The present publication gathers the collected papers of the symposium Living Forms that took place in Limoges on January 27th and 28th 2020. This event was linked to the eponymous exhibition shown at the musée national Adrien Dubouché between October 9th 2019 and February 10th 2020. It aimed to enlight the presence of the living world in ceramic from the Renaissance up to nowadays, within a dialog crossing arts and sciences. From Bernard Palissy’s naturalistic ornament to 3D printed ceramic prosthesis, specific similarities between living organisms and mineral matter were thus explored through museum collections, contemporary artworks and scientific items.
The Musée national Adrien Dubouché owns a collection of decorated ceramics looking like Bernard Palissy’s rustic ware often called « rustique figuline ». Following the exhibition Living Forms where these works were shown, this paper traces the history of these ceramics inspired by the famous Renaissance potter. Based on the chronology, this study is divided into three parts: the years of Adrien Dubouché, from 1865 to 1881 ; the years of his successor Auguste Louvrier de Lajolais, from 1881 to 1907; the begining of the XXIth Century marked by a new look over rustic ware and Bernard Palissy’s style.
Life is not an absolute quality that appeared suddenly. It emerged progressively, linked to the environment and the conditions of the primitive Earth. The Earth produces clay, a substance that may have been the ingredient of the beginning of life. That is not a new idea, since it is found in very ancient stories, sources of myths, legends and artistic creations, figurative, poetic and... even technological. Life, which is formed from water and clay, takes on forms and colors that are present in us, in the depths. The question of origins has become a scientific one and is the basis of an unfinished quest, inseparable from nature and art.
What I call my bestiary is neither an animal ceramic nor a ceramic decorated with animal patterns. I would rather call it a ceramic of phenomenons, in which animal is a pretext to find artistic solutions only by means of ceramic. Subject (animal type for instance) is clearly exposed in order to show what is expected. It is therefore the opposite of a ceramic made by chance. The useful aspect of my works (boxes, cups, vases...) is here every time, at least as reminder of a function : to preserve, to contain, to pour. The link with a potential use of a ceramic is a matter of ethic : I also expect it to be able to revive the memory of a ritual ceramic, of which meaning disappeared as myths were abandoned but could still be found as an echo. Bestiary is the way I chose to go back to the primordial sense of ceramic.
The dominant paradigm in molecular biology equates living things with precision machines ruled by a genetic program. This depiction of life contributes to radically oppose it to the mineral world, which seems to be its antithesis. However, Origins of Life studies aims to understand how life came to be in an entirely mineral context, and therefore to forge links rather than script ruptures. In so doing, it echoes many of our founding myths, and in turn it fuels contemporary science fiction, which is populated by strange hybrid creatures between biology and minerality. This is actually a path that science is also exploring, where the living would not be torn away from the minerality but would maintain a reciprocal, complex and long-term relationship with it. The epistemological consequences of this approach are profound, and contribute to renewing the definitions of life itself.
The protection and the development of coral reefs is a major ecological issue today. Indeed, the significant degradation of these reefs, mainly due to global warming and human pollution, is damaging biodiversity. Consequently, the Limoges Aquarium and I.Ceram laboratory, a manufacturer of inert ceramic bone substitutes, are carrying out research into the use of porous alumina as a cutting support for corals. The work carried out has shown that this type of support is totally adapted to the regrowth of coral and allows a living development in the heart of the ceramic to form a "living stone".
Since ancient civilizations, ceramics have been used to repair bone injuries. Although their role is primarily functional, a personalized architecture adapted to the patient is fully in line with the manufacturing criteria of today’s ceramic implants. The current developments implement innovative shaping processes combining computeraided design and additive manufacturing to produce complex devices for bone tissue engineering. The Institute of Research for Ceramics (IRCER) in Limoges has been carrying out researches in this field for nearly 30 years and has acquired a know-how based on a strategy whose main lines are presented in this article.
