We first spotted Soledad Christie’s ceramic vessels during London Craft Week in October of last year in the hiatus between the first and second lockdown. The work was part of an exhibition organised by the Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage of Chile and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called Chilean Craft, Human Natures. Historically, Cavaliero Finn has tended to represent artists living and working solely in the UK but in the midst of everything that 2020 brought us, we found a certain sanctuary in Soledad’s work that had us spellbound.
Soledad has lived in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile for almost 30 years, and her hand-built, sculptural vessels are created using the traditional techniques of pinching, coiling and paddling. Each piece is burnished with a small river stone several times during the drying process, in order to achieve their wonderfully smooth and incredibly tactile surfaces, it then undergoes two firings, a low temperature gas kiln firing and then a traditional open sky firing, using llama and goat dung as fuel. It is this slow and considered approach, making work that is entirely at one with nature that resonated so strongly with us when we first saw it last year.
In the run up to Artefact we chatted to Soledad about her work and, in the video below, we share with you a glimpse of the world in which this amazing artist resides.
Cavaliero Finn: You live in a small town in the middle of the Atacama Desert at the foothills of the Andes, how does this landscape inform your work?
Soledad Christie: I live and work immersed in an outstanding and poetic atmosphere and that can not help but have an impact on my work. Surrounded by this amazing landscape, this vast, silent and naked world, which has a rich history of superb, traditional, pre-Columbian monochrome pottery, especially the black burnished ritual pottery, means that my work is deeply rooted in both, landscape and tradition.
Soledad’s studio is situated in the heart of the Atacama Desert
CF: Where did you learn about the traditional techniques you use in your work?
SC: When I first moved to San Pedro de Atacama, I was fascinated by the collection of black burnished Pre-Columbian pottery in the Museum of San Pedro de Atacama. I felt deeply touched by its great strength and extreme delicacy, so simple in design and at the same time so full of mystery.
I was intrigued by the small fragments of ancient red and black vessels I’d find while walking in the desert, it was an incredible connection for me to think that some pre Columbian potter had held the same piece of ceramic in her/his hands for hours thousands of years ago. These little pieces of pottery of different colours and thicknesses filled me with admiration and questions.
Despite training as a graphic designer, it was clear to me that ceramics would become a powerful artistic language for me and I was lucky to meet several potters who generously shared their knowledge of clay with me. Local potter, Luis Aracena, taught me the ancient ways of modelling, how to prepare the clay and the traditional open sky firing techniques using llama dung as fuel. Tatané Durán taught me everything she knows about clay and high-temperature firing and I drew inspiration from Isidora Ayavire and her traditional desert firings. I feel very grateful for everything I received from them.
I quickly established my own studio where I keep learning every day through an ongoing relationship with clay and the ancient processes of making, burnishing and firing.
CF: What is it that you like about clay as a material?
SC: I love the plastic quality of clay that goes changing through the whole process, from wet to dry. In every moment of the process, clay has its own particular quality and sound. This quality allows me to get immersed in a sort of slowness and presence, where my hands are doing the thinking. A thin layer of clay slowly moving between my fingers, building at the same time an inner space and an outer surface.
CF: How do you decide the shapes and forms you create?
SC: Forms and shapes come in an intuitive way. I follow the rhythm and flow of each piece. They are intuitions, sensations, a sort of instinctive expression of how I perceive my surroundings and the way I feel form, balance, stillness and movement.
CF: The burnishing of the clay is a slow process, do you work on several pieces at the same time?
SC: I burnish each piece several times during the drying process, it takes me a long time, so at this stage of the making I like to have a couple of pieces on my working table.
Sometimes I burnish two pieces at once, other times I burnish one piece while I am building another one.
Soledad has received the Craft Seal of Excellence from the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage in 2013, 2015 and 2020 and she has work in the collection of MAPS the Museo de Arte Popular American, Santiago, Chile.