PROJECT 201901

1. Collecting bones my partner consumes,
turning them into a porcelain urn

        For this project I collected bones of non-human animals my partner had eaten. I calcined them at 1000 degrees Celsius, turning them into bone ash. Then, I used the ash to form a porcelain object.

        There are people who are in relationships of complicity to, for example, the meat industry, by their demand for goods that are produced under certain conditions. How can coexistence and the relationship between people with different concepts of action (for example, those who reject products of animal origin, and those who consume them on the other hand) be possible or designed in a dialectic-affective way?
        I am exploring these questions by looking at my own relationships, engaging dialogues with my partner, the animals’ remains and others involved. One part is the collection of bones that are connected with my partners consumption of animal-products. The end of this self-reflective research process is marked by the porcelain urn, raising questions of usability (using others and the suffering of being useful) and framing the process aesthetically.
        This work is always in progress. As long as the relationship between me and my partner—and similar relationships between others—will continue, this issue will persist, shift, change or even disappear. 

Fig. 1 Eating Liangpi 凉皮 in Vienna


„The better I know an animal, the harder it is for me to slaughter it.” [...] Is there grief involved, slaughtering familiar animals every week? „Yes“, Nina says, „if we slaughter a lot, I sometimes reach my limit.“1

This citation is taken from an interview that took place at a Demeter-certified barnyard. On the other hand, in the 2018 documentary „Dominion“, it can be consistently observed how employees of slaughterhouses and farms maltreat nonhuman animals. The animals are offended often in a sexist and misogynist way, thrown around and beaten – mostly by men.
        This raises the classic question of the embodiment of evil, but also those after missing grief work and various forms of perpetratorship and also the means of becoming a witness. Are those working in factory farming these so-called "evil" people? Due to the social acceptance of the mistreatment and killing of non-human beings, which is taking place in isolation from the everyday life of most people, they discovered this niche for themselves, where they can act out their fantasies of power undisturbed? With this description rather sounding extreme, it has to be noted, that this would be a typical need of moderately to severely psychopathic individuals.
        The behaviour of people working on some few small (eg Demeter certified) farms might differ3 as it can be seen in the interview above. Why do people maintain a different way of dealing with non-human animals, although two crucial points - killing and exploitation - are equally present in both traditional farming and (organic4) factory farming?

Fig. 2 Dominion (2018) 01:00:52

The Stanford Prison Experiment made clear, that apparently completely harmless students can turn into monsters when certain conditions are given. The experiment – a scandal that gets worldwide attention. Whereas the suffering of non-human animals will continue to be promoted. This leads to the conclusion, that the environment, the atmosphere and the tasks in factory farming, might be the reason for people to turn to what we, when we witness it, might call “evil”.
        To use porcelain as material for this part of the work, was the first idea that came to my mind while thinking about bones as a material. Industrial use of bones is opaque: photographic film and paper, cellular concrete, matches, sandpaper, pigments for painting, bullets, and extra calcium yoghurt are examples for unexpected encounters with processed bones. The use of bones in porcelain is an European tradition and is therefore connected to the emergence of Bone China in 18th century England. The country was in need of materials it could not produce by itself or in its colonies. Kaolin—also known as china clay—, was one of these materials and is essential to the production of porcelain. Thomas Frye began substituting bones – highly available at this time in England. Therefore, the worlds first documented proposal of using bone ash for manufacturing porcelain can be found in Thomas Fryes (Bow Porcelain Company) second patent:

On Nov. 17, 1749, Thomas Frye, of the parish of West Ham in the Co. of Essex, painter, for a new method of making a certain ware, which is not inferiorin beauty and fineness, and is rather superior in strength, than the earthenware that is brought from the East Indies, and is commonly known by the name of China, japan, or porcelainware." Animals, vegetables, and fossils, by calcining, grinding and washing, are said to produce an insoluble matter, named virgin earth, but some in greater quantities than others, as all animal substances, all fossils of the calcareous kind, as chalk, limestone, &c.: take therefore any of these classes, calcine it, grind and wash it in many waters [...] 5

In most restaurants we visited, trying to get the corresponding bones of the meal (eg bone soup) or any bone at all was vain endeavour. The bones most likely never reached the kitchen, are part of a distribution chain, or were already thrown away. However, upon others a Chinese restaurant in Vienna could give us the bones connected to the soup my partner ate. I documented them (one photograph is part of the installation) and conserved them on ice until the cremation took place. Later in the process, my partner helped me out by asking particular restaurants staff for “her” bones. The bones would have been thrown away by the restaurants.

        On Friday, November 30, 2018, I prepared the first bones for cremation. The calcined bones were ready to be taken out of the kiln after 6 hours. The numerous sets of either sheep or cattle bones were being calcined at 1000° Celsius. Before the burning, the bones were dried using a flat heating curve—one hour at approximately 80° Celsius.

