for this collaboration.
MD: What was the most challenging part of the making of this series?
Alissa: This project is very experimental and unpredictable, so I never know if the object will be beautiful at the end of the making process –which is always a surprise, and not always a good one.