We met Melina Xenaki at Clerkenwell Design Week in May and immediately fell in love with the tensile relationship between strength and delicacy in her handmade vases. This London Design Festival, you can see Melina on the eporta stand at Decorex and 100% Design, and in October, she will be taking part in the contemporary craft event, Handmade at Kew. In the run-up to LDF15, we sat down with Melina to discuss her inspiration, her approach to her design and making process, and the beauty of the handmade.
Melina is fastidious in her approach to her work, and is intimately involved with every stage of the making process: "working from my studio in Hackney, I enjoy the challenge of making all my pieces from scratch, engaging in learning new techniques and processes needed for the completion of each individual project. I make my own models on the lathe, my moulds; I mix my glazes according to recipes that are modified according to my needs. I make my own porcelain slip and sand every piece by hand to achieve a thin, delicate rim. Finally, my favourite part – I print using traditional screen-printing techniques, expose my own screens, mix my printing pigments." This detailed and involved process demonstrate the persistence and patience with which Melina approaches her work, enabled, she says, by a striving to "train my brain and my body to excel, gain making skills, which will widen up my perception on what is possible."
The idea of the "possible" features heavily in these ceramics. Melina's technique relies on the uncertainty of the interaction between her vision, her materials, and the firing; an approach, she says, that depends on her welcoming serendipity in her work. "Through experimenting and painstaking observation of the different variables in the making process, I am trying to create the right conditions under which I can achieve original and attractive results. You cannot plan happy accidents but you can certainly allow room for these to happen intentionally."
Ceramics is the ideal medium in which to play with such a sense of possibility, says Melina, as "Ceramicists always have a feeling of excitement when opening a kiln as you can never fully predict what is going to happen. It's like opening birthday presents." She believes that this enables her to view her work more objectively, and therefore improve: "in order to evaluate and appreciate your new pieces, you need to view them with a fresh eye, free from any rigid preconceived idea of how things need to look like. This is why ceramics are so special, two things in my work can never be exactly the same, and when I do get something that is unexpectedly special, a new exciting making route has opened up in front of me, one that I am always eager to explore and test the limits of."
The deep involvement that Melina gains from making all of her pieces by hand changes her relationship with the finished piece, she says. "My pieces are part of me, my story, they come from all the things I have seen and loved and learned. They are recording my making journey and I am so grateful to be in an environment that supports makers and values their work." This is what draws people to the handcrafted aesthetic, she believes; the fact that "it is unique and has a depth, a story behind its existence." This clearly contrasts with modern consumerism that encourages disposability, and Melina argues that "people should have less that means more to them, and they should know, be fully conscious about who they are supporting when they decide to purchase a product. When you know that human hands that love their practice have touched the objects you have at home, that fills your life with layers of notions of care and humanity and I think people have started realising this."
We are delighted that, as part of our celebration of LDF15, we have a limited number of Melina's vases to give away with any order through eporta: more details here.