Fig. 3 Bones in the kiln at around 200° celcius.

After calcining, the bones are mostly porous, white, with some brown or grey spots (most likely due to the air still inside the kiln). The bones partially being extremely hard, makes the process of grinding by hand especially tiring. I spent hours pestling using a large porcelain mortar; then using water to bind the already pulverised material.
        Although the outcome of the process was mostly fine bone ash with still some bigger pieces, my decision was to not screen it.

Fig. 4 Bones after calcination

Fig. 5 Bones, mortar and pestle

        The design process started before my working with bones—the rendering (fig. 3) shows an impeccable industrially produced object. The remains are not visible – neither on the outside nor on the inside. There is no trace.
        During the research process I was looking into historic aspects of death ritual related vessels in different parts of the world. Additionally I studied contemporary ceramics including exhibition catalogues on urn-related exhibitions. But instead of using old, modern or creating new ornaments, I decided to think more about form, lines and function. I was influenced by notions of usability (Brauchbarkeit) and its reflection in ancient Chinese philosophy—especially the Zhuangzi 庄子:

The region of Jingshi in Song is fine for growing catalpas, cypresses, and mulberries. But those that are more than one or two arm lengths around are cut down for people who want monkey perches; those that are three or four spans around are cut down for the ridgepoles of tall roofs; and those that are seven or eight spans are cut down for the families of nobles or rich merchants who want side boards for coffins. So they never get to live out the years Heaven gave them but are cut down in midjourney by axes. This is the danger of being usable.6

The design of the urn includes references which make it immediately appear as an urn. The urn is divided in the lower middle, which still enables the function of storing things but also to use each of the two parts as eating vessel. It can be used to keep ash, but instead the ash is part of the object.

Fig. 6 Rendering Urn I, Vray

After the object’s size, form and colour were set, I had to decide on a porcelain recipe/mixture with little impact on colour, keeping the object relatively white, even when burned in an oxidizing kiln. The next steps were again took place at the ceramics studio of the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. This includes the creation of the plaster model and moulds at the plaster workshop, as well as the casting. My partner, who joined me already for the cremation of the bones, was taking part in these steps again, documenting the process.

        By using just the technical drawings based on the rendering, a plaster model was created. Then, the model was used to cast the moulds.

This video shows how the models were shaped by hand using a potter’s wheel combined with different tools. Due to many drying cycles and the general complexity, this step took around one week to be complete.


Fig. 7 Preparing the plaster molds, Ceramics studio, University of Applied Arts Vienna

The casting is a process with many steps and long drying-phases.
Here you can find an in detail documentation of the casting process ︎


Fig. 8 Process of reworking the porcelain urn before burning. Ceramics Studio, University of Applied Arts Vienna.

The object has to be reworked after drying to remove the seam created by the two parts of the mold as well as drops left on the inside walls of the object.

        The porcelain is burned at 1220 degrees Celsius. Oxidizing, because there is no reducing kiln at the University of Applied Arts. This causes the object to be slightly off-white. Aluminium oxide is used to prevent the two parts from sticking together or to the ground.
 Here you can find more photos of the process ︎

Fig. 9 Taking out the finished objects at around 50° celcius

Project details
Supervisor: Prof. Ute Hörner, Academy of Media Arts, Cologne, Germany
Supervisor (Ceramics): Sen. Lect. Mag. art. Maria Wiala; Sen. Lect. Mag. Ing. Peter Platzer; Sen. Lect. Mag. art. Martina  Zwölfer, University of Applied Arts Vienna, Austria

This project was in parts realised during my ERASMUS+ studies at University of Applied Arts Vienna (Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien in 2018/19.

1 My translation of: Lasst uns über Tiere sprechen!, GLS Bankspiegel Mai 2018, Online abrufbar: lasst-uns-ueber-tiere-sprechen/
2 Chaffers, William. 1876. Marks and monograms on pottery & porcelain of the renaissance and modern periods. Bickers & son. 885f. 3 However, in the 2009 ethnographic film Sweetgrass (Ilisa Barbash , Lucien Castaing-Taylor) a family of Norwegian-American sheepherders in Montana, USA, among the last to trail their band of sheep long distances through Montana's mountains, are assaulting their sheep in similar ways. 4 Organic farming does not nessesarily mean better treatment and conditions of the animals. This can be seen in documentaries like “Dominion” (Australia) as well as in undercover footage released by activists. In the European union “organic” is defined by the Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 of 28 June 2007 on organic production and labelling of organic products and repealing Regulation: Here, not even free-range husbandry is a nessesity
5 Watson, Burton. 2013. The Complete works of Zhuangzi. Translations from the Asian classics. New York: Columbia University Press. 31-32. (内篇, 人间世 Inner Chapters, book IV, part VI)
︎Website of the documentary “Dominion”: