During the last edition of the Salone del Mobile in Milan, one could spot several remarkable objects scattered throughout the church of San Bernardino alle Monache. Most of them had sinuous shapes, sometimes almost resembling corals or sea reef. The works, presented in the exhibition L’Ultima Cera, were made by the Swedish-Chilean designer Anton Alvarez during his residency at the Fonderia Artistica Battaglia. The reason the Fonderia asked Alvarez to kick-start its residency programme should not come as a surprise. Earlier on, in 2012, he had invented a ceramic press. For Milan, he made a 2.0 version if you want to call it, for which he used wax instead of clay. His machine, The Extruder, consists of a large metal cylinder that hangs from the ceiling by chains and has an electronic motor that exerts more than three tons of pressure on the wax, pushing it through different moulds to create various shapes. The wax then flows into a plastic pool with water to cool it down. It is there that Alvarez shapes the wax into its final form. Afterwards, the pieces are cast in bronze and painted in different colours. The process could be compared somewhat with pasta making or giving underwater birth.

Sam Steverlynck: In 2012 you made the Thread Wrapping Machine. Then there was a ceramic press, which is the forerunner of The Extruder. What do you have with machines?


Anton Alvarez: In recent years my practice has focused on machines that make work for me. I find it interesting to distance myself from the production somehow. Because of my background as a canvas maker, I previously made the Thread Wrapping Machine. That was about myself as a maker. For my exhibition at the National Centre for Craft and Design in the English town of Sleaford (Alphabet Aerobics, 2016), I let the staff make the work. I gave the director and two staff members working clothes and asked them to operate the Ceramic Press machine during four months – they have knowledge about the machine that I don’t even have. The machine consisted of a metal tube that had to be filled with clay by the person operating it. In the bottom, there is a dial attached to the shape that will come out from the clay. If you press the button, mounted at the side of the machine, [there is a moving part that applies tons of pressure and forces the clay through it]. The machine has a moving table underneath to catch the object. By regulating the distance between the table and the extrusion, different shapes appear.

SS: How did you get the idea?

AA: Clay is a very beautiful material. [The way you can shape it in the kiln becomes eternal.] I find that very interesting. I want to give this material to people who do not know how to operate it. It will have a certain aesthetic coming out. But if I would give [an accompanying] guide with it, I would have a little bit of control. Or I could imagine what will happen with it rather than the endless possibilities of clay.

SS: Some of the objects you showed in Milan looked like real sculptures. Others appeared more functional and could be used as a stool or a tray. How do you differentiate both?

AA: I like the notion of the process when I am working with clay or wax. If I say on beforehand: ‘I am going to make a stool or a chair,’ I don’t feel free enough. If I just let the object happen, it can become a stool. But I do not want to have that intention [in advance]. It would limit the process too much. I like that the object makes itself.

SS: That notion of process is also readable in the final product. Is that important for you?

AA: I enjoy the aspect of the process in a material approach. I like the idea of not knowing the outcome. It is about the drive to create. If I somehow imagine how something will look like, in a way it’s not worth making anymore because I have it in my head already. I like the aspect of surprise. The best energy comes from things I could not expect. That is why the approach of the last couple of years has been so important for me.