It is estimated that around 100 African elephants are killed every day due to an insatiable demand for ivory. This shocking statistic is what spurred British ceramicist Charlotte Mary Pack to action, causing her to undertake an admirable, self-assigned challenge. On World Wildlife Conservation Day (December 4, 2018), Pack stayed awake for an entire 24 hours to handcraft 100 elephant porcelain figurines. Each clay piece represents one elephant killed in the wild, which together create an impactful visual reminder of the gentle giants’ dwindling numbers.
“Growing up on a farm and traveling widely across Africa are fundamental experiences that have instilled my affection for the natural environment,” Pack tells My Modern Met. “I combine my passion for all creatures great and small with clay to drive my work and draw attention to the declining wildlife and natural world.” With the aim to make one clay elephant every 15 minutes, Pack shared her process via a Facebook livestream. The footage shows the determined artist hurriedly making each piece by hand sculpting each pre-prepared ball of clay. Pack reveals, “I want to allow the journey to be quite organic, so some are maybe more ‘rushed’ than others, in the hope that each elephant will embody its own energy.”
Now that the 24 hours are complete, Pack will allow the 100 clay elephants to dry before firing them in a kiln. The finished pieces along with a shortened time-lapse of the live footage will be on display at Saatchi Gallery, London from February 28 to the March 3, 2019. Each elephant will be presented on a round table, from smallest (around 1 cm) to the largest (around 12-15 cm) in a spiral formation, symbolizing their decline. Pack reveals, “Africa has lost a third of its elephants over the last decade, which I will signify by donating one third of the proceeds towards elephant conservation efforts in Africa.”
We recently caught up with Pack before the livestream to find out more about her inspiring project. Read on for our exclusive interview and watch her process video from the December 4, 2018 below.
What first drew you to start working with clay?
I don’t feel like there was a defining moment for me… I wasn’t initially drawn to clay… I took ceramics for A-level at school and loved it! But then after my art foundation (which actually didn’t have any ceramic facilities), I actually went straight to London College of Fashion to study contour design, which I ended up not loving… maybe that was my defining moment!? After a year at LCF I decided to change things up, and applied for the BA Ceramic Design at Central Saint Martins, and I guess never looked back! I’ve always enjoyed being creative over anything academic, and I love creating with my hands, so working with clay came naturally to me, and what a bonus that it’s a natural material! I love the the immediacy of clay, with some knowledge you can literally make anything directly with your hands! With just your hands and the most basic tools you are instantly able to create beautiful textures and detail. Clay also covers a lot of creative industries, whether it’s an art form, sculpture, craft, or for practical use—the possibilities are endless!
Have you always had a love of animals?
Yes, I have always held a great respect and admiration for wildlife and nature. During the late ‘90s, when I was about seven or eight, Rhinos had almost been poached to extinction. My answer to the common question “what would you like to do when you grow up?” was that I’d like to go to Africa and help save endangered species. I was, from a young age, as far back as I can remember, an avid David Attenborough fan—which obviously I still am! My mom tells me since the age of five I was saving mice and shrews from the farm cat, so yes I have always had a love for animals.
Why is it especially important for you to raise awareness of elephant poaching?
I’ve noticed people engage more with my work when they are familiar with the animals I make. So during an exhibition I usually make sure that there are some familiar species in the collection, whether it's a lion, elephant, sloth, rhino etc. I then balance it out with many lesser known endangered species within the bird, amphibian, reptile, mammal families. I chose to base this project on elephant poaching because the figures are so alarmingly high—currently there are more elephants being killed than there are being born… for the sake of a carved ornament!? If we can’t save our largest land mammal from extinction what hope is there for our other endangered species!? As well as raising awareness I would also like to challenge the public’s opinion on ivory, I hope in the future some people will no longer want to buy or sell ivory.
What’s the fastest time in which you have made one of your elephants?
It usually takes me a couple of days to make an elephant, but for this project I will have to make one roughly every 15 minutes! I have been practicing a lot over this month to prepare myself for the 24 hour make! As a bit of a precisionist I’ve actually found it very difficult to “let go” of the detail. This isn’t about making 100 perfectly beautiful elephants, it’s about the concept and message—this is what I have to keep telling myself! It’s also quite daunting for me exhibiting them this way (as in not perfectly made) at Collect 2019, because this is where some of the best craftsmen in world exhibit their beautifully crafty pieces!
Do you have any more projects planned for the future you can tell us about?
Not currently, I would like to focus on a project based on the ocean, such as coral blackening… maybe one day…