2021–2022 Critically Endangered Species at EMMA

The Working with Soil working group takes part in the exhibition Ceramics Facing the New (Särkyvää – Keramiikka uuden äärellä) on view at EMMA Espoo Museum for Modern Art between May 3, 2021 – August 8, 2022. The multi-disciplined group studies the relationship between humans and soil by combining the approaches of design, art, and science. The painted vases of the Critically Endangered Species collection address the effects of polluted soil to the endangerment of many more than human species, like insects and plants. Critically Endangered Species was created in the Soil Laboratory during Soil Matters exhibition at the Design Museum. The work aims to raise attention to other-than-human species who are dependent on the wellbeing of the soil. The project follows The 2019 Red List of Finnish species created by the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE. The book presents 36 604 species, 489 of which were identified as critically endangered. The Working with Soil working group consists of Özgü Gündeşlioğlu, Catharina Kajander, Riikka Latva-Somppi, and Maarit Mäkelä.

Critically Endangered Species – Process Wall

The evolving process wall showed artistic research based on three “earth walks” in the city of Espoo. During the walks soil samples were collected and processed further in the ceramic workshop in Aalto. The slips were applied on earthenware and fired at three different temperatures. The process wall consisted of photos, soil samples, fired/unfired test pieces, hand-drawn maps, color samples, diaries, and three Earth Paintings by Maarit Mäkelä made with local soil and inspired by endangered species. The project wall photos were taken at the end of the exhibition in August, 2022.

Earth Walks in Yli-Takkula and Sorlampi, Nuuksio National Park & Niittykumpu–Tapiola, Espoo

Earth Walk in Yli-Takkula (two photos on top left) and Sorlampi (one on top right), Nuuksio National Park. The urban earth walk from Niittykumpu to Tapiola, Espoo (three bottom photos).

Maannos (Topsoil) Sound Piece

Noora Kauppila & Mikko H. Haapoja: Maannos (Topsoil) Sound piece for headphones (5:40)

The soil is teeming. It crackles, claws, hisses, knocks, listens. Noora Kauppila and Mikko H. Haapoja’s sound work Topsoil (2021) burrows into imagined tones in the planet’s topmost layer. The listener in the work is the soil itself – its current as well as long extinct species. The sounds used in Topsoil were gathered during exploratory nature walks arranged by Working with Soil -group in Espoo to collect soil samples for the Ceramics Facing the New exhibition at EMMA. The work also features sounds from the processing of soil samples and the production of ceramic pots in the installation.

Ceramics Facing the New Exhibition

The idea underlying the Ceramics Facing the New exhibition is kintsugi, the Japanese tradition of mending broken pottery with gold or another metal. Instead of concealing the damage, kintsugi seeks to establish a new relationship with it. In this exhibition, kintsugi serves as a metaphor for society. A fracture can be a signal of something new. How can fragments be re-joined to create a renewed yet enduring structure? Created by twelve artists and two artist groups, the works featured in the exhibition use ceramic art to explore the juncture of past and future, one that is characterised by environmental concern and the disintegration of social structures. Ceramic as a material occupies a special place in the history of humanity. It also provides what we need at this moment in time: connection, presence, craft.

Read more about the Ceramics Facing the New exhibition on the website of EMMA Espoo Museum for Modern Art by following THIS LINK.

2020–2021 Soil Laboratory at Design Museum

Soil Laboratory was part of the Soil Matters exhibition at the Design Museum in Helsinki Finland on 4.9.2020–10.1.2021. The exhibition was co-curated by Maarit Mäkelä and Riikka Latva-Somppi. The Soil Laboratory was surrounded by eight experimental design projects, each of which offered a varied perspective on the relationship between humans and soil. The laboratory enabled ceramic artists and soil researchers to reflect on the impact of anthropogenic activity on soil ecologies through their various practices. The aim was to create a space that would aid in understanding the materiality of soil and, furthermore, how it is entangled with larger, complex systems. During the exhibition period, Soil Laboratory provided a context for different interlocked projects to emerge. One of them was the Critically Endangered Species project.

Read more about the Soil Matters exhibiton on the Design Museum website by following THIS LINK.


On the premises of Soil Laboratory, big vases were built from Finnish earthenware by using a traditional coiling technique. The vases were painted using the slips that were made in the laboratory. The motifs for the paintings were selected from among the Finnish species that are currently identified as critically endangered. During the Critically Endangered Species project, I painted three vases that were coiled by Catharina Kajander. The motifs of the paintings were selected from among the species that enabled me to work with abstract forms: lichen and two types of fungi (Aphyllophoroid fungi and Gasteroid fungi). On the vases, these species are expressed through abstract patterns.

Read more about the Critically Endangered Species project by following THIS LINK.

Ceramic artist Maarit Mäkelä drawing one of the critically endangered lichens in Finland on a vase. The vase was built by ceramic artist Catharina Kajander. Video: Tzuyu Chen

2021 Maarit Mäkelä and Heikki Setälä discussing soil at the Soil Laboratory at Design Museum

Soil inspires both professor of ecology Heikki Setälä and ceramic artist, professor Maarit Mäkelä. Meet them discussing organisms in the soil, services that those organisms provide us humans with, and how we all are part of the same community. A quarter of all the biodiversity on earth lives in the soil, and we would be in serious trouble without the soil and its abundant life. The discussion took place at Soil Laboratory that was part of the Soil Matters exhibition at Design Museum in Helsinki, Finland on 4.9.2020 – 10.1.2021.

The video has been co-produced by Forum for Environmental Information, Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation, Baltic Sea Action Group and Helsinki Design Museum.

Watch the interview with English subtitles by following THIS LINK.

To visit the Soil Laboratory website follow THIS LINK.

2020 Earth-dialogue exhibition in New Zealand

Maarit Mäkelä’s ‘Earth-dialogue’ exhibition was on displayed in Waiheke Community Art Gallery, New Zealand 24.1. – 1.3.2020. The exhibition is based on the creative process that took place in year 2015 when she lived and worked in Waiheke. The core of Mäkelä’s artistic practice is the local, natural environment and in particular earth samples she gathers during her walks. These materials are processed further and then used as clay body for the works, and as coloured slips for the paintings. At 1060°C the paintings that are made to clay transforms into ceramic. The exhibition consists of paintings on clay and paper, and documentary photographs of local places and materials she encountered during her walks to collect materials. Earth-dialogue also contains samples of sand, stone and clay.

Read more about the Waiheke Community Art Gallery by following THIS LINK.

20182019 Traces from the Anthropocene: Working with Soil, Venice, Italy

In this research craft making is understood as a philosophical space that enables us to think through the ethical and ecological concerns related to the stage of our environment. During the researched we explored the human imprint to the geological environment with artistic methods combined with chemical analysis. The project builded on a collaboration between artist-researchers from Empirica research group of Aalto University’s Department of Design, and the experts of contaminated soil from the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, as well as visiting researchers and artists. The project proceeds in a form of a research laboratory that took place at the Research Pavilion #3 hosted by University of the Arts Helsinki, in the context of Venice Biennale in summer 2019.

The group of artists, researchers and MA students studied the soils of the Venice Lagoon using ceramic art and methods of soil contamination research. The video presents the three sites of interest in the lagoon area: the canals of historic Venice, the petrochemical industrial area of Porto Marghera and Murano, which has a long history of glass production. The video also documents how the artists worked at the Research Pavilion #3, coiling large clay pots from local brick clay, and painting them with the contaminated soil.

Read more about the project by following THIS LINK.

Read more about the Research Pavilion by following THIS LINK.

Final works from Traces from the Anthropocene: Working with Soil

Soil samples were gathered and processed by Riikka Latva-Somppi & Maarit Mäkelä, and sediment by Riikka Latva-Somppi & Pauliina Purhonen & Tzuyu Chen.

20142018 Ceramics and its Dimensions: Shaping the Future, Europe

The international Ceramics and its Dimensions project focused on ceramics in Europe from the perspective of the past as well as the future with its new possibilities. Maarit Mäkelä led one of the sub-projects called Shaping the Future which consisted of a workshop, a touring exhibition and a publication. In the project, there were partners from eleven different countries in Europe and the project was partly funded by the Creative Europe programme of the EU. The project applies for funding for a continuation.

Read more about the Ceramics and its Dimensions: Shaping the Future project by following THIS LINK.

2018 2nd International Black Pottery Symposium, The Museu la Terrissa de Quart, Spain

2nd International Black Pottery Symposium, The Museu la Terrissa de Quart, Spain

The second Black Ceramics symposium was organized in Quart, Museu de la Terrissa de Quart, Spain, 17. – 28.9.2018. The symposium gathered together ten artists from Spain, Ireland, Norway and Finland. During the symposium we worked in the museum by using local earthenware. Quart is famous for its traditional black firing technique, and the first works were fired already during the symposium. The firing took place in the kiln that was located in the museum site, and it was conducted together with the local craftsman. The two big vases I built and painted during the workshop are now fired, and they will be exhibited in the museum 29.6. – 28.7.2019.

