Until Now
Anna Maria Maiolino, Until Now (detail), 2019, installation PAC Milan

‘She spoke about immanence and how poetry manifests itself in the act of making, since the act of making is the work itself, without separation between subject and object.’
Anna Maria Maiolino on Lygia Pape [1]


The woman on YouTube rolls perfect coils in seconds.

You take the block of clay and squeeze it out into a snake, as she does, and roll it with the middle of your fingers, as she does, and yet it ends up looking more scatological than serpentine.

There is something in this but it is not what you were looking for, not what you had intended for this vessel. You know that with practice your hand will get better at this; your eye can do little to help, it is the repeated action of rolling that will bring regularity. But you do not have time for this, for feeling inadequate, and so you buy a cheap extruder that with just a few pulls of the trigger pushes out perfect tubes of clay, giving out satisfying snaps every time an air bubble is eliminated.

Always you are caught between these two things, perfection and im—, the wheel and the hand, symmetry and a—

After a while the clay tires of all this handling and starts to crack, refuting its own plasticity to become difficult. Sunflower oil helps with this.

Elsewhere you cheat again; a mould offers a foil for dexterity, and the doubling begins. Positive to negative to positive again and you have lost track, almost, of where you started.

In the first room of the exhibition is the casted object, rolls and coils, and the mould, now elevated to sculpture. The pleasure is in absence, in a lack that you trace with your eyes while keeping your hands firmly in your pockets for fear of what they will touch if let free.

‘My mind seems to have shifted to my hands’, she says. [2]

But even when perfect, your coils do not always sit right and you end up feeling at a loss with a pot that is supposed to be straight up and down and isn’t. You set about almost unknowingly making Mobius strips with failed bits of slab. Be careful with infinity, someone (male) once told you.

Por Um Fio
Anna Maria Maiolino, Por um Fio, da série Fotopoemação (By a Thread, from the series Photopoemaction), 1976. Photo: Regina Vater. Courtesy the artist

(We eat,
feed, and are eaten)
Kim Seon-U, Time for Boiling Eggs (translated by Emily Jungmin Yoon) [3]


It would be easy enough to lick your fingers once the edges of the pot have been smoothed and all that remains is a fine slip on your skin. Other times it is the thick juicy bits that are most appealing, like the chunk of a baby’s cheek that you must restrain yourself from biting when its parents leave the room. Later you google ‘what is the name for the desire to eat babies’ and are reassured by the number of articles on this particular evolutionary drive.

To love is to care, to love is also to make and to eat, to consume together the gifts of love at the table. The artist remembers a dinner table at which she never quite felt full because everyone was invited, everyone had to eat. [4]

After a period of neatness, of clean works on paper—after a break up—things get messy. A plastic freedom is found in clay and cement. But there are echoes before of what would come, the positive and negative space of woodcut prints, made in times of political —when is hunger and lack not political?

The body here is inseparable. With eating comes digestion, comes excretion, abjection. There is an othering. This is the problem of having a body in the world, ‘a body in history’. [5] Elsewhere video work and photography show mouths, generations, connected by thread. Cannibalism is welcomed and appropriated.

The last room is for eggs. Whether held in a hand or laid on the floor, their presence in photographs, a soft whiteness, is compelling. They should be as cliché, but here, they nourish with their newness. They are infinity in palindrome—ovo, anna—in a kōan, a ‘beginning/end/beginning’. [6]

The process of getting air out of a lump of clay is called wedging. Everyone compares it to making bread, to knocking back dough, except the purpose of the two processes is different; one welcomes air, lets it in, while the other forces it out. The two are easily confused. The daily gestures, iterations of love and care, are the same.

And while these objects, laid out in rows or stacked upon one another in loops, seem so dry, so dusty, a drop of water will transform them back into slip. What has passed through the body returns to the earth.

Anna Maria Maiolino In Her Exhibition 2
Anna Maria Maiolino, Making Love Revolutionary, installation shot, Whitechapel Gallery, 2019

Maria Howard is a writer and ceramicist based in Glasgow mariahoward.org


Born in 1942 in Italy, Anna Maria Maiolino moved to Brazil in 1960 where she became inspired by the neo concretist movement, creating prints, performance art and sculpture that soon became a form of resistance to the country’s military regime. Anna Maria Maiolino: Making Love Revolutionary is the first UK retrospective of this pioneering Brazilian artist. Whitechapel Gallery, London 25 September 2019 to 12 January 2020


[1] Anna Maria Maiolino quoted in Iwona Blazwick, Trinidad Fombella and Paulo Miyada, Anna Maria Maiolino, 2019, p.149
[2] ibid. p.12
[3] ‘Letter #16—Nina Mingya Powles’, Close, Tinyletter, 2019 [accessed 28 Nov 2019]
[4] Anna Maria Maiolino quoted in Blazwick et al., p.154
[5] twitter.com/anneboyer (now removed)
[6] Anna Maria Maiolino quoted in Blazwick et al., p.149