Maiju Altpere-Woodhead Interview

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My name is Maiju Altpere-Woodhead. I migrated to Australia in November 1992. I migrated to Australia because I married an Australian. In 1995 we decided to move to Canberra and I studied at Canberra School of Arts, where I majored in ceramics.

From the very beginning my reference was my Estonian background and my new experience in Australia. It has continued to this day. At the moment I am investigating the relationship with Australian environment and particularly the reciprocal relationship between past experience and new environment; just in terms of the material, the possibilities, the qualities of ceramics, and the permanence of it. Which I think at the time when I first had the experience of dislocation which was very acute at the time. I really needed to search for permanence I think that is why I really took to ceramics with such enthusiasm.

I suppose we all relate to environment through looking for something in reality. What was really startling for me was the extremes of Australian natural environment. If it is dry, it's dry. If it rains, it floods. In Estonia, everything is in moderation, even though we can get very cold spells, and quite warm summers. But it just seems that the force of natural elements here was so grand, it was quite a humbling experience to me.

I use a very unusual printing process to create ceramics. It's a combination of classical intaglio and monoprinting that I have translated to ceramic materials and processes. I use plaster printing plates. Plaster is a very soft material, and it allows me to explore and express some notions of memory that I am dealing with in my work in that I inscribe linear designs into the plaster surface and as I work taking subsequent prints from the surface, the surface actually deteriorates and lines become blurred and even disappear, so I keep putting on new markings and while the old ones fade they're still there.

I think it really reflects the way memory also works, nothing is actually wiped out, it just goes into dormancy in a way, to surface somewhere else and so my works are about layering. They are both a physical layering of different coloured porcelain, but it is also about layering of memory, where you can dig and find something quite unexpected. I think memories in many ways are permanent. We don't know when they actually enter and they don't seem to leave. So in many ways I am exploring that timelessness of any kind of moment.

Another aspect I explore are the natural symbols around us. The rhythm of seasons, the rhythm of light and I think that is something that fundamentally ties us to a place or another. And I think it has been a challenge on a personal level to just adjust to a different light, to the different seasonal changes, to the different rhythms.

And because of that I have had more difficulty relating to the cultural symbolism that is built upon the natural rhythms.