Cotto Designs residency
Barranco, Lima, Peru
In mid-2019, I was given the extraordinary opportunity to undertake a ten-week ceramics residency at Cotto Designs in Peru. The residency took place in Barranco, a bohemian suburb in Lima, and former 19th century beach resort for the Limeño aristocracy. Since then, it has been a cultural centre for Lima’s artistic and literary community. Barranco’s streets are lined with small, brightly painted terrace houses (casitas) with vibrant walls covered in escarchado – a type of thickly granulated cement. Many of these local buildings are being bulldozed to make way for large apartment complexes, rapid gentrification threatening the area’s traditional sense of community. I became interested in capturing the texture of the local houses in an attempt to preserve their memory, placing flat slabs of clay directly on the escarchardo walls. Photographing the clay, its trace and the local surroundings with an analogue camera became a ritualistic part of the process of encountering Barranco. Taking casts of the walls was like creating a photo album. Textural memories. Souvenirs.
At the beginning of my stay, residents were taken to visit MALI (Museo de Arte de Lima) by local art historian and independent curator Jerson Ramirez. I was impressed by the pre-Columbian artworks and vessels I encountered, but one artwork in particular drew me in. The Family of Christ Child with the Imprisoned Soul of Divine Love, created by an anonymous member of the 18th century European-inspired Cusco school, is an unremarkable painting. However, it was surrounded by a carefully crafted, multi-layered gold frame. In my Honours year at RMIT I had become interested in archetypal forms found in pottery, sculpture and painting: the frame, the plinth, the canvas. I began seeking out these ornate frames, called marcos in Spanish, encountering them in various local museums, churches and markets. I started handbuilding a series of my own marcos, experimenting with local clays and glazes to create frames for the textured walls I had cast. Slip casting local shells and rocks also became a big part of my process. I played around with gorgeous yellow clay sourced from the Amazon and a series of red, brown and white low-fired and mid-fired clays, as high-fired stoneware clay is not available in Peru.
The frame acts as a device for separating, ordering and territorialising the world.[i] The inside of the frame provides the viewer with a mediated, fragmented view of reality. Immanuel Kant argues that a golden picture-frame only exists ‘so as to recommend the painting by its charm’: describing the frame as unnecessary ‘finery’ that is merely supplementary.[ii] A hierarchy of support and work is thus developed: the frame is a decorative ‘accessory’ to the true ‘art’. Yet Jacques Derrida argues the frame exists beyond its status as a boundary – it can also be a space of experimentation and opportunity.[iii] These frames were to become the basis for a new project back home.
[i] Grosz, E 2008, ‘Chaos, Cosmos, Territory, Architecture’, in E Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Architecture: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth, Columbia University Press, United States.
[ii] Platt V & Squire M (eds.) 2017, The Frame in Classical Art: A Cultural History, Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom, p. 40.
[iii] Derrida, J & McLeod, I 1987, The Truth in Painting, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Images by Madeleine Thornton-Smith