2018 International ceramics symposium ‘Dialogue’, Zvartava castle, Latvia

Firing the kiln at the Zvartava castle in Latvia.

The two weeks ceramics symposium, hosted by The Art Academy of Latvia, gathered together twenty-five artists from ten countries: Latvia, Turkey, Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, UK, Russia, Belorussia, Moldova and Finland. During the symposium at the beautiful old Zvartava castle we created works from porcelain and stoneware. In the end of the symposium the works were fired in two big wood kilns. Selected works were exhibited in the castle during summer 2018 and will remain as part of the castle’s permanent art collection.

20132016 Handling Mind, Finland

This multidisciplinary research project focused on both the embodied learning that occurs in relation to creativity and design as well as on their neural mechanisms. The project combined approaches from neuroscience, psychology, design and educational science for research on embodied thinking and creativity. The goal of the study was to open up an entirely new neuro- scientific research tradition focusing on processes of art, crafts and design.

Read more about the Handling Mind project by following THIS LINK.

2016 1st International black pottery Symposium, The Museu la Terrissa de Quart, Spain

The first Black Ceramics symposium was organized in Quart, Museu de la Terrissa de Quart, Spain, 4-16.7.2016. The village is famous for its traditional firing technique that makes the pieces black. During the workshop I coiled two vases from the local clay. The forms functioned as canvases for images that I made by scratching the leather hard clay with a wooden stick. After that the images were painted with terra sigillatas on the top of the drawings. Finally, the images were partly polished. The treatment created on the vases different tones and structures that are still visible after the works have gone through black firing. The images got their inspiration from the wooden Madonna sculpture I encountered in the Museum d’Art, Girona and tapestry I saw in the Girona Cathedral. The vases, Catharina Negra I and II, were part of a touring exhibition that was displayed in five places in Catalonia, Spain: Quart, Barcelona, La Galera, Vilafranca and Girona.

2015 Artist in Residence, University of Tasmania, Tasmanian College of Arts, Hobart, Australia

In the beginning of 2015, I spent two months as an artist in residence at the University of Tasmania, the College of Arts. The core of my artistic practice was the local natural environment, in particularly the earth samples I gathered during my walks. The process continued in my studio, which was situated in an abandoned ceramic workshop that belongs to the Hobart College. With a mortar and water I transformed the local stones and sand into liquids that I used in my paintings. I began my practice initially by following two avenues, one being material experiments and the other drawing and painting. As these practices proceeded, the two avenues finally encountered and melded into one another, resulting in a diversity of outcomes: earth paintings on paper; paintings on Southern Ice porcelain; earth paintings in combination with lithography printing.

2010 The 46th International Sculpture and Ceramic Symposium, Boleslaviec, Poland

The 46th International Sculpture and Ceramic Symposium gathered together fifteen artists from five different countries. Called as ‘the place of ceramics’, Boleslawiec’s clay sources are good and thus the city has tens of ceramics factories. During the symposium, the artists worked in three of these factories. I worked in ‘the pipe factory’, which has been operating already before the second world war. I worked with the clay which the factory workers use for building huge pipes. The structure of the clay is suitable for big forms, and I decided to coil as big bowls as I could – seeking the balance between material, technique and aesthetically pleasing form. These bowls served as a canvas for my paintings. The images were my interpretations of the works of British ‘modern Pre-Raphaelite’ painter J.W. Waterhouse (1849-1917). The Inspiration in the above work has been his painting ‘Echo and Narcissus’ (1903).

2009 Clay and the Collective Body, IHME Project, Helsinki, Finland

The first IHME Project by Pro Arte Foundation Finland, was conceived by the British sculptor Antony Gormley and entitled Clay and the Collective Body. Over 1300 people participated in transforming the core of the artwork, a huge clay cube, into thousands of different-sized clay sculptures. As a result of the transformation of the clay, a new world was born inside a warm and humid inflatable dome. I worked in the project as a counselor-supervisor and also took part in the test-weekend alredy in 2008, during which the idea of the project was tested and developed.

2008 FuLe residence programme, Fuping, China

In March 2008, ten Finnish ceramic artists participated in the FuLe residence program in the city of Fuping, China. The program has been set up by the family company which has been producing roof tiles for more than twenty years. During the last decade, an ambitious building project has taken place in the area, and at the moment many countries and contents have their own museum for exhibiting contemporary ceramics. The collections of the museums are based on the works done by the international artists who work in the factory by using local resources and materials. Our team established a permanent Finnish collection to the Scandinavian Contemporary Ceramics museum.