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Video transcript

This vessel is not something I would consider conventionally beautiful. But I’ve grown to become fascinated with it, because of the object itself and also because of Bernard Palissy, who created this work of art. There’s something very…almost sensual about the surface of the object. It reminds me of extraordinary vacations spent by the seashore. I’ve always been fascinated by amphibians, and actually contemplated becoming a marine biologist. Palissy created this type of ware, which he called rustic ware; there was nothing like this beforehand. He devoted several years and experimented with this mix of opaque and translucent glazes to bring out the wet, shiny surface. It makes you want to come and caress the snakeskin and to feel the ridges on the shell. And it takes the shape of a pilgrim flask, used by travelers to carry water. But this is no ordinary pilgrim flask. It was rather intended to be kept in a cabinet of curiosities, and reflects the period’s fascination with exploring the natural world. He studied these pond environments very closely, and collected the animals that he found there. He would carve the surface to replicate this humid aquatic environment, with algae and little rocks, and then he would turn his attention to populating that environment. To do that he would create casts, and essentially captured this animal, immersed it in either urine or vinegar until he killed it, and then he would pose it: sunning itself on top of a rock. You can identify so many of the shells: whelks, cockles, moon snails. The object is about this process of life and death. He essentially takes living things, and from that, creates these eternal ceramic compositions, which are very much about his own immortalization. Through these objects, he continues to live on, and his techniques continue to live on in that way.