Foreward for a Silicate Triennial
Prof. Imre Schrammel


A few weeks ago, a major earthquake and in its wake a powerfully devastating tsunami swept along the coastline of the Indian Ocean from Sumatra to India, turning tens of thousands of people, towns, villages, forests, groves, gardens into the vale of tears in no time. The explosive force of thousands of nuclear bombs was unleashed from the depths of the Earth in seconds. Awakened from the shock caused by the disaster, we had to realize the formidably powerful energies that once shaped the face of the earth and have been shaping it ever since. The glowing bolide began to cool and its surface solidified. The substances of smaller specific weight rose to the surface of the liquid melt and the heavier metals sank ever deeper. The slowly petrifying surface kept shrinking, became more and more creased and finally our rambling globe relief evolved, its depressions being filled with water. The complicated physical and chemical processes of fire, water and air went on moulding the face of the earth and one day, life appeared on it.

The happenings of incredibly large time units, millions of years were crammed into the previous paragraph so that we should shelve our delusion that our human civilization is omnipotent and take a closer look at a tiny segment of the struggle of the matter. At the time of the tsumani, another two pieces of sensational news threw the scientists into fever: A space probe landed on Saturn's moon Titan and transmitted photos of the material and relief back to the Earth. The other piece of news said that the research vehicle found a meteor of iron and nickel on the surface of Mars.

What business do these pieces of news have in the preface to a Silicate Triennial?
They warn us that we have crossed a magic threshold beyond which our knowlege and experience accumulated for however many thousands of years have to be revalued. That applies particularly to the arts which preserve the traditions more faithfully and into which scientific thinking is hard put to penetrate.

In Kecskemét, the duly famous International Ceramics Studio and the organizers have undertaken to stage international showings of art works made of silicate materials every three years. Art works that are not made of ceramics, porcelain, concrete, but of SILICATE materials.

What made the organizers take this revolutionary step?
What made them decide to step over from the mentality of guilds inherited from the preceding centuries to the mentality of knowledge-based society?

The question is extremely simple, and, at the samet ime, extremely complicated.
It's simple because since Réaumur, that is, since the mid-18th century, the effects of silicates have been studied together and the theory of the melting and crystallization of minerals have been known.

It's complicated because in spite of that, the ceramic, porcelain and glass products are separated by strict criteria. This is done even though it is known that the glaze melted onto a ceramic pot is glass and that overfired clays turn into glass. For centuries, there has been consideration for the glazes burnt exclusively on the surface of ceramics - their tinting, colours, crystalline character, patterns caused by expansion. It was, however, always taken for a flaw when, conversely, clay was burnt on the surface of glass.

It's simple because we can declare that for decades we have had students majoring in silicates.

It's complicated because despite the name, the contents and structure of education are still divided into ceramics and porcelain within silicates and ignore concrete completely. Nevertheless it is concrete that is used in largest volumes in the shaping of our environment.

It's simple because when Böttger discovered European porcelain, he practically made a synthetic material. In Europe, unlike in the Far East, there was no porcelain-clay to be found at one place, so mineral grists of various provenance were collected and mixed in the laboratory for his porcelain. That was perhaps the moment when the modern approach to ceramics and silicates was born.

It's complicated because chinaware came to be split up into consumer goods predominated by utilitarian considerations and art works whose quality is judged by their contribution to the increase of treasures. The artistic value is further differentiated by whether the second glass layer fired over the first glaze (glass) over the porcelain surface was painted by hand or adorned by some print.

It's simple because since cast concrete was discovered, nearly all the creations of modern architecture have been made of this material.

It's complicated because the dazzling career of concretes has failed to put it through to the campaigners of art education that the modelling of this material was important. Today, in the age of specific concrete compositions, materials of double hardening are used the final solidity of which is acquired in the kiln after a watery bond, which also means that it behaves like ceramics. When mixed with certain crushings, concrete can be covered by melted glass during subsequent heat treatment.

It's simple because in the arms race going on since World War II the irregular properties of silicates have attracted immense attention and the largest research funds. The silicates, condemned as exceptions and untreatable material in text books a few decades earliers, assumed a specific role and became the subject matter of silicate chemistry. As a result, new materials and procedures were invented one of the spectacular outcomes of which is space research, the other is the cerebral centre of the computer, the silicon crystal.

It's complicated because despite what we have listed above, ceramics, porcelain and glass have guided the new materials into the blind alley of traditional forms and technologies. Looking back upon this accelerating period, one tends to compare it to the invention of the engine mounted into the hackney-carriage drawn earlier by a pair of horses. The researching chemist and the creative artist have been torn apart.
But in the same way, the architect and the practitioner of the companion arts also became estranged from one another. Ceramic and glass reliefs were applied onto walls built of concrete, instead of shaping the wall itself when its negative, the cradling was made.

Flagrant contradictions could be enumerated on end. The puzzlement felt at professional competitions clearly indicates that the magic threshold has been trespassed and it's time to renew.

In the competition rules of biennials and triennials ceramists insist upon the centuries-old criteria of the medium, and so do porcelain and glass designers. As a consequence, the artists have by now exhausted the playful potentialities of their respective materials and expect the revival from the cast-offs of fine arts, whereas the scientific approach only indirectly influencing fine arts is directly present in these media: it is namely impossible to pursue material- and technology-dependent crafts without scientific knowledge. Since the judges mix the arguments of art trade with aesthetic arguments, art theory has become chaotic. Artists watch for the hierarchy of art types and for the ranking by the art trade, which dims their ability to recognize real values. That is why the art type that has the greatest chance to be the flag-bearer in a society based on knowledge is bringing up the rear at the moment. Painters can detach themselves from matter to find the sublimated purity of the thought. They do not analyze the substance of the canvas or the pigment, as they are the tools to convey the sign.

What can the ceramist, the glass or, for that matter, the concrete designer do, by contrast?

He has to pursue long and tenuous studies to learn the origin, behaviour, inner structure of his material, its physical and chemical properties, pliability and the history of its use. He cannot accept this knowledge with natural scientific objectivity unless he can verify and repeat it with measurable proof. When, however, he is led by the intention of the artist to use these materials to express the unique and irreproducible, cathartic experience of human existence, he is faced with a seemingly irresolvable contradiction.

What can he do?

He tries to identify with the material. He personifies the matter as if its processes were happening to him. He has to feel the drama of material change, the excitement of the transformation of form. He has to live through the circumstances of the genesis, migration, origin, metamorphosis, collisions of the materials. If he is able to do so, the material will talk and help the artist by reinforcing his personal feelings. Progressing along this course, he will gradually realize that the logic of nature is different from the logic of man. He must be aware that without selection, traditions cannot be respected to an equal measure. In the way of life of primitive peoples, he can find the deep respect of materials which is closest to our scientific knowledge today. He must realize that civilization wishes to subjugate, exploit the Earth, the material, while culture teaches to live in harmony with matter, with nature.

The periods of the analytic approach spanning the past centuries must be followed by a period of the synthetic approach. The multitude of tiny analyzed segments must be inserted back into the great whole. In our case, that means that we have to find the common denominator - the silicate substances - in the previously separate art types. That would expand the possibilities of these art types by filling out the blank spaces between their boundaries and thus, the production of art objects can give way to the comprehension and experience of the major processes of nature. It has become imperative to take the first steps of the synthesizing evaluation of silicates.
The arguments adduced above prove from the angle of substance and technology how important it is to artistically mould and present the silicates. Let us now see what perspective the modelling of silicates opens up in the development of the instruments of art.

In the traditional practice of painting and sculpture, the artist views the model and subject of his creation from the outside. When modelling silicate materials we can approach creation both as research into matter that comprises and constitutes our physical being, together with its emotional experience, and as the intensity of the reactions it elicits. That is how we can undertake to depict with the tools of art the most pressing problem of our age, the spectre of the devastation of the environment and the processes underlying it. It is the artists of a thorough knowledge of the silicate craft capable of living through the cathartic impact of this knowledge who stand the greatest chance of experiencing and comrehending the mutual effects of earth, air, fire and water.

Let me return to the tragedy of the tidal wave and the two pieces of news of space research mentioned in the introduction. What the three events share is the fact that we can only watch the visual information reflected from the surface through a window-pane with the traditional artistic tools and we can at most live through the tragedy of the people living there. Through the use of silicates, however, we can visualize the drama of the material processes taking place there, and hence warn that we are in the last minute to reverse the demolition of our environment . . .

The first muster of the artistically moulded silicate materials is perhaps an historic deed which will hopefully give an impetus to the revival of visual arts.

Imre Schrammel
January 29, 2005, Budapest

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