Sydney Clark grew up in New Melle, a small rural area outside of St. Louis, Missouri until moving to Kansas City to complete her BFA in Ceramics and Art History, along with a Certificate in Social Practice from Kansas City Art Institute in 2020. Sydney went to high school less than a mile away from a nuclear waste disposal cell in Weldon Spring, which prompted her interested in environmental issues and the need to raise awareness about pollution and contamination. Since moving to KC, Sydney has taught workshops with a local elementary school on sustainable art materials and urban farming, interned at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and worked with the Academy for Integrated Arts, a local arts integration elementary school. She has exhibited nationally and internationally at galleries in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Kecskemet, Hungary.
In my work, I utilize ceramic processes to mirror the ecological processes that led to the contamination of neighborhoods in my hometown near St. Louis, Missouri. My high school was located next door to a nuclear waste disposal cell, previously home to a chemical processing plant. The waste from the plant was eventually disposed of in the underground storage cell that remains today. These materials were left uncontained for decades, and some neighborhoods are still fighting for the safe removal of contaminated soil.
When contaminated areas are washed out by rain, the floodwater carries hazardous materials into people’s backyards and basements. I recreate this process with ceramic materials by filling unfired clay vessels with water, which causes the clay forms to crack, leak, erode, and break down, while the spilling water carries away the broken down clay. In some cases, the water I use is mixed with oxides, which create a map of its movement and the depositing of the materials it carries.
Additionally, the scientific approach I use in testing clay and glaze has led to a variety of materials that portray these ideas of contamination and toxicity. The clay bodies I work with undergo extreme transformation in the kiln at high temperatures. One clay body fumes, foams, and leaches into the other, which speaks to a very direct relationship with the leaching of toxic materials into the earth and body. Objects fuse and melt together as they undergo these processes, creating new forms that have been changed by exposure to excess water, excess heat, and volatile ceramic materials. These processes and their remnants in ceramic come together to create installations of decaying vessels, which encroach upon the corners and walls of pristine gallery settings, as industry encroached upon and marred the landscape and the inhabitants of my hometown.