Contextual LEVEL6

Artist Talk 1

Anna Mayer and Simona Dossi. Dec 8th 2021

”After several initial conversations about our intersecting interests and shared questions, we determined it would be helpful to speak to people who have experienced firsthand an ember shower or storm. Our focus on embers is two fold. Embers are one of the ways in which fire enters built structures, so understanding how they move is important to designing homes that can better withstand fire (a primary concern of Simona’s current research). Also, embers are a very small instance of fire that can nevertheless have a huge impact on the severity of a wildfire. There are practicalities and poetics to embers, in particular how there are many intersecting factors that determine how they move through space. With our interviews we would like to hear from those who have observed these intersecting factors directly. ‘

I listened to an artist talk from Artist Anna Mayer and chemical engineer Simona Dossi, who worked together collaboratively.

Anna started the talk by introducing her work which she really began in her early 20s, initially she was much more interested in books, literature, book production, which then lead her into print making and then from there onto sculpture. She got a BA degree in literature and gender. In her early work she has an interest in pattern, such as camouflage and the history of craft. She found an interest in artists like Bridgette Riley, who also uses pattern and optical illusion art.

From her website, “Anna Mayer’s art practice is sculptural and social, with an emphasis on hand-built ceramics and another molten material: bronze. Her methodology emerges from site-specific analogue firing projects and critical engagement with pre- and post-petro culture. Mayer revels in the fact that ceramics historically has been used to create highly functional items as well as intensely symbolic objects. Her work is part of this lineage, with equal concern for the future and a dramatically shifting climate—ecological and political.”

Anna and Simona’s interests overlap when considering fire, its behaviours and how it can be controlled. For Anna these are considered when working in ceramics, which have to be heated in a very specific and controlled way to be strong and durable.

Simona, as a scientist, looks at fire safety in the aim to reduce damage to homes from wild fires. Hoe can we help existing structures withstand wild fires? How to Embers behave, which often are seen to be what ignites homes?

Anna put unfired ceramics out in the open in the path of wild fires to allow them to fire the pieces, and they would stay I the landscape until this happened. Each is about torso sides and has some text on it. She was critiquing other land art and wanted to make something of a modest scale. The quotes also relate to her criticism of land art. She said that many of these sculptures, she understands, may never be fired in her lifetime. 10 years into the project the wildfires in California, specifically the Woolsey Fire, fired 6 of her pieces. Eventually she was able to go and pull some out once the fire was contained. 2 are still buried by mud in the land scape, but she managed to pull 4 out.

  Installation view. Background:  Caribbean Petroleum Fire Near San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2009 , 2021; printed fabric with holes created while crushing inherited dinnerware; 193 x 144 inches

My work similarly deals with changes I nature, as her work went on it began to be associated with climate change due to its nature. In some ways this relates to my work where life is regrowing from decayed things, in her case things are being destroyed (decayed?) by wildfires.

While this collaboration is distinctly different to the collaboration I did with one of my peers on the course, as this was between a scientist and an artist and has a different relationship, there are still similarities in the way 2 people come together to work on the piece. Our piece also included some scientific drawing from other artists which could relate to the collaboration with science.

Another artist I met at an event recently who also works in collaboration with scientists is Lucy Stevens, who is based in Leicester and collaborates with many experts in the natural world.

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