A Reel-to-Reel Recorder Animates Wildlife Automata Using Carl Sagan’s Warning of Climate Disasters
A new advertisement for the United Nations Global Compact, the largest corporate sustainability program in the world, recalls the nearly 40-year-old speeches of the prescient American scientist and cosmologist Carl Sagan. Famously testifying to Congress in 1985 to alert of the dangers of a warming environment, Sagan was an unflinching advocate for transitioning the world away from fossil fuels and protecting the planet for generations to come.
In “Carl Sagan’s Message,” the Brazilian production company Boiler Filmes and ad agency AlmapBBDO bring the scientist’s words back to life alongside a menagerie of wildlife automata. As a reel-to-reel audio recorder plays his speeches, a kangaroo, elephant, moose, and more—all of which were created by artist Pablo Lavezzari—begin to wiggle. Each is part of a larger installation, a fitting metaphor for the connection of all living beings.
Throughout the nearly two-minute ad, Sagan warns, “We’re doing something immensely stupid…The abundance of greenhouse gases is increasing. One degree of temperature change is enough to produce widespread suffering and famine worldwide.” Unfortunately in 2023, the planet has already surpassed one degree, and we now face the immense task of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celcius. “40 years ago it was urgent,” the ad reads. “Now it’s an emergency.”
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Ukrainian Artist Julia Pilipchatina Draws on the Centuries-Old Tradition of Porcelain Painting with the Future In Mind
In the 7th or 8th century, Chinese artisans devised a way to combine feldspar and kaolin and fire it at a very high temperature to produce the first porcelain, which was traded globally and highly sought-after for its elegant surfaces and ornate designs. The precise process wasn’t easy to replicate: not until the early 18th century did makers in Germany first achieve the right mix of materials and methods to produce the ceramic in Europe. Around the world, the bright, white surfaces of dinnerware and decorative vessels provided canvases for the painstaking craft of porcelain painting, emphasizing numerous patterned layers of colorful glaze. For Ukrainian artist Julia Pilipchatina, the craft of hand-embellishing plates connects her to a rich creative legacy and to personal stories and family heirlooms.
Formally educated as a historian, Pilipchatina is fascinated by the profound ties to ancestry and culture that tableware represents. “By choosing a unique plate for ourselves, we draw upon our own values, and—I hope—these objects remain in our families as testament to the lives of past generations,” she says. As a refugee from Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, the artist was forced to close her workshop, leave all of her belongings behind—save for her two dogs—and start from scratch. Now in Belgium, she’s developing a series of plates depicting detailed, chromatic insects with spotted wings, serrated legs, and feathery feet. She says:
The Beetles series was born out of an attempt to overcome my fear. It’s difficult for me to approach the topic of war. It’s too painful and feels like a black hole that drags me in as soon as I focus on it. But I suppose the nature of fear is the same, and I decided to take on a somewhat safe but strong and irrational fear of insects.
While insects have long appeared in ceramic tableware alongside other popular motifs like birds, trees, and bucolic landscapes, Pilipchatina renders each critter in a style mirroring her watercolor illustrations, inspired by an encyclopedia depicting exotic, jewel-colored specimens in intricate detail. The more she studied the images, the more the creatures ceased to be a source of anxiety as she noted their elaborate patterns and found beauty in their vibrance and textures.
Each bug’s bold, saturated color emerges through the meticulous layering of thin coats of paint, or overglaze, to the surface, then firing the piece at 800 degrees Celsius. “The cycle consists of heating and cooling to room temperature, which means that one firing can last 12 hours,” Pilipchatina says. “Since the paint is semi-transparent, achieving brightness, depth, and contrast requires many layers, and therefore many firings.”
Emphasizing beauty as a reprieve from the loss of her home and the ugliness of war, the artist focuses on tenderness and fragility in the natural world and humanity’s relationship with it and one another. Combining art and utility, an elegantly crafted dish emphasizes longevity, continuity, and tradition while connecting loved ones around the table. She says, “Having an item that belonged to a grandmother or great-grandmother is of great value and rarity. Now, I am creating such objects for the future.”
Pilipchatina explores a range of decorative ceramic designs in addition to a few series of illustrations about her dogs and children’s stories. You can find much more of her work on Behance, Instagram, and in her Etsy shop.
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Three-Dimensional Narratives Spring from Antique Books in Emma Taylor’s Meticulous Paper Sculptures
From the pages of history books, novels, and atlases, Cambridgeshire-based artist Emma Taylor (previously) unfurls the written word into three-dimensional narratives. In one work titled “Sailing the Seven Seas,” a wooden ship glides over rippling pages. Others feature a woodpecker knocking at the side of Bird Life and Bird Lore or a tiny mouse curling up for a nap with Beatrix Potter. Using materials from vintage world maps to The Lore of the Falcon, the artist constructs paper sculptures in painstaking detail, which appear to surface organically from the contents.
