Design students and staff discussed ceramics in Ceramic Values conference


Students and staff presented their work and ideas about ceramics at an international conference in Stoke-on-Trent – a historical center of ceramics production.

Photo: Minerva Juolahti.

Ceramic Values conference aimed to open discussion about the values and roles ceramics has in the society, and it had three key themes: skills, values and place. Among the speakers were several contributors from the Department of Design: professor Maarit Mäkelä, lecturers Nathalie Lautenbacher and Anna van der Lei as well as students Tuuli Saarelainen and Saija Halko. Doctoral candidate Priska Falin gave a workshop as part of the conference. The over 350 participants of the conference came from Taiwan, China, South Korea, Japan and across Europe.

The conference took place on 5th and 6th of October 2017 and was part of the British Ceramics Biennial (BCB) festival. BCB is a ceramics festival concentrated on contemporary ceramics and consisting of exhibitions, workshops and competitions. This year it takes place between September 23rd and November 5th in Stoke-on-Trent. During BCB also the touring exhibition Ceramics and its Dimensions: Shaping the Future, curated and produced by the Department of Design, is open in its fourth venue. Both the exhibition and the conference are part of a European Ceramics and its Dimensions project, which has been partly funded by the Creative Europe programme of EU. The Department of Design is one of the partners of the project and leads one of its sub-projects.

Discussing clay as a material, the craft and the role of place

Professor and the leader of the Empirica research group Maarit Mäkelä discussed in her presentation the themes of creativity, materiality and place, and argued that in an artistic process material plays an important role as an actor itself. She talked about the mutual relationship in which she threw herself in with the material world when she spent a year working and collecting raw materials in the volcanic nature of New Zealand. A part of the results of this year can be seen in the Ceramics and its Dimensions: Shaping the Future exhibition. Students Tuuli Saarelainen and Saija Halko also discussed the role of place as they talked in their presentation about their work “Spirit of the Place” which is also part of the exhibition and was made in collaboration with Hanna-Kaarina Heikkilä. In their collaborative work, they wanted to turn their experiences of an old porcelain factory site into unique art objects.


Maarit Mäkelä. Photo: Minerva Juolahti.

Aalto University lecturers Nathalie Lautenbacher and Anna van der Lei had their presentations in the Ceramics and its Dimensions: Shaping the Future exhibition venue. In her talk lecturer Lautenbacher spoke about food related design and the values of handmade small scale production. She stated that craft doesn’t only mean tradition but that it is also the future. Anna van der Lei talked about a slightly different way of approaching the making of ceramics when she discussed her work “CHIL-DISH”. The work consists of tableware that is based on children’s drawings which have been modeled into 3D versions and then 3D printed in porcelain. She thinks that when designing for children, they should themselves also be included in the process at an early stage. "CHIL-DISH" is also part of the exhibition. Aalto University doctoral candidate and a member of Empirica research group Priska Falin conducted an interactive clay workshop as part of the conference. The Clay Pit workshop invites the participants to explore the possibilities of clay via a series of large clay pits, copious amounts of ceramic material, oversize clay tools and creative props. The workshop is going to be open through the whole British Ceramics Biennial.

An old ceramics factory as exhibition venue

The presence of ceramics can be sensed everywhere in Stoke-on-Trent as old ceramics factories, old bottle kilns and architectural ceramic decorations are present all around. Although Stoke-on-Trent can be seen as the home of English pottery industry, factories have been shut down during the recent decades also there. The Spode-China-Halls, where the Ceramics and its Dimensions: Shaping the Future exhibition now takes place, was also a factory still in operation just a bit less than a decade ago, but now it has gotten a new life as a beautiful exhibition venue. The robust interior of the old Spode factory brings the exhibition to a place very similar to that of the old Kahla porcelain factory site, where several of the works of the exhibition were initiated at an experimental workshop in spring 2016. After BCB and Stoke-on-Trent the exhibition will travel to Berlin and open there in January 2018.


Clay Pit - työpaja. Photo: Minerva Juolahti.

For more information:

Conference web site:

BCB festival:


Ceramics and its Dimensions: Shaping the Future exhibition:



Instragram: @shapingthefutureceramics

Twitter: @CaiD_Future


European Ceramics and its Dimensions project: