"Every vessel is an experiment" We talk to Anna Milczanowska founder of NULA

15 of January '24

Anna Milczanowska fires ceramics using an archaeological method. The founder of NULA buries her work in the ground and lights a fire.

 Ceramika NULA 

NULA ceramics

Photo: Paweł Świątek © Nula

Anna Milczanowska — founder of the NULA ceramics. She works in sculpture, ceramic sculpture and artistic textiles. She is also an animator, cultural manager and author of exhibition concepts, social campaigns, articles on contemporary art and literature. She has received a scholarship from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Poland. She studied ceramics in the Żaneta Christow-Jezierska and Justyna Skowyrska-Górska studios and artistic textiles under the tutelage of Jagoda Krajewska. She runs her own studio located in the Saska Kępa district of Warsaw. She collaborates with architects and interior photographers.

Anna Milczanowska

Anna Milczanowska

Photo: Paweł Czarnecki © Nula

Katarzyna Szostak: What is pit fire pottery?

Anna Milczanowska: It is the oldest method of firing clay. The dried vessels are put in a pit and burned. For several hours at a temperature of about 1000 °C, the clay hardens. I form my works by hand, from rollers, just as they were created before the invention of the potter's wheel. Then I dig a hole in the ground — a pit kiln, at least a meter deep. I line it with wood and put in the vessels. The whole firing and cooling process takes more than 16 hours.

This pottery differs not only in the firing method. There is also a social, family dimension to the creation of art associated with this oldest method. I never fire alone, I do not put the objects in the kiln in an empty studio. The whole process of preparing the firing, digging a pit in the ground, chopping wood and collecting brushwood involves many people, including my family and friends. The fire attracts us, looking at it calms you. Nightly conversations are held around it. Everyone has a part in keeping it going. It's just like in the oldest cultures, when people in caves gathered around the fire lit in the ground and learned to burn pottery there.

Palenisko, w którym powstaje ceramika NULA 

The hearth where NULA ceramics are made

Photo: Paweł Świątek © Nula

Katarzyna: Why did you decide on this particular method?

Anna: At some point, after more courses at more studios, I wanted to create large objects and have my own studio with firing capabilities. However, I didn't have the money for such a large kiln. I had to find another way. At a class with Justyna Skowyrska-Górska, I fired my first vessels in a cavernous kiln. I saw what beautiful decorative possibilities this way gives. Then I dug a large hole in the ground myself and started a fire. I began to experiment. With this method I can create large objects, because I am not limited by the size of the kiln. It also gives me the opportunity to create special orders. Each vessel is an experiment. Its colors, darker and lighter spots, can be seen when taken out of the ashes and are always a surprise. The decorative effect — intermingling spots on the surface of the object — is unpredictable.



Photo: Paweł Świątek © Nula

Katarzyna: What does the name of your studio mean?

Anna: My family lives in Silesia, where Anna is just called Nula. That's where the name of my brand came from. I have an atelier in Warsaw, and I burn pottery on the border of Pszczyna region and Cieszyn Silesia. On the plot on which stands my family's old house. It offers a beautiful view of old oak trees growing over ponds and in the distance on the horizon you can see the Beskids.

Ceramika NULA  Ceramika NULA 

NULA ceramics

Photo: Paweł Świątek © Nula

Katarzyna: Many artists say that once they give their work to the public, it becomes their property, because the viewers add it their meaning and interpretation. You give that control over to nature. In addition, already at the stage of creating ceramics.

Anna: The moment I put the vessel in the pit in the ground, basically my one role ends and another begins. I'm left with keeping the fire going. Trying to make sure the temperature is fairly even and the clay doesn't crack. All I can do is more-or-less cover the pots in ash, cover them with herbs or fruits, hoping that they will add color to the clay. I leave the rest to the elements. Fire and smoke, oxygen and lack of it give the clay its unusual coloration and the effect of intermingling earth colors. This pottery is connected to nature. Clay extracted from the earth returns to it to become a new object. My action is in the middle of this process.

Obiekt z serii Ciała niebieskie, Kula księżycowa III

Object from the series Celestial Bodies, Moon Ball III

Photo: Paweł Świątek © Nula

Katarzyna: Where does your passion for large forms come from?

Anna: It started with sculpture, with the meticulous and long process of creating it, the need to constantly check the harmony of its shape from all sides. I started to create larger forms and spent more and more time doing it. With each successive firing I gained courage. I put larger and larger vessels into the pit in the ground. Each vessel is a unique piece on the border between sculpture and design. I never quite know what will be created, just as I don't know what it will look like after firing. Sometimes I'm not satisfied with the shape. I spend many days sculpting, going around the vessel on all sides and looking for the place that spoils its line, patting and smoothing it out. I like this freedom of large objects, their clear impact on the space.

Kula księżycowa III  Krater I 

Moon Ball III/Crater I

Photo: Paweł Świątek © Nula

Katarzyna: Thank you for the interview!


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