On an overcast afternoon, soft white light filled a back corner of TUMO Studios where Corinne Aivazian puttered around mounds of clay and pottery at various stages of completion. Dressed in a chocolate colored apron, she placed a freshly sculpted vessel into a large metal kiln and closed the lid.
“Stories, it’s always stories,” she said when explaining what inspires her work.
The London native is a poet and visual artist who explores how material things embody complex identities and can be vehicles for storytelling.
Corinne, whose current work is mainly clay pottery and film, begins her projects by exploring historical narratives, usually in places that were centers of production and culturally associated with a craft. The final product is ceramic art paired with research documented on film.
“Craft and industry, across all cultures ancient and modern, are one of the main ways that we hang on to our identity and culture and transmit them,” said Corinne.
Her past projects include a deep dive into Stoke-on-Trent in the United Kingdom, which was a center for pottery and ceramics making from the 1700s until the economy crashed 15 years ago. Corinne studied its history, interviewed potters from the city, and created clay structures inspired by her findings.
“People are often involved in moments of history that they consider quite banal, but when they tell you those stories, you realize that they’re quite important,” she said. “That’s what I’m always inspired by — listening to someone being quite aware that maybe if they hadn’t told me that, maybe no one would ever know about that thing that happened and that place that used to be.”
Here at TUMO Studios, Corinne led an atelier exploring ancient vessel making techniques for contemporary design. Her students retraced ways in which vessels, anything that can hold liquid, were created thousands of years before the invention of the potter’s wheel. With local Tonir making as a case study, they discovered how ancient processes are still being used today. Using only clay, their hands and simple tools, they drew on those techniques to create their own pieces.
Her message to students was two-fold — technically, getting the basics of construction right, and conceptually, understanding how intimate our relationships are with objects that we use every day.
“You can see that in the final pieces that they’ve started to design — there’s something that will change, interrupt that quotidian, that usual way that we take our tea in the morning. Those kinds of little glitches really remind us how intimate those relationships are that we build with everyday objects,” she explained.
Although it’s hard to imagine Corinne anywhere else but the potter’s studio, she recounted how she almost pursued a different career.
“I had that thing of thinking about having a proper job,” said Corinne, who first studied philosophy and did a brief stint as a diplomat.
Today, Corinne has a wide array of art experience under her belt. She’s studied theater and sculpture, and her repertoire includes theater props, installations, and sculptures made of clay, resin, and plaster.
“I was always an artist in a way. I was always making for friends. In my family we always sowed. And just gradually, I realized that I wasn’t going to be happy if that wasn’t my job,” she said.