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Jane Polkinghorne: Volcano Spectacular

Introduction by Jane Polkinghorne

I had an idea, I had some clay, all I needed was the space. And luckily I was invited to be the second participant in the Belmore ITCH residency program. But who would have thought making a bunch of pretty crappy looking volcanoes would end up taking nearly five months?

The first day I turned up with my stuff: a table, clay, tools, an apron. But of course I hadn’t looked at the clay for over two years and it needed a little help….

Once the clay was ready I got my hands dirty and hand-built a couple of volcanoes, and weren’t they disappointing! They looked more like power station cooling towers than volcanoes.

So I decided to make model volcanoes as a way of deciding how a volcano made out of clay should look. They turned out sweetly symmetrical and I burnished them up one day when I couldn’t bring myself to start making a bigger volcano.

Finally I took on the challenge of making a bigger volcano with Somchai suggesting I make a slab of clay and mould it over a large bowl to quickly get an appropriate shape. I tried that and came up with something resembling a cowpat and looking nothing much like my shapely miniature volcanos.

Over the next few months I squeezed out a few lumpen mountainous objects that could possibly pass as volcanos if you squinted at them from a distance. I pored slip over some of the volcanos to give them cracks. This unfortunately resulted in one becoming so cracked it collapsed when Josie breathed on it, and another too fissured to make it through a firing.

The next thing to do was fire them. I could have organised to get them into a kiln but felt the primeval nature of volcanos suggested a more basic form of firing, the wood fired pit! We got some bricks and got ready.

A combination of bad weather and my irritating work schedule meant weeks went by before we finally got to fire it up in mid July. Somchai built a lovely neat kiln out of bricks and pavers and I put my volcanos inside.

We covered everything in sawdust, shavings, wood and charcoal and set it alight under Fire Warden Dean’s strict instructions.

After the fire on top burnt down a bit we smothered the coals in more sawdust and put kiln shelves as a lid on it. Things got pretty smoky and Trevor Fry suggested sealing the edges with clay. A crowd of onlookers watched as Trevor and Somchai got to work. Then it was lunchtime so we sat in the smoke and ate some tasty snacks while the kiln chugged and belched.

I didn’t put all the volcanos in the kiln.  Instead, I set little fires inside some of the volcano craters and photographed and videoed them burning and smoking. I have some idea about making a video with the footage, so stay tuned for that incredible update.

The day went on, the kiln burned and smoked and we decided to let it burn down overnight and I would come back the next day to see the results. Amazingly 24 hours later the kiln was still hot and smoking.

When Somchai took the lid off we could still see flames and charcoal smouldering. Using the high-tech barbeque tongs and leather garden gloves Somchai dug through the ashes and pulled out three big volcanos and two small ones, black and in some places shiny.

I couldn’t quite remember how many model volcanos we had put in, but I was sure it was more than two, so Somchai poked around and found another four small volcanos in the ashes. One had split in two, but the others had varying degrees of blackness and shininess.

I am pretty happy with the way they turned out. The three large ones were built in different ways so each has it’s own special volcano style. I am planning to use them in some other art works, both as sculptures and with the video footage I shot on during the firing. The Belmore ITCH experience is just the first stage of the Volcano Spectacular!

Extra big thanks to the Belmore ITCH team: Josie, Somchai and Dean