Mella Shaw

The winner of the 2020 Henry Rothschild Ceramic Bursary is Mella Shaw.

Mella Shaw, Bridges (Grey and Yellow), 2013 © Sylvain DeleuMella Shaw is a ceramic artist making thought-provoking objects and site-specific installations around environmental themes of balance, tipping points, fragility and loss.

With a background in anthropology, museums and the study of material culture Mella is drawn to the way objects can be imbued with shared cultural meaning and in particular the power of clay to communicate ideas.

Her practice centres on the energy and dynamism that is present in moments just before, or during, transition.

Mella’s work is often finely balanced as she captures in a static object the tension revealed when one thing shifts or gives way to another; where order and structure are held on the brink of chaos and chance. This formal exploration of points-of-no-return leads her to make publicly engaged environmental work addressing the tipping point of our global climate crisis.

The new body of work Mella will be making as part of the Henry Rothschild Memorial Bursary is titled “Rare Earth” and will highlight a fast-approaching threshold of mineral depletion.

Through this work she will address the consumerist behaviour that ignores the finite nature of these resources. Specifically, she will draw attention to the thoughtless disposal of old or obsolete electronic products (such as computers, smart-phones, televisions etc.) collectively known as e-waste, which is so widespread that 50 million tons are thrown away globally every year. This so-called ‘waste’ contains precious metals and minerals, currently thrown away in such large quantities that it will soon be more cost effective to mine for gold and other precious metals in landfill than to keep extracting them from virgin mineral reserves.

Mella will use gold as a widely recognised symbol for value and will experiment with making her own lustres from materials, including gold, that have been salvaged directly from e-waste. She will also be carrying out research into up 60 different minerals and elements commonly used in smart phones and other electrical devices and will take these as inspiration for her sculptural ceramic pieces.

Mella holds a master’s in Ceramics and Glass from the Royal College of Art (London) and is a visiting lecturer on the BA Ceramics Design course, Central Saint Martins (London), a tutor at Edinburgh Ceramics Workshop as well as being a freelance curator and writer.

  • For more images of Mella’s previous work, see her website.

Mella Shaw writes about her RARE EARTH project for the Henry Rothschild Bursary

The first stage of my Rare Earth project was to carry out first hand research (ie photograph and draw) some of the 60+ minerals used in smart phones and other electronic devices.

I planned to carry out this research in the minerology collection of the National Museum of Scotland, but due to the closure of public buildings during Covid 19 there was a hiatus period when I couldn’t access the collection. Once the building re-opened there was a back-log of research requests, so it took a while to gain access to the stores. When I did, I found these to contain a treasure trove of extraordinary examples of rocks and minerals, and as an initial part of my research I made numerous drawings.

Here are a couple of examples:

The second stage of the project was to start to turn these initial research images into ceramic sculptural forms that aim to evoke a sense of the issues surrounding global mineral depletion.

Here are some examples of work in progress: 

The final stage of the project is still under way and this is the finishing off stage. My Bursary proposal involved sourcing salvaged gold from electronic-waste and turning this into a gold lustre which I would incorporate into the pieces. Unfortunately the project from which I had arranged to purchase the e-waste gold had to be dramatically scaled back during Covid 19 and the gold is no-longer available. Although the technology for this process does exist, it is relatively new and so far I have not been able to find a company willing to sell me the resulting gold.

This part of the project is therefore under review and I am also pursuing other avenues.

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