Since 2009, when the designer collective Unfold with Tim Knapen developed L’Artisan Électronique, ceramic 3D printing projects and machines have multiplied. If in the field of industry the use of ceramic-based powder is older, never the shaping of ceramics had been developed in this way, inaugurating unprecedented results, leaving room for randomness and the integration of environmental factors. Often supporting the open source, and themselves falling under the heading of self-production (DIY), they question the technique and processes of obtaining forms, developing a critique of proprietary industrial approaches. This meeting of 3D printing and ceramics is particularly part of a naturalist revival that ventures both into the terrain of biomimicry, biomorphism, and on the side of a poetic listening to the material, exposing physics (Phusis, φύσις) of clay. In addition to identifying different creative approaches and ways of articulating 3D printing to ceramics, the talk also focuses on the reasons for their convergence and on a deeper questioning. The hypothesis developed is that this meeting is not without a link to current concerns about ecology and the anthropocene.
From the starting point of the cyborg as a theoretical construction by philosopher Donna Haraway, this article aims at reframing patients with ceramic bone prosthetics and coral artificially grown on ceramic structures as « ceramic cyborgs », showing a deep intrication between the body and ceramics. The idea of « faire corps » (body making) with ceramics is not just a medical reality. It can also lend itself to different understandings, as shown in the Formes vivantes (« Living forms ») exhibition. Thanks to several artworks showcased in this exhibition, the article explores the possible genealogy of the « ceramic cyborg » as a theoretical construction, which underlines the multiplicity and the political aspects of the relationship between body and ceramics.
Elsa Guillaume’s work always starts with a simple drawing. A drawing that can be done while travelling solo, fully focused on the world that surrounds her. Or a drawing done while working closely with scientists, for instance, during art and sciences residencies, in laboratories or on the board of expeditions boats. All this graphic material she collects patiently is the starting point of her sculptures and volume projects. Working with clay is the material through which she synthesizes her interests and intuitions. Clay, as a continuity, allows her to bring to life the bestiary and imaginary of her sketches. It’s a perpetutal balance between the work in the studio and the work in the field.
Based on Louise Lawler’s photograph Pollock and Tureen (1984), my intervention consists in examining, first, how the opposition between fine and decorative arts has been structured, in European art theory, using the conventional hierarchy of gender. Thus the decorative arts are traditionally associated with the feminine and the fine arts with the masculine. But in Lawler’s critical and postmodern art project, these hierarchical oppositions are cleverly challenged. The decorative arts and the field of ornament can then be seen in a much more positive light, expressing vitality as it is currently understood in philosophy, the social sciences and the life sciences.
Rather than a stylistic or a formal exercise, I try to help my work seem living. I chose all my techniques (assembled slabs, thrown pieces, or deformation of porcelaine clay) in order to create works that look as alive as possible.
Many scientists have investigated the emergence of living forms from minerals. Fundamental notions arose, from the characterisation of organic materials to their self-organisation through active processes, consuming energy to produce ordered structures. Along the opposite path, ceramicists have explored the different ways to recreate living forms using mineral matter, going beyond the opposition between animated and inanimate entities, between life and inorganic matter. Novel confluences between living forms and ceramics now appear, for instance bioinspired materials and organic morphogenesis.
In this article, we reactivate the original meaning of the word "abstraction", in order to put in light the complexity and the richness of all the mental operations which underlie the artistic representations of the living. Indeed, the notion of abstraction underwent at the beginning of the XXth century a violent mutation which uprooted it from its philosophical origins, at the time when the so-called "abstract art" was instituted. In order to deconstruct the new sterile meaning given to abstraction, which makes it the so-called opposite of figuration, we will first put into perspective a series of texts, signed by some of the founding fathers of abstract art, in order to relive this crucial moment in history when the meaning of the term changed. Then, we will return to the original meanings that Plato and Aristotle had wanted to give to abstraction, and to the philosophical problems that motivated it. By means of a phenomenological analysis, we will show that these problems have in no way lost their vigor, but can be found again in the modern and contemporary period, concerning the representations of the living, under a new and amplified form by the complexification of the forms of detours of the literal figuration.