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This Newfoundland artist is harnessing the power of the sun to make tiny life-affirming vases

With his solar-powered ceramics, Michael Flaherty is hoping to make people think more critically about environmentalism.

With his solar-powered ceramics, Michael Flaherty is hoping to make people think about environmentalism

"I hope that when people see my solar powered kiln, they'll take a minute to see our situation on the earth, and what we're doing to the earth." — Michael Flaherty 2:17

In 2009, Michael Flaherty spent a summer living on the Grey Islands, an abandoned community off of Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula. For three months, he lived alone on the island, and hauled about 500 bricks from the shoreline to the highest point on the island to build an "inside-out" ceramic kiln. He documented the journey on Blogspot, using photos and videos, and created a Settlers of Catan spin-off board game called Settlers of Grey Islands.

The summer was part of his years-long project to blur the distinctions between art and life.

"I think that one of my missions is to sort of erase the distinction," says Flaherty. "I've also been a big proponent of engaging with how art affects your life, the way you live your life, and whether it contributes to your life or it contributes to everybody's experience, or whether it's detrimental. And in that case I wanted to do something where it would have a really sort of profound impact on my life."

Michael Flaherty. (CBC Arts)

Flaherty, a potter living and working in Catalina on Newfoundland's Bonavista Peninsula, makes functional plates and tea pots, but also "experimental, avant-garde, ceramic sculptures, installations and performances." On the Grey Islands, he redesigned the traditional kiln so that heat emanated from the inside, going out. He has toyed with the pottery firing process in several previous exhibitions, and once again in a new project that was on display in this summer's Bonavista Biennale, when he harnesses the power from the sun.

Flaherty's solar kiln reflects sunlight, using a mirror, into a small clay object that's held in place a few feet into the air. He says it's based on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which bears a close resemblance with its gold-plated mirror. His clay creations are usually in the shape of planets, sometimes bearing the image of a polar bear — animals which are being displaced by changing climates. Flaherty says he hopes it will inspire some people to consider the relationship between distant worlds and life on earth.

I've also been a big proponent of engaging with how art affects your life, the way you live your life, and whether it contributes to your life or it contributes to everybody's experience, or whether it's detrimental. And in that case I wanted to do something where it would have a really sort of profound impact on my life.- Michael Flaherty, artist

"There is a bit of a clash of ideas in my project," he says. "One is like, I think that space telescope is like going to be a pinnacle achievement for human kind, but at the same time, my project also kind of speaks to the apathy of human kind in terms of things like climate change. It does have an environmental theme to it, and to think about how we're discovering the universe and seeing other planets in space, but yet we're still not acting responsibly enough to take care of our own planet."

With his solar kiln, Flaherty says he is hoping to bring his environmentalism to the forefront of the viewer's mind.

"I hope that when people see my solar powered kiln, they'll take a minute to see our situation on the earth, and what we're doing to the earth."

Watch CBC Arts: Exhibitionists on Friday nights at 12:30am (1am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT) on CBC Television.

About the Author

Garrett Barry

Journalist

Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.

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