Three weeks after the Kochi-Muziris Biennale conducted a workshop that trained new hands in making pots and other objects from clay, the festival is witnessing the final phase of a sculpture that had gained shape as an assortment of the random individual works.
Firing is on beneath the three-foot-tall figure for it to turn into a terracotta structure. This is after Jayan V K, the master of the December 21-23 session on pottery at a key venue of the ongoing 108-day biennale, had blended the participants’ works tastefully over those three days.
The artist, based in Tripunithura south of Kochi, has created a kiln to fire the clay adjacent to the art room at the leafy Cabral Yard in Fort Kochi. “It is a process of more than a day. It’s a two-stage task,” notes Jayan, who has been in the field for three decades. “We will gradually bring up the temperature. The final aim is to heat the object to the point that the clay and glazes are mature.”
Blaise Joseph, who heads the ABC (Art By Children) programme under which the pottery workshop was organised, states that a slow temperature rise is critical. “At the beginning, it is something called bisque firing. There, even the last of the atmospheric water is driven out of the clay,” he points out. “If it is heated too quickly, the water turns into the steam while inside the clay body. That can cause the clay to burst.”
The second and final stage is the kiln firing. It causes remarkable change in the clay, transforming the figures from a soft and fragile substance to one that is rock-hard and impervious to water and time. Jayan reveals that the kiln is turned off on reaching the desired temperature. “That marks the start of cooling. It is slow…to avoid breaking the pots due to stress from the temperature change,” he says. “Once the kiln is completely cool, it is opened and we take out the newly-created pots and sculpture.”
Why is the task being held at the venue? “Well, most people are unaware of the techniques used to creating a final clay-work,” notes Jayan. “We are taking this opportunity to give visitors a hands-on experience of firing a clay sculpture and show them how a kiln works for an artistic purpose.”