Fresh Blood | The Intense Yet Delicate Ceramics of Saskia Nislow
Ceramics as art entered public consciousness in the late 1950s when abstract expressionists sought to release the medium from its functional imperative. Eventually, in the hands of conceptual artists of the 1980s-1990s, ceramic art shifted its investigation into its history-old technique and material, and today, after all that, contemporary artists are experimenting with ceramic art in an explosion of clay and glazes, poking and prodding into its atoms to give birth to new aesthetics and sentimentalities.
Saskia Nislow themself have created such explosions, most noticeably for the context of our little article, are their series of remarkable horror ceramic sculptures and tableware, even so, it must be underlined that for Nislow themself, horror imagery was never an end goal.
“I don’t think I could say that I made a conscious choice to use ceramics as a medium for horror imagery. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that I chose ceramics as a medium in general for many different reasons (clay’s unpredictability, the way it transforms under heat, the way it can capture and preserve sensual experiences, the almost alchemical experience of glaze mixing, etc.) and the images and motifs I’m most often drawn to tend to be at least a little horrific.”
The aforementioned horrific images include among others a white glazed self-mutilating person with only half of their head attached, two hands peeling each other’s skin, tea cups with sharp gnawing teeth inside, and black glazed rotting fruit, a choice Nislow made as:
“Nature and bodies are both sort of overwhelmingly horrifying to me, which leads me to fixate on both. And one of the reasons I’ve been so drawn to clay is that, like all soil, it’s a product of decay. I’m interested, overall, in the generative properties of rot, how it’s sort of obscenely fecund. It’s hard, when working with clay, not to think about what it is you’re squeezing between your fingers.”
The concepts she has outlined are especially front and centre in the two teapots they have sculpted:
A white-glazed one with a vertebrae handle and a black-glazed one with a decaying surface and a rotting animal on its body. Blurring the lines between human and animal, invoking the feeling one gets when walking through a wunderkammer, filled with its oddities and curiosities, both foreign and yet so familiar, and as its German word suggests, definitely a room full of wonders.
An experience that may just be rooted in the fact that when asked about her aesthetics Nislow answered:
“On the most basic level, I just haven’t ever been able to untangle the experience of looking at something and feeling terrified of it from the experience of looking at something and finding it beautiful.”
Reminding us to cherish the sense of wonder that sometimes comes out of horrifying sights and experiences.
Saskia Nislow is a queer writer, artist, and educator based in Kansas City, MO. Their work can be found in The Banshee, Acropolis Journal, Travesties?! Press, and Queer Little Nightmares: An Anthology of Monstrous Fiction and Poetry. You can find more of their work at siramuks.com or on Instagram and Twitter at @cronebro.