Seven questions with... Kirstie Van Noort
Dutch ceramicist and researcher Kirstie Van Noort talks about her process, her materials research on how her practice can influence making…
Tell us about yourself and what you do
I graduated in 2011 at Design Academy Eindhoven with a research project about Cornwall, UK. I travelled for about two weeks in Cornwall to get to know more about the production process of porcelain. While exploring all the porcelain quarries, I stumbled upon all different metal mines and their ores. By collecting samples of different raw materials I started to research how to turn these waste materials from different industries into a sustainable material and into a colour palette to colour porcelain with. It seems that this way of working suits me very well and between 2011 and now I’ve finished in total four different research projects, all based on the same principle; making use of the leftover materials of a certain industry and turning them into a useful material.
What defines your practice?
I see myself more as a (design)researcher, rather than being a ceramicist. Until now I completed fieldwork and research in the UK, The Netherlands, Belgium and Japan. Most of them are related to ceramics since this material gives me enough possibilities to start a colour and or material research. I just finished a new series of silkscreen prints, all printed on paper with the raw materials found in Cornwall. Hopefully, I am able to slowly expand my way of working into other mediums.
What inspires you?
I like to travel, discover and see new things. Colours, structures, (raw) materials, shapes, views (not perspectives but seeing the landscape literally changing when on the road) are most of the time the sources of inspiration for my new work. I discover opportunities and possibilities by completely diving into a certain material or production process. For example, I started the Cornwall research in 2010, and I just finished it, 7 years later, with a book. Some things really need time. All the pieces will fall into place while taking time for reflection and while not being constantly busy with it [the work].
Would you say storytelling through materials is a way for you to make more meaningful connections with the environment?
Yes, as mentioned before I make use of a certain process or material to start my research. This research, or story, is only complete when all different aspects are visible. This includes the environment, the history and the original function of the material.
Are there any places that particularly inspire you to explore the materials of the land?
Most of my research is related to certain industries and/or processes. Making use of a material which is not useful already is a challenge. This can be everywhere, I stumbled upon the metal mines in Cornwall due to my research into the porcelain industry and I know now that certain areas can be very interesting. But I want to try to expand my way of working so I am always in for new interesting places – not one in particular.
You did a residency at the famous Arita pottery in Japan, did you think there were parallels between your practice and what they do there?
Oh wow, Arita, yes that was truly amazing. I’m a bit ‘afraid’ to say there were parallels, the craftsmen in Arita are so skilled in what they do. They’re very focused on the best results, with the finest porcelain. In the beginning, it was quite a challenge for both of us to work together. As I wanted to use all different waste materials (such as iron and sand) into my porcelain series, they just couldn’t understand why I coloured the pure white porcelain with an iron slab, making it beige. But of course my background also helped me a lot and the communication (they don’t speak English!) was way easier than with other designers, without a ceramic background. In the end, we were both very satisfied with the results and I was super proud that I was able to take part in this special project.
Do you think makers will try and harvest their own materials more in the future and thus foster a healthier relationship with the land?
I just published a book about my Cornwall research. You can find all the different locations, raw materials, and developed colours and materials in it. I really hope it is an inspiration for other people on how to behave ourselves in relation to the environment. It seems sometimes so easy, we have access to everything. Getting more conscious about where things are coming from and finding your own way of using raw materials, gives us new insights which might be helpful in developing products and solutions.
Do you think understanding the provenance of materials changes the experience of making?
Yes, I’m very aware of where my materials come from and what the original purpose was. Therefore I am able to tell the complete story; from fieldwork to research to materials and eventually into a product. This can be both the research itself as well as for example, my Cornwall Collection in where I used the raw materials to colour objects which are related to the raw material and their function.