Marco Chiandetti digging a fire pit in the summer of 2017 - photo by Ingrid Morley
Marco Chiandetti digging a fire pit in the summer of 2017 - photo by Ingrid Morley

Marco Chiandetti - Why I Create

Exploring the inspirations and attitudes of artists working with clay and ceramic, featured in Vitamin C

Sculptural forms, performance and the body define Marco Chiandetti’s practice. Architecture is significant for his work, with wooden and metal structures a recurring motif. He is a ‘post-medium’ artist, but since 2010 his art has been increasingly bound up with clay and casting processes, providing a coherent framework and bringing him critical attention.

His sculptural work embraces both abstraction and figuration: forms that reveal the imprints, indents and impressions of the artist’s hands – fingers, palms, knuckles and wrists leaving their traces through myriad gestures of kneading, pressing, pulling, rolling and folding or intestinelike vessels bunched up, squeezed and folded over.

Here the Vitamin C: Clay and Ceramic in Contemporary Art featured artist tells us why he works in the medium, what particular challenges it holds for him and who he thinks always gets it right.


Perch (with Eclectus Parrot), 2015 Glazed ceramic, Eclectus parrot – Marco Chiandetti

Who are you and what’s your relationship to clay and ceramics? I find out a little bit more about who I am every day when working, it's constantly evolving. I am an artist, I think.  I wouldn't call myself a ceramicist per se, though I make a lot of things with clay. My practice is broad, but clay is definitely my go-to material. For me, working with clay is like drawing. I work quickly, so it allows me to do that.  Even if the end result of a work is in another medium, bronze for example, I usually make the original in clay, or clay appears somewhere in the process. It has such versatility, you can make things from it, or use bags of it to prop things up in the studio when they are collapsing, or tap up holes with it when molds are leaking. I've had policemen in South Africa shoot bullets at large blocks of it. It's the ground we walk on, and it takes thousands of years to make. We have used it since the dawn of time.

Why do you think there’s an increased interest around clay and ceramics right now? Throughout history humans have used clay. It's the most basic material we have. Ceramics is a bit like drawing, it's been one of those overlooked mediums, caught somewhere between craft and high art. I mean, you have to know how the material works right? So, there is a knowledge or craft to working with clay. But for some reason that's where it has stopped, at the craft stage, because not many people decided to push the material or their ideas. Who knows why there is a revitalised interest in the material. I guess people are seeing that many artists use it in a non-traditional manner and have experimented with it, pushed it forward into new territory. 


Untitled (with brick), 2014 Unglazed ceramic, concrete – Marco Chiandetti

Ceramics is sometimes regarded as decorative, rather than fine arts. Does the distinction bother or annoy you? I don't really think in those terms. They're so rigid. There's nothing to get annoyed about. I guess there's an idea that decorative arts are not on the same level as fine art. But some decorative arts are beautiful. And I do think that these things can sit together and have a dialogue, I mean, why not? There's beautiful ceramic work that comes out of Japan. I try to give myself as much freedom as possible when I make. Only when it's done do I stand back and make a decision if it can go into the world or not. 

Whose work in this field do you admire? There are so many artists who work in this medium that I look at and for different reasons. I have always been fascinated by the photographs from the 70's of Charles Simonds who built tiny cities on his body while lying in pools of mud.  It was a real shift in how to work with a material in a more performative manner. The work only exists as a photograph, which I like. It's the body, landscape and architecture all in one. 

I really admire the work of Luisa Gardini, who is now in her 80's and still pumping out work (and has been since the 60's). I guess her work has more of a relation to Arte Povera, it's so free, so beautiful. Taro Shinoda, who I showed with in Sydney, made what was for me one of the best works at the Biennale. It was a beautiful response to place and a fantastic use of the material; a room with clay walls that slowly dried and cracked and fell away. It was a work of such simplicity and invited the viewer into a meditative  space, it was very thoughtful. 


Brick (Medellin), 2014 Unglazed ceramic – Marco Chiandetti

What are the hardest things for you to get ‘right’ and what are your unique challenges? Most of the work I make is fairly experimental, I'm always interested in pushing the materials and the uses for the work. I guess there's no right or wrong, and I try to maintain a playful approach. That's where the bird perches came from, I just wanted to play a little. 

What part does the vulnerability of the material play in things? Clay can be so unforgiving and I kind of love that about the material. It has its own life sometimes, and so you go with it. I'm not precious with the work, sometimes the pieces crack and flop, or collapse, and the clay does its own thing. So be it. It's a lesson in letting go and freeing up the hand and the mind. Beautiful things happen in the so-called mistakes. It's a living breathing material, so at times I have to allow it to do its own thing. By default, it brings more depth to the work.

I guess it's like painting, where you find painters who layer their work, there's a kind of depth to it. It is a reflection of who we are. In the works I make there is a direct correlation between the body and the material, and I guess the physical properties of clay have allowed me to make that connection.  

Making art is, among other things, a process of observation and reflection. You have to observe how a material works, its characteristics,  and then you can work with it. And then the thing you make is reflection, because it is reflecting something back at you as a maker. Then there are certain things you have to leave up to chance – so many things can happen in the firing – there's always an element of surprise and luck when you open a kiln. I guess that's life, isn't it? You don't know really what's around the next corner.


Untitled handheld sculpture I (pink), 2014 Ceramic, enamel – Marco Chiandetti and Untitled handheld sculpture II (pink), 2014 Ceramic, enamel – Marco Chiandetti

Is how you display a piece an important element of the work itself? Do you ever suggest how something might be displayed? In an exhibition, the way it's installed is vital, it's part of the work. But for collectors it's different, as these objects sometimes go into people's homes. It's really up to them what they choose to do. Most collectors are sensitive to work though, and they know what they are doing. Except, I once saw a photo of an Orozco sculpture hanging above a hot tub.

What’s next for you, and what’s next for ceramics?  I have recently returned from Australia where I was working out of a corrugated iron shack, developing a whole new body of work. It's been highly experimental and when I embarked on the project I wasn't sure if it would work. That's sort of how I work a lot of the time, I'm never sure if something will work out, but it's that inquisitiveness that drives me. I always think, ‘let’s see what happens?’. You have to just go for it. Try, experiment. As it turns out what I had a hunch about with this new work has actually worked out. A lot of people have helped me and advised me along the way, people who understand the material and the processes.

I'm being quite cryptic aren't I?  I won't be too specific, but I have been collecting my own clay throughout Australia and making a large series of objects. I am still mid-process so it's hard for me to talk about it in detail, but the work is really about our bodies, the landscape, the natural environment, and how we are all blended and connected. It's been wonderful, collecting clay, making objects and firing them in the ground. Very back-to-basics; there's nothing fancy about the process, just me, on my own, making.


Vitamin C: Clay and Ceramic in Contemporary Art

Clay and ceramics have in recent years been elevated from craft to high art material, with the resulting artworks being coveted by collectors and exhibited in museums around the world. Vitamin C: Clay and Ceramic in Contemporary Art celebrates the revival of clay as a material for contemporary artists, featuring a wide range of global talent selected by the world's leading curators, critics, and art professionals. Packed with illustrations, it's a vibrant and incredibly timely survey - the first of its kind. Buy Vitamin C here. And if you're quick, you can snap up work by artists in it at Artspace.