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In Conversation with Charlotte Dann on Ceramics cover photo

INTERVIEW

In Conversation with Charlotte Dann on Ceramics

by Jordan Kantor

Charlotte Dann is a generative artist and engineer based in Brighton, England. With a background in web development and jewelry design, she brings a uniquely tactile perspective to digital art.
Jordan Kantor: Hi, Charlotte. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us in advance of the launch of Ceramics. This is your first project on Art Blocks, but you have a long creative history. Can we start there? Please tell us a bit about how you first got into making art.
Charlotte Dann: My parents were both creative, mum as a knitwear designer and dad in creative construction, so art was always a big focus in our household. I’ve always loved drawing, especially from life, and making things from any material I have at hand—when I was fifteen years old, I learned to make chainmail from garden wire! I went to art school with the intention of studying fashion design, but ended up in the jewelry department because I loved the idea of making precious objects from such raw materials.
Charlotte Dann, Hexatope, 2018. Generative design cast in gold. .jpeg
Charlotte Dann, Hexatope, 2018. Generative design cast in gold.
JK: It’s obvious from what we’ve seen in Ceramics that you have a keen sense of physical materials. It makes perfect sense to me that you have a jewelry background. Can you talk a bit about how these early creative interests carried into the digital sphere?
CD: I’ve been making websites since I was a teenager and worked as a web developer throughout my time at university, so when it came to choosing a career, engineering seemed like a more sensible path than becoming an independent jewelry designer. I love making websites, but the idea of working only on the rectangular web made me feel itchy. So, in 2016, I undertook an M.A. in computational arts at Goldsmiths to find a happy place between my artistic and technical sides. Learning how to use web technologies to make art was amazing, and I also had the opportunity to explore digital fabrication techniques like laser cutting and 3D printing, which felt like the intersection of all my interests.
Charlotte Dann, Abstract Puzzles, 2020. Generative art on laser-cut generative jigsaw. .jpeg
Charlotte Dann, Abstract Puzzles, 2020. Generative art on laser-cut generative jigsaw.
JK: That sounds like the perfect fit. How did you discover the blockchain as a medium for art?
CD: Like many others I’m sure, Art Blocks was my introduction to on-chain art. I think the first project I saw was Kjetil Golid’s Archetypes, and I was immediately interested in how blockchain technologies could bring a new audience and prestige to generative art. Then in August 2021, I had a conversation with Matt DesLauriers, and he encouraged me to dip my toe in by minting some existing work on Hic et Nunc. I was more drawn into the long-form nature of Art Blocks though—and I’m terrible at sharing works in progress—so I decided to focus on releasing one long-form piece instead. Ceramics is my first NFT project, it’s been a long time coming! It’s been great watching the space develop from afar, and I think it’s only in its infancy.
JK: Indeed these things can take time, and different artists work at very different paces, we’ve found. Can you talk about how your creative process has evolved?
CD: I’d always liked to think I was the kind of artist who explored notions and played until they felt their way to the zenith of a project, but I’ve grown to accept that I’m the opposite of that. I have a million and one ideas, and my practice is in choosing the ones to commit to and pushing until I get there. The process is often meandering and always educational, but I very rarely waver from the core of the original prompt. Sometimes the ideas are fairly fleshed out, like making a web app for custom jewelry design based on a previous piece of work, to playful prompts like “generative pasta art.”
I also have a condition called aphantasia, which is a lack of a “mind’s eye.” Although it seems like that would stymie creativity, it does the opposite—I can’t imagine how a finished project will look, so I have to see it through before I can be satisfied.
JK: Thanks for sharing that, Charlotte. Please tell us a bit about Ceramics.
CD: With Ceramics, I wanted to make a digital art piece so apparently tactile that viewing it on a screen felt like a betrayal of the imagined physical artifact.
I was inspired by a tile I made in a pottery class years ago: a doodle in clay made permanent by the firing. I loved how the tile captured this serendipitous moment of creativity and held the duality of ephemerality and permanence. Clay is so easy to manipulate, to the extent that working with it is an exercise in restraint, which is the antithesis of working with digital art.
Truthfully, I’m not much of a ceramicist—almost all of my physical work is with metals, glass, and wood—but my major theme as an artist is material, and these contradictory qualities of clay made me really interested in exploring how clay would behave in a digital context.
“I thought that maybe I could get some of that tactile satisfaction by making digital art that felt physical.”
The strokes in Ceramics are organic and meandering and, ultimately, representative of a human hand carving at ease, but there’s also this awareness that they are fixed in time through firing. I think it draws a lot of parallels with on-chain art: the art starts as human expression, and then it’s solidified immutably on the blockchain, but there’s also this shadow of fragility because it relies on the continuation of the technology, just as a physical ceramic piece requires safe storage to last the ages.
On the surface, Ceramics is an aesthetic exploration of clay art, but it’s also probing a lot of apparent contradictions—hand versus machine creation, the fleeting and the permanent, and the interplay between physical and digital materials.
Charlotte Dann, Ceramics #0, 2023..png
Charlotte Dann, Ceramics #0, 2023.
JK: I think you achieved your goals here. This project is remarkable in its approximation of the visual qualities of different materials (ceramics) as well as documentary techniques (photography) into a digital image. Can you talk a bit about your interest in achieving this effect, and whether you have thoughts about what it means to work this through in code?
CD: Originally my idea for Ceramics was to make physical outputs and have a more abstract, less representational digital artifact, but since I caught Covid-19 in January 2022, I’ve had a level of fatigue that’s completely stopped me from making art physically, and severely limited my stamina for coding. By that time I’d gotten quite far in building the technical foundations of the project, but the aesthetics were undeveloped. I was tempted to abandon Ceramics entirely, but I felt such a craving to be able to make something with my hands; I thought that maybe I could get some of that tactile satisfaction by making digital art that felt physical.
I love the process of making generative artwork—how the computer spurs you on and how prolific it can be. As I developed the project to become more and more illusionistic, I was immensely creatively satisfied, but I was still frustrated by not being able to use my hands in the  making process. I think that friction is tangible in the outputs: the viewer is enticed to physically engage with the work but isn’t able to, which has been a lot of my life experience for the past year.
JK: We are certainly glad you persisted, and hope you are feeling better these days. What should collectors look for in the series as it is revealed?
CD: Beyond the obvious features of glaze colors and stroke styles, the thing that makes me happiest in the pieces are the tiny intersections between strokes and the shapes they create. Even in the outputs that have a simpler composition, there are so many little conversations between the strokes that deserve to be noticed.
Charlotte Dann, Ceramics test output, 2023 (detail). .jpeg
Charlotte Dann, Ceramics test output, 2023 (detail).
JK: The test outputs we’ve seen reward close looking for sure. Is there anything else you’d like to share that would help viewers approach and appreciate this project, or your work in general?
CD: This might be hard to relate to, but one of my most prominent long Covid symptoms is a difficulty in processing visual information. This now largely manifests as trouble reading, but when it’s most acute, I find that my field of vision is really small. There’s nothing physically wrong with my eyes, and I am aware that there are things to look at all around me, but I can only properly take in a small circle in the middle of my field of vision. This was a very strange phenomenon to experience while I was working on Ceramics, because I’d often be unable to take in the whole of an image. I was forced to focus on small areas of each render; it made me appreciate all those little interactions between the strokes, and also try to make sure that any crop of any image had visual interest. I don’t wish my condition on anybody, but it has forced me to really look at the details, and I’d encourage viewers to do the same.
Charlotte Dann, Semolina (work in progress), 2022. Digital..jpeg
Charlotte Dann, Semolina (work in progress), 2022. Digital.
JK: That is an intense thing you are experiencing. Thank you for mentioning that. It lends new context to the visual interest of each constituent section of the individual outputs. By way of wrapping up, are there any recent accomplishments you’d like to share?
CD: At the moment I’m just really proud of finishing Ceramics and having it accepted into Art Blocks’ Curated collection. There were so many points when I thought it would never get out there, and now I’m starting to believe that even if I don’t get fully better I can still make and share art at my own pace, and that is wonderful!
JK: Thank you so much for this conversation, Charlotte, and for all the work it took to bring Ceramics to its finished state.  What is the best way for people to follow your work?
CD: I’m on Twitter, and you can subscribe to my newsletter on my personal website.

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