Alison Safford, of CSW’s Visual Art Department, was one of nine artist participants in the Kaunas Bone China Symposium in Kaunas, Lithuania, this summer.
For 19 days, Alison and the other artists — hailing from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, Hungary, and Taiwan/Belgium — worked with bone china, a form of porcelain that contains powdered bone, to create pieces for a show that is set to open at the end of September 2022.
While in Kaunas, which is this year’s European Cultural Capital, Alison was able to visit the local porcelain factory and learn more about the history of the area.
“My great grandparents, although ethnically German, came from Lithuania,” Alison says. “The town [my grandfather] lived in was a shtetl (although he was Lutheran) and no longer exists. The idea of towns coming and going was a bit of my focus.”
In working with the bone China, Alison cast birch branches (which she says are “pretty ubiquitous” in Lithuania, with much folklore tied to them) to transform them into symbols of nature before and after cities. Tying video into the project, Alison projected an abstract video meant to evoke coal onto the pieces, with the coal representing industry and civilization.
The show will be at the Kauna (old) post office, “an interwar gem of the city,” Alison says. Her artist statement is below.
Floating World (Plaukiojantis Pasaulis)
First nature, then “civilization”, then back to nature.
A distant relative left Mariampole, to work in the coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania, to build a new life. While working he died in a mine accident, leaving a wife and 9 children behind.
Anthracite is the highest quality coal. It burns the best to build industries, and towns, and lives.
My great grandfather (a German-Lithuanian) came from a town near Mariampole, then called Jasinowo. It was a shtetl, and is now an empty field. The town was built, and unbuilt (unbuilt is the wrong word of course).
Nature came back.
We work with porcelain and bones. Like coal they come from the earth to be with us for a while so we can build. Then return to the earth to either poison or feed life.
I cast the branches of the birch in bone china. With my online Google-stalking of Kaunas, Mariampol, and less populated areas, birch and pine showed themselves again and again. The birch is a ghost or bone in the New England woods (near my current home), one you can see from far away under the darkest canopy. I read that it is a Pentacost tradition to decorate your home with flowers and greenery, including birch branches. It gives visiting souls a place to rest while visiting.