Friday, 24 June 2011

Mazdagama 1999

At the ASP the annual celebration of Guy Fawkes has evolved into an annual chance to set fire to things, to build kilns that don’t make a lot of sense but usually provide a spectacle of sorts, even if it is just the designer looking very embarrassed.
Possibly it all started with the “Mazdagama” – it’s a while ago now and I can’t recall accurately the real history so this will have to do. The Director of the ASP at the time, Lee Le Grice, had had her car stolen from outside her house and it was eventually found, wrecked and burnt out, up a lonely road in the rural sector. What made this interesting (as well as upsetting of course) was that it had been packed with pots en route from an exhibition and these all perished in the fire; there is some irony there because they had all already survived much hotter temperatures but of course not as suddenly and unevenly. But it set me to thinking: what if we filled a car with biscuited pots and set fire to it …. would they survive and perhaps even show some signs of surface interest? And how good would it be to set fire to a car anyway? We’d been gifted an old Mazda for the ASP, abandoned by a potter leaving the country who asked us to “take care of it” so we did by painting in a fine brick pattern and filling it with pots, wood, sawdust, fireworks, chemicals and seaweed and setting it on fire in an isolated country vineyard belonging to Petra Molloy, one of our more relaxed students. The original plan had been for Chris Southern, one of our tutors, to sit in it at the top of the grassy slope while we set fire to it and then it would roll down to the bottom, at which point with split-second timing he would leap out in true movie style and it would then explode in flames. For some reason that plan was modified and we settled down and eventually lit it under the back hatch and allowed it to fire at its own pace. Surprisingly it took over an hour and a half to completely burn out (we had been advised to empty the petrol tank – probably by the same sensible people that stopped the “rolling down the hill” plan) but during the course of the firing there was the odd highlight, particularly when the windows exploded (the windscreen refused to do that even though it must have reached at least 800ºC, instead eventually melting over the steering wheel) and for the finale the tyres all blew out to happy applause from the crowd. It became clear as the fire died down that oxidation was a threat, by now the interior of car was open to the air, so we improvised by picking piles of grass and throwing it over the glowing pots, without much effect.
The next day we “opened the kiln” by simply opening the doors which still swung to an extent and the pots we got out were surprisingly good – the effects were not too different to a pit firing with areas of colour from the various stuff we’d thrown in plus the proximity to various parts of the car which had an effect as well. The piece in the glove box was probably the most successful, and those under the seat. The oxidation did not help some of them, but of course plans for the next one started right there, with schemes to help overcome some of these problems.
So the next year we scored an old Holden (better results) and the year after that a fine looking Mercedes (good quality results), and after that we became distracted by other options for unlikely kilns based on the premise that you can get over 1100º in almost any container from a filing cabinet to a treetrunk, a wooden box or a block of ice, and all of them will provide an entertaining spectacle and occasionally a fired pot. We have fired underwater and on a trailer moving down the road, in a sandcastle and stack of telephone books.
This year we’ll have a special kiln that will celebrate our 50th birthday on November 5th – you must be there to watch this one!