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'ZEMLYA' by Serhii Makhno emotes archaism and futurism in clay in a ceramic exhibition
The 'Saivo' and 'Shelest' chairs by Serhii Makhno are evocative of archaic, chiselled rock seatings
Image: Courtesy of MAKHNO Studio

'ZEMLYA' by Serhii Makhno emotes archaism and futurism in clay in a ceramic exhibition

Soon to be exhibited at Les Ateliers Courbet, Makhno's ceramic furniture explores the varied meanings of Zemlya, iterating clay's versatile potential to create indoor objects.

by Almas Sadique
Published on : Oct 26, 2023

Retrofuturism as a theme continues to inspire creatives in disparate creative realms. More often than not, nostalgia for the past and intrigue for the future permeate conversations undertaken in conjunction with nearly all disciplines. Consequently, it is inevitable for its influence to pervade the concepts spawned by artists, designers, architects, as well as writers. A mix of archaism and futurism, sprinkled with imaginative details and cultural references, makes for unique creative endeavours which are shouldered and fostered in this realm.

Relatedly, Ukrainian artist Serhii Makhno’s ceramic pieces speak of similar themes, in tandem with references inculcated from his country. Makhno’s ceramic collection, which comprises innovations in furniture, decor, lighting, and bathroom fixtures, will be showcased in an upcoming exhibition at Les Ateliers Courbet, in New York, USA. Titled ZEMLYA, the design exhibition will open to the public on November 8, 2023.

Makhno, who is also a ceramicist and architect, specialises in the realms of interior design, product design, sculpture art, and architecture. His multidisciplinary creative approach helps administer finesse to spatial designs as well as accuracy to artistic works. The artist’s eponymous practice, MAKHNO Studio, which houses a ceramic workshop, functional art and lighting design studio, alongside a team of architects and designers, is a reflection of his métier across different creative disciplines.

Embodying the philosophy of wabi-sabi, Makhno’s designs utilise traditional hand-crafting techniques, while bearing a contemporary mien. His creations serve as an ode to the cultural heritage of Ukraine and the timeless beauty found in nature, while mindfully straddling the realms of functional design and contemporary art.

ZEMLYA, Makhno’s first exhibition at Les Ateliers Courbet, offers a peak into the ceramicist’s oeuvre. The ceramic collection, scheduled to be displayed at the design gallery, includes functional sculptures that were created by Makhno and his team of master artisans in Kyiv, in the midst of the current Russian aggression upon Ukraine.

“Challenged by the subsequent hindrances of the worldwide pandemic and the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine, Makhno and his team were able to find ways to reunite at the studio to carry on with their work. Their practice provided them with a cathartic outlet, as they continue to hand-model their series of unique pendant lights and functional and decorative works,” the gallery shares. The faceted array of furniture designs is hand-modelled in ceramic and plaster.

Zemlya, a Ukrainian term, has three meanings: ground, land, and earth—Makhno instils his interpretation of all three in his ceramic designs. “Today's world resonates with the most painful feelings in the heart of Serhii Makhno. After all, being a man of the world, he remains a son of his native land, a land that is now experiencing the most tragic phases in its history. In such times, a person radically rethinks life and his place in it, to take a decisive step beyond. This is how a collection that turns the concept of design upside down was born,” reads an excerpt from the shared press release.

The first meaning of Zemlya is ‘ground,’ inherently referring to the constituents that make it—clay—a material that has been used since time immemorial to shape dishes and amulets. It is a material that is known to have shaped Adam, as well. Hence, it serves as both, a literal and iconographic symbol of the origin of life, culture, and art. In utilising the material to shape his furniture, lamps, and indoor fixtures, Makhno honours this cultural material that is resilient in the face of incoming difficulties and requires the most primal tool—hands—to shape it.

Zemlya's second connotation, ‘land,’ alludes to the ceramic artist’s birthplace, Ukraine. Recalling the ancient history of the land, MAKHNO Studio shares, “It was in Ukraine that the amazing Trypillian culture emerged 7,000 years ago, giving rise to unique ceramic wonders. For all these centuries, despite the destruction of entire cultural centres, pottery in Ukraine has been passed down from generation to generation, with ancient, authentic techniques and secrets. The master collects and revives them.”

Makhno utilised this passed-down wisdom, with the help of the expertise of craftsmen from artisan dynasties, to build the shelves, mirrors, tables, chairs, and lamp designs that make up the ZEMLYA collection. In utilising these learnings to sculpt the ceramic furniture, Makhno managed to build an array of objects that utilise raw, high-quality, and environmental-friendly materials.

Zemlya also translates to ‘Earth’—our planet—home to all sentient beings. Regarding earth as ‘a single cultural and historical organism,’ Makhno extracts references that hint at both, the past and the future of this entity, through ceramic art. “Extraordinary, amazing, archaic, and futuristic at the same time. The deep pre-industrial past is as clear here as the distant postmodern future. Reality from the Neolithic caves and fantastic nanopunk are combined here without any seams or contradictions, turning into seemingly impossible objects. Objects that have a soul,” reads an excerpt from the exhibition's description.

This absurd mix of elements that are at once, evocative of the past and the future, tends to the paradoxical longing for the naivety of the past and a hope for the future. "For me, Zemlya is the beginning and the end. We come from it and return to it. Although in English, these are three completely different words, for me, it is one concept," the Ukrainian product designer asserts.

Makhno describes the furniture pieces created by him as “alive and wild, which, in the midst of the comfort of the Lord's house, seem to have tamed themselves to become domesticated.” While ceramics are often approached by creatives with the intent of utilising them as accessories in both indoor and outdoor spaces, Makhno believes that it is the next step in interior design. The wide array of Makhno’s presentations at the gallery includes chair designs, stool designs, and table designs of varying sizes, as well as benches, mirrors, beds, lamps, washbasins, and ceramic blocks that can be used as wall tiles, furniture components, or standalone decorative pieces. Makhno’s ZEMLYA collection comprises all components required to build and decorate an interior space with ceramics.

'ZEMLYA' will be on view from November 8, 2023 - January 1, 2024, at Les Ateliers Courbet, 134 Tenth Avenue, New York, NY 10011, USA.

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