sustainability, material futures

The Clay Project

Jennifer Maier
Greenlab Project Postcarbon
Supervison: Prof. Dr. Zane Berzina



A Colour Palette of Regional Geology

Lusatia (the German name Lausitz approximates to: boggy marsh) is a region in the East of Germany, which is best known as home to the Sorbs, a Western Slavic people, and for its coal resources. What is lesser known, is that there lies one of the largest tertiary clay deposits in Europe.

The Clay Project by Textile and Surface Design graduate Jennifer Maier is an intuitively developed series of trials in ceramic, using the resources and local geology of the Lusatian region. The project arose under the presiding theme of „Postcarbon – Design für a sustainable Lusatia“, posed by the Greenlab initiative of Weißensee School of Art, Berlin: an annual laboratory for interdisciplinary, sustainable, ecological design. They set the aim of bringing sustainable design into this region, and thereby offering new prospects for the industry and future of Lusatia.

Maier set about systematically researching the material properties of different clays from the area, and simultaneously found that her trials reflect the colours and textures of the landscape. The visible result of the project is a colour palette of the region in ceramic materials.

Clay occurs when stones are weathered over millennia. In this process, geology, landscape and climate play a significant role. The Lusatian region is one of the largest waterlogged landscapes in Germany. There where water is ever-present, for example in swamps or marshes, the clay is washed and purified naturally. Thus here occurs particularly white, pure clay.

The materials and clays examined came from the clay mine of Stephan Schmidt Meissen GmbH near Karmenz- Wiesa, and they were selected individually over an extended period of time. During extraction it became clear, that different coloured earth was had a different composition. In order to produce clay of a quality which could be worked with, the extracted minerals had to be dried, cleaned and put into a thinning solution. The firing process is the deciding step of the experiment, which reveals the true parameters of the material: how it reacts to heat, changing colour and consistency.

The Clay Project resulted primarily in a series of identically-produced material samples, which demonstrate a broad range of nuances in colour, some of which display varying distortion in form acquired during firing in the kiln. From looking at the material samples, it is evident that mineral composition has a great influence on colour, plasticity, tension, structure and texture. Additionally Maier produced several right-angled minimal bowls, which take the material study into a more purpose-orientated everyday context. As distortions also occur in the bowls, the characteristics of the material determine the end appearance of the object.