When Johanna met Olivia
London based artist Johanna Tagada meets Scottish ceramic artist Olivia Fiddes at the Turning Earth studios to talk about her dedication to making entirely by hand (with 'no wheel or moulds'), how her practice sometimes leads to carelessness and the pleasures of making to music...
Johanna Tagada is a painter and multidisciplinary artist. She is also a curator, online shop owner and lover of fine craft who documents the history and process of makers through photography and writing. Here she meets ceramic artist Olivia Fiddes at East London’s Turning Earth Studio, whose hand built functional pieces, made from reclaimed clay, display an elegance that can only found in the confident production of the simplest of forms.
Johanna Tagada: In a time where most of the objects surrounding us are machine produced, your pieces are made with your hands, directly onto the clay – and often when you talk about your practice you clarify that it’s been made with 'no wheel or moulds'. I feel that when a person places their hands on a cup you made, somehow they touch your hands directly – connect to you in some way…
Olivia Fiddes: Apart from some small pottery tools, I mainly use the contours of my hands, my fingertips and my hand muscles to shape the pieces. The cups I make are almost an exact mould of the space between my cupped hands. I suppose this makes them completely unique to me. This certainly connects a potential new owner and the pieces to me. And because they are made in this personal, human way, hopefully this is something that is pleasant for the owner too – and, I hope, it also fits into their hands nicely.
I am very considerate of the design and shape of pieces but I’m not a perfectionist in terms of their finish or uniformity. It’s good to accept difference and little flaws. In appreciating this in my work, I guess this connects others to my personality and way of thinking. I know that lots of other ceramics made on a wheel or with moulds are very personal and handmade, but I like the idea that creating completely by hand is more expressive – and also simple.
JT: Why did you decide to work specifically with reclaimed clay?
OF: It works well with the glazes I use, and I like the texture of reclaimed clay – it's often very good for hand building. Primarily though, I don't like the idea of using loads of new clay when there is plenty of great reclaim available from the shared studio I work in. I like the idea of giving it new life too, making things from other people's off-cuts or pieces that didn't survive. It doesn’t compromise any of the quality – if anything, I think it adds quality because it’s reclaimed.
JT: What is your own relationship with your work? Do you eat and drink from the vessels you create?
OF: Yes, I use them a lot. I make pieces I would like to use and that I feel fit into my home well. That’s often a starting point for me when I make a new design. A lot of the time, with pieces around the house, I forget that I made them. It’s quite satisfying when it’s something I enjoy using – then I remember it was me that made it! It’s always nice to make something from scratch. I can be quite careless with my pieces at home though. You get used to things breaking a lot in ceramics so you become slightly detached.
JT: In the past you’ve said you enjoyed listening to podcasts, browsing the web… I understand that it is essential to allow mind, body and eyes to wander. Do some of these moments influence your own practice? If so, can you give me an example?
OF: I listen to a lot of music when I work. This always has quite a big effect on mood and tone. Sometimes this can involve a bit of dancing while I work – or being in a kind of trance – concentrating hard. I record some of my favourite songs on my online journal. I wonder whether my musical interests reflect my artistic style? I don’t know…
Interview and photographs Johanna Tagada