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Smoke

by Michał Puszczyński with Osama ‘Ali and Karam al-Shaykh, potters

Ceramics, wax, steel wire, smoke, 2014

Michał Puszczyński has explored for years different aspects of ceramics, which he considers an integral part of universal heritage that transcends geographical and cultural boundaries. One of his areas of interest is wood-fired ceramics. When he learned that the Egyptian government is increasingly removing traditional pottery kilns and relocating potters away from their age-old production areas in new workshops, more environmentally-friendly but less suited to traditional crafts, he decided to preserve at least a memory of the venerable legacy. Traditional crafts disappear all over the world, driven out by the flood of mass-produced goods. In his research before arriving in Cairo, a YouTube video in which a ceramic maker Karam al-Shaykh talked about his work and the condition of potters in Fustat made Michał aware of how this traditional craft is also disappearing in Cairo. This inspired him to design ceramic capsules, not unlike the vessels in which grain, oil, milk or wine were stored in the past, and sometimes manuscripts or hoards of gold. This time the vessels preserve the smoke of wood-fired pottery kilns, which future generations may not have a chance to see anymore. A number of potteries in Fustat was razed to the ground by bulldozers at the time when Michał was working with local craftsmen, which gave the project an added dimension. “In these simple traditional workshops, nothing was left to chance”, says Michał. “Clay with which a potter works would be just dumped in a heap on the ground. But where it was placed in relation to the turning-wheels, how moist, in what quantity – all this was determined by unwritten knowledge accumulated by many generations over centuries. It cannot easily be replicated in a modern workshop in a new location.”

 

Several workshops were involved in the production of the capsules. The process included forming the vessels on a wheel, slow drying, and then two firings; the first to fire the pottery capsules, the second to capture and seal in the smoke. Who would have imagined that finally it was Karam al-Shaykh himself doing the second firing and confining the smoke inside the capsules?

Klio Krajewska, curator

 

 

Working with Michał Puszczyń ski was very interesting for Karam al-Shaykh. He immediately felt that pottery was something that runs in Puszczyński’s blood. “Like any artist, he is not concerned about anything in the world or his life except the deep dedication to his profession,” says Karam. “I would like to collaborate more with him, to learn his way of thinking.” For Karam it was a unique experience, very different from what he is used to, especially due to the conceptual message behind it. It was  challenging for him, as he felt a huge gap between theory and practice. “I'm proud to have participated in it, and I benefitted a lot from it. I will probably use the same ideas in other works.” Karam believes that Michał deserves recognition as a genuine and professional potter, which is high praise in his eyes.

based on the interview with Taher ‘Abd al-Ghani of ARCHiNOS Architecture