During the past few years, Taylor has experimented with different ways to position each copy, focusing on a variety of arrangements and expanding her earlier emphasis on building upward from an open spread. More valuable titles with colorful cloth covers form the basis for pieces, while others are deconstructed, reassembled, and given a new chapter. “I spend hours scouring antique shops, market stalls, and online bookstores in order to source topical books, typically dating to the first half of the 20th century,” she says. “I instantly know the right book, as I can picture the sculpture as if it has been laying dormant, just waiting to be given form.”
Taylor recently showed some of the work you see here at Byard Art in Cambridge, and you can find more on her website or Instagram, where she shares updates and insights into her process.
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Marine Animal Masks by Liz Sexton Spotlight Beloved Species in Lifelike Papier-Mâché
If you feel like a fish out of water, the saying goes, then you’re probably feeling a little confused or uncomfortable. St. Paul-based artist Liz Sexton gives the simile new meaning with recent marine-themed additions to her ongoing papier-mâché masks series, highlighting the distinctive faces of familiar creatures like walruses, manatees, and polar bears that find themselves out and about on dry land.
Sexton enjoys papier-mâché for its versatility and accessibility, using additional readily available materials like cloth, wire, and acrylic paint to build up each animal’s unique textures, patterns, and colors. Comprising her upcoming solo exhibition Out of Water at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, the lifelike wearable sculptures draw attention to a variety of beings that rely on aquatic ecosystems for survival. Barnacles and belugas are photographed in atmospheric settings by the artist’s partner and collaborator Ben Toht, who captures each animal’s unique details and expressions.
Many of Sexton’s sculptures portray species that, in their native habitats, are under threat as they increasingly become entangled in nets and suffer the effects of the climate crisis. The delicate and often awkward balance between the human-made environment and natural ecosystems is highlighted in photographs of the masks in atmospheric settings by the artist’s partner and collaborator Ben Toht. The portraits playfully juxtapose the creatures with unusual locations like a grocery store freezer aisle, a campground, or a laundromat.
Out of Water opens May 6 and continues through September 3 in Winona, and you can find more work on the artist’s website and Instagram.
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Art Craft Design
Traditional Design Meets Modern Function in Natura Ceramica’s Elemental Earthenware Vessels
Harnessing the rich, organic textures of soil, stone, and timber, Ukrainian artists Andriy and Olesya Voznicki of Natura Ceramica create voluminous ceramic vessels and sculptures. Based in Amsterdam, the duo draw inspiration from natural phenomena like the changing seasons, patinas and aging, and elements like fire or earth. The pieces mirror the shapes and textures of boulders or lava rock, suggesting both beauty and resiliency and influenced by a concept called bionic design, which mimics characteristics and adaptations in nature.
While many pieces are presented series—such as Gonta, which often features old oak shingles nestled into cushion-like clay forms—each piece is unique. “The inspiration for the vases comes from both ancient Carpathian architecture and modern bionic design,” reads a statement. “The use of old shingle roofs that have their own history adds a sense of nostalgia and a connection to the past.”
Find more on the Natura Ceramica website and Instagram.
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Ceramic ‘Curiosity Clouds’ by Manifesto Celebrate the Natural World in Functional Organic Forms
The practice of assembling cabinets of curiosities, or Wunderkammers, may date back to the 16th century, but the human impulse to collect, document, study, and learn from our surroundings goes back millennia. Scottish artist Katie Rose Johnston, who works as Manifesto, celebrates the timeless pastime of collecting in her series Curiosity Clouds. Exploring ceramics at the intersection of art and history, she draws inspiration from natural phenomena and blurring the line between form and function.
Johnston was inspired to create the organic forms after a visit to The Hunterian in Glasgow, where she was fascinated by a vitrine tucked away in the rear of the museum. Displaying bird and insect nests from around the world, it included a cross-section of a termite mound featuring an elaborate network of compartments that the insects use for ventilation. “It was a really compelling form that mimicked a set of printer’s drawers in my mother’s home, which were filled with bits and bobs, mudlarked treasures, and our childhood crafts,” she tells Colossal. “The form of the dissected termite mound was really appealing, like a Wunderkammer from an alternate universe.”
The Curiosity Clouds are made using terracotta crank, a type of textured, groggy clay that is often used to make large, durable pots. Johnston forms each piece intuitively rather than relying on sketches, and she enjoys the way the material mimics the earthy, organic, meandering texture of the termite mounds. Always experimenting with different methods, she recently began incorporating materials found in the wild, like a slip coating made from clay gathered from her favorite beach. “It’s unseived to retain the small pebbles and roots which are elemental to the place they were found, and the clay is mica-rich and has a deep, metallic shimmer to the surface,” she says. “It’s rather magical.”
Johnston announces updates to the Manifesto shop every few months, with the next restock scheduled for August. You can find more of her work on her website, and follow updates or learn more about her process on Instagram.
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Editor's Picks: Craft
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