“What do you like about clay? What has it taught you?”
“It’s the greatest teacher I’ve found in life. It’s soft, it’s calm, it has no mercy. It tells you what it needs, and if you aren’t careful in the process, if your mood isn’t right, the clay responds to that. If things start to go wrong, I leave it. I step back, I go into the garden, I look at the bigger picture.”
Accompanied by fresh coffee, served always in a unique vessel, conversations with ceramic artist Feride Ceyda Erdemli unravel like twine to the staccato beat of Rusty’s bark. A long-time studio companion, Rusty’s eyes have turned milky with age, taking on a resemblance to the washes of slip and glaze he has spent his life observing. His visual impairment means he now navigates his way around the studio by sound and scent. Feride’s eyes too are tired, due a lack of sleep caused by a heavy workload, excessive screen time, and being preoccupied by the bureaucracy surrounding her imminent property purchase. Whether life imitates art, or art imitates life, the theme of learning to walk away when things aren’t going right certainly runs parallel across Feride’s existence. Feride works from a small studio space attached to her rented stone house, with a view across to the adjacent hillside ghost town of Kayaköy. This centuries old Greek settlement, named Karmylassos in days gone by, was abandoned during the population exchange of 1923 when the Orthadox Christians in Turkey (most of whom were of Greek descent) were expelled from their homes. Denaturalised. Shipped to the Greek mainland to start life afresh in a land which, to most, was foreign. The stone dwellings they left behind weren’t in a desirable location for the local Muslim farmers, who tended to prefer residing in the lowland near their crops, and thus the hillside settlement began its journey into ruin. Carcasses of former life, which despite their tragic backstory, form a fascinatingly beautiful backdrop to this peaceful corner of Fethiye, and for this reason form one of Fethiye’s top visitor attractions. Those local to Fethiye are fully aware of the construction boom currently taking hold across town. Sadly, the lesser-protected flat plains of Kayaköy, and its surrounding hillsides, are a buzz of construction. It is this unwelcome rise in construction in a place renowned for its serenity, coupled with the fact that circumstance has meant Feride is in a position to purchase a property, that she feels the time to stand up and walk away has arrived. It occurs to me to be somewhat representative of the changes the world has seen over the past century, that almost exactly 100 years on from forced exile, people are choosing to flee the village due to a money-fuelled invasion of tourism.
‘ If you want to understand the heavens and human nature, you need to first touch the Earth.’
Feride’s introduction to pottery occurred 12 years ago when she left her former, big-city, big-stress life as a theatre director, and in search of tranquility and some time to reflect, she moved to the Aegean island of Bozcaada. Farmwork filled her early days there, hours upon hours spent in the fields touching the earth, the ideal tonic for a city life overdose. After a year in Bozcaada she offered to help at a new pottery studio, established by friend and ceramic master Tonguç Kayacık. She started assisting with daily studio tasks, but nerves meant it took her 8 months to actually touch some clay. The day her hands met clay she returned home and couldn’t sleep, her mind was spinning with endless ideas for ceramic creations. This rebirth echoed a short while later when she discovered the magic of glazes. From there on her passion for clay, and the accompanying myriad of processes, treatments and experimentation, was ignited.
Seven years ago Feride moved to Kayaköy, initially working in a small, now defunct, pottery studio ‘Çömlekhane’, which was situated within the ghost village. Two years later she moved across the plateau to her current residence, and decided upon the name Qi Seramik for her studio, a name symbolising the circulating energy flow from the earth, through the body, and into the universe. These days her energy is divided between working on commissions and selling her own pieces through social media. Any remaining spare time is dedicated to ongoing research and experimentation into ancient (pre-Greek) Lycian pottery, creating pieces inspired by primitive techniques using locally sourced materials. Feride’s knowledge accumulation on the topic of local ancient ceramic art is admirable. She regularly incorporates into her work the basic symbolic line structures representative of the elements of nature which appear on ancient pottery from the yayla (highland) village of Dont, where ceramic craft continues to this day. She experiments with terra sigillata (a kind of slip used for water resistance before the discovery of more modern glazing techniques). She knows where to source locally the different types of clay and minerals which would have been used in ancient times, in fact her burgeoning self-education in geology is a topic she speaks passionately about. She shows me a selection of mineral glaze experiments, and gives me my first ever lesson in the chemistry of ceramics.
“Ancient folk were cleverer than us, they listened to nature.”
The discovery that geology is one of Feride’s paths of exploration prompts me to mention some interesting rocks formations I spied along a mountain trail a couple of weeks earlier, coincidentally not far from the area where she is currently buying property. On a brightly sunny Monday afternoon I guide Feride on a drive through the villages which will soon become her new locality, winding up the olive and pine covered hills towards Mendos mountain, a route she has never before taken. Almond blossom and vibrant lime-coloured euphorbia decorate the roadside. Our conversation picks up where we left off the previous week and we talk about her dreams to invest in new equipment when she finally moves to a permanent studio space, and her plans to spend time in Dont this coming summer, filming a series of short documentaries and tutorials to be published online. Her relief at knowing she may never need to move her studio again, is palatable. We spend time navigating rough terrain, paying constant attention to the continuous changes in geological formations as we reach higher, cooler elevations, stopping occasionally to closely examine interesting rock samples. The excitement that all this wild, rocky, mystical, mountain terrain will soon be on her doorstep shines in her eyes, and I can sense that her upcoming relocation will bring about a huge shift in the flow of qi.
Halfway up the mountain we stop to turn back. The track surface is worsening and the sun is going down. Akin to my introduction to ceramic art, there is so much more to discover, so much farther to roam, but for now it’s time to sit back, to digest. Through my conversations with Feride I have gained a fascination with pottery, mostly fueled by the realisation of the long, winding trail of exploration and education upon which it leads the artist. Ceramic art truly is a teacher. It takes you on a journey of history, chemistry, geology, craft and design. Also of resilience and accepting. It teaches you to be curious, experimental, resourceful and patient. To look both outwards and inwards. And to step back and walk away when things start to go wrong.
Feride can be found on Instgram @qiseramik and @qi_ceramic for those who would like to follow her days in the studio and see more of her creations. Here online store can be found here. We look forward to sharing news of her online tutorials and documentaries from Dont yaylası later this year.