Leading by example, Michelle Lim and Seok Har Ng of Mud Rock Ceramics are on a mission to redefine the art of pottery and remind people of Singapore’s longstanding history as a dynamic ceramics production hub.
17 October, 2023
With the motto of approaching pottery with great respect for the material, Michelle Lim and Seok Har Ng are the veterans of ceramic-ware making in Singapore. The co-founders of Mud Rock Ceramics have been practicing ceramics professionally for over 15 years. While Lim has been working in the design industry for many years, Ng discovered the world of ceramics during her work in the finance sector in Japan where she had spent seven years working.
The duo bonded over their mutual love for ceramics when they met at Awaken the Dragon, a festival to save the last Dragon Kiln. With shared values of dedication and love for clay art, they founded Mud Rock Ceramics together in 2013 with a mutual goal to ignite public interest in ceramics.
One of the unique aspects of the studio’s practice is that all of the glazes and colours are made in-house, instead of buying them from suppliers or shops. “This basically means we have at least half of the elements from the periodic chart in our glaze lab!,” the duo proudly exclaim. “We use these to create interesting colours and textures that are unique to our studio. It requires a good understanding of chemistry and kiln firing as there are multiple factors at play — heat, time, atmosphere and nature of the elements.”
While the process is laborious, Lim and Ng are able to make any kind of colours or textures they want and never have to worry about supplies running short. The hands-on process of making also cultivates a greater respect for the material, while placing sustainable practices and user experience at the heart of the studio.
In terms of material, Lim and Ng use recycled clay to produce 80 per cent of their craft. When it comes to design, the focus is on how the wares can create an improved experience when used in the local environment – for food or drinks, as a piece of functional design.
“We believe that ceramics are some of the most physically intimate objects to be found in our homes,” elaborates Lim. “From the cup that touches your lips every morning as you sip your coffee to the toilet bowl we sit on. The idea that we can make wares that not only add beauty to people’s lives but also serve a functional purpose in their day-to-day is something we hold dear.”
This dedication to the craft and conviction of making things by hand has allowed the duo to learn and educate themselves first-hand, preferring to do things the analogue way, from the glazes to using gas firings instead of programmed kilns. In the designers’ words: “In craft theory, David Pye, a well-known writer and thinker, discussed the concept of ‘the craft of risk and certainty’. This idea involves adding more tools to remove the risks of misshapes and accidents or approaching the craft with all its risks. By taking risks, there is the possibility of failures or unexpected outcomes, which we feel we can learn from, add to, and improve our techniques. Hence, by taking analogue ‘risks’, there are more benefits than drawbacks in our craft.”
Having celebrated Mud Rock Ceramics 10th anniversary in 2023, Lim and Ng have a reason to remember many momentous occasions and milestones along the way. They recall one of their most memorable projects commissioned for the late Queen Elizabeth II – a tea set – and an art installation of 40 large pots for the ArtScience Museum’s exhibition, The Deep.
“Both of these projects came to us out of the blue and required completion within an insane deadline of less than a month,” the designers recall. “But they are both works that we are very proud of and they were memorable to make.”
With years’ worth of practice under their belts, Lim and Ng are now allocating significant resources to their ‘education’ arm by offering various ceramic learning programmes for beginners, advanced learners, and other subjects within the field of ceramics. They have also developed an intensive Glaze course as they realised that not even local art schools were teaching it.
The 10-year milestone also became an occasion for a gathering of the designers’ mentors and teachers – all of those who imparted knowledge and values to the Mud Rock Ceramics’ craft – from Australia and Japan to Singapore. The week-long festivities included exhibitions, masterclasses, talks and demonstrations. Aptly named Clay Camp, the gathering became about sharing experiences not just top-down from teachers to students, but also linearly, where aspiring potters could gather to share their problems and solutions to better their craft.
As Lim and Ng explain, “For us, ceramics education is not only about passing on technical skills but also about imparting values that give respect for the craft, and by extension, the environment and humanity.”
Looking ahead, things are shaping up to be busy and exciting for Mud Rock Ceramics with a number of projects keeping Lim and Ng behind the potter’s wheel and in front of the kilns. The designers give a sneak peak of just some of the things to come: “We’re currently in the final stages of completing some restaurant commissions – Singapore’s F&B industry is always on the up and up! Additionally, we are excited to begin work on projects for some of our favourite companies. One of these projects is a sculpture for the recently opened Pan Pacific Orchard, and the other is a surprise initiative that local fashion label IN GOOD COMPANY plans to launch at the end of this year.”
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