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    Makers in the spotlight: El Samms

    The ceramic artist on how merging their creative practice and experience as a non-binary person has been ‘life affirming’, and their giddy obsession with chairs

    IN A NUTSHELL, WHAT IS YOUR CRAFT STYLE AND APPROACH? 

    Language is the origin of all my work. A word or a phrase can lead me down a rabbit hole, often tapping into pre-existing thoughts, feelings and concepts. As I start to read around a topic, for example, “Transology”, words become building blocks in the progression from page to 3D form. And, eventually, I land at a point where the words seem to flow through the material. An idea lands; something clicks.

     

    HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN CERAMICS?

    Before my Art Foundation at Leeds Arts University, I had no idea a career in 3D making was even a possibility. The course opened up a world of material experimentation and play, eventually leading me to 3D Design & Craft at the University of Brighton. Here, we took materials to their limits, observing when wood split, polymer cracked, and (of course) glaze tests exploded in the kiln; a humorous ceramic initiation. The course was about finding what fits with your hands and your mind. This is where I landed on clay, or it landed on me.

     

    HOW DO YOU LIKE TO SPEND TIME IN THE STUDIO? 

    Wow, this really varies. Independent making can often be incredibly solitary, after sanding for seven hours a day alone in a studio I find I crave voices. A podcast about everything and nothing, two people talking about experience and lack thereof. Nothing too deep, however, or I’m spiralling into my bucket of slip. On days when I need help clicking into a making headspace, I employ my rituals: stepping into studio shoes, putting on my apron, making a coffee. Really physically stepping into the space of making rather than simply waiting for it to arrive – this is something my dad taught me.

     

    CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE KEY PRODUCT/S YOU HAVE SELECTED FOR THE MAKERS’ MARKET AT THE ROYAL EXCHANGE?

    For the Makers’ Market I’ll be debuting a collection of small Parian vessels, miniatures from my collection To Speak of Light as Soft. They’re an homage to the beginning of this project and, really, to all making practices that begin with maquettes. The collection is a love letter to the provenance of an idea, to the wee objects that lay the groundwork for larger endeavours.

     

    DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE PIECE?

    Over the past year, I’ve been developing my most personal body of work to date. Using clay as a medium for exploration into the human experience of liminality, with a particular focus on gender liminality and Transology. It has been equally bracing and life affirming merging my creative practice with my experience as a non-binary person. This body of work is a series of Parian clay sculptures, some fired, some raw, but all exploring the relationship between clay and liminality. Clay body as non-binary body.

     

    WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR CRAFT INSPIRATIONS? 

    I am obsessed with chairs. Obsessed in a giddy aesthetic sense but also in an emotional, impassioned sense too. There is something so poignant about an object made for rest. A chair by a window tells a story, there’s a before and after, and a pause somewhere in the middle. An object built for lived experience, it is an example of how we insert ourselves into the world. You can travel back through time via the history of chairs, they tell us something about the way we lived.

     

    WHAT IS THE ONE THING THAT PEOPLE CAN DO TO SUPPORT INDEPENDENT BRITISH CRAFT? 

    This is a complex question to which there is no one answer. However, supporting not-for-profit workshop spaces is vital to maintaining accessibility within the craft industry. Creativity is not exclusive to or dependent on socio-economic status, and our educational spaces need to reflect this. If you’re in a position to support, a charity is a great place to begin: Create (Arts), the Crafts Council, Made4Aid, just to name a few.

     

    IF YOU COULD CREATE SOMETHING FOR ANYONE IN THE WORLD, WHO WOULD IT BE, WHAT WOULD YOU CREATE AND WHY?

    It would have to be for my sibling, Ewan; my 20-year-old pride and joy. It would be a life-sized Parian sculpture of some kind, something held up by supports and fused in glaze. A physical impression of our bond, a thank you to them for their continuous support and laughter. I love them endlessly.

     

     

    QUICK-FIRE QUESTIONS

    1. Favourite film? Brokeback Mountain
    2. Designer or brand you would most love to collaborate with? Not a designer or brand, but filmmaker/writer Iso Attrill.
    3. Podcast recommendations? How to Fail With Elizabeth Day. Be ready to cry.
    4. If you could own one piece of art (regardless of price), what would it be? Marcel Breuer B35 Lounge Chair, 1930s
    5. Favourite item of clothing in your wardrobe and why? My Hugo Boss charity shop suit, £15.
    6. Music album that left a lasting impression? Absolutely by Dijon
    7. Go-to snack? Coated peanuts from Tesco (and only Tesco).
    8. One Instagram account you recommend following? @banconversiontherapy

     

    El Samms is taking part in The Makers’ Market at The Royal Exchange from 10-13 May 2022. Lead photo by Iso Attrill in Natasha Daintry’s South East London Studio, 2021.