The Little City Made of Clay


Out in The Old Nurses Quarters off Glebe Point Road lifted on stilts above the car park and tracing three sides of a square, there is a little city made of clay.

Kil.n.it, now five years old, is a community of ceramicists with a particular focus on experimental work. The City of Sydney gave them the building, and now it is a weaving collection of workshops, drying racks, and old showers turned into storage spaces. 

The place is inhabited, that’s probably the best way to describe it. People are here – living, working, creating, communing.

Ebony Russell's studio at Kil.n.it

Ahead of showcasing Kil.n.it artworks in the retail space in our lobby for March, we met up with Joseph and Ella one sunny Tuesday under a creaseless blue sky. Joseph is in charge of operations and Ella is a technician assistant who helps him run things. They are both calm and kind. They are ceramics artists themselves, but Ella admits it’s hard to find time for her own work these days.

We meet in the communal kitchen area that Joseph tells us stays open 24 hours a day so people always have somewhere to go. There’s a workshop next door with three wheels also open 24 hours. Artists who have permanent workshops and anyone who is doing a class or renting space can use either of these whenever they want.

Walking around, there are so many artefacts that suggest community. The drying racks on the balconies are lined with works made by anyone who has done a class or rented a wheel. And each piece silently signals a story about its maker – an intention, a statement, a project. There are folds and grooves that recall the process, now hardened and permanent, and every piece is a milestone of craftsmanship, showing progress and development. 


Kil.n.it pop up gallery at Paramount House Hotel

When we asked why they think people are drawn to this craft – what makes it so appealing to such a diverse group of people – neither of them claim to know, but they reply with a considered guess about the satisfaction of using your hands. There’s something about switching off from the digital world and bringing something into being – something useful, that you can use in your everyday life. Ella says she remembers an article about the bacteria in clay being good for you, and you absorb its benefits through your skin as you work. “It’s not a new art by any means,” Joseph says, “civilisations started making plates and cups from clay and never found a better material.” It is probably this intersection of art and craft, form and function, and participation in an ancient human practice that casts the net so wide.

Between the drying racks are narrow doors to the workshops for the 12 resident artists. Each workshop is a small room, set apart for one or two people to work. Some have wheels for throwing, while other artists choose to hand-build and sculpt their works.

Mechelle Bounpraseuth-Barilla’s studio space is half workshop and half daycare for little baby Millie. Toys punctuate the floor, next to raw materials and half-finished pieces. The shower has been turned into a bedroom, where a colourful mobile hangs over a child-sized mattress. She tells me, with Millie in her arms, about her ceramic work growing out of a project she did with zines exploring her childhood in South West Sydney, and ideas of acceptance and unhappiness. 


Mechelle Bounpraseuth-Barilla and Millie in their studio

Her pieces play with nostalgia and the ideas of permanence – replicating an empty chip packet in clay. Something flimsy, worthless, and discarded, becomes a solid, permanent, art piece. There’s a stack of VHS tapes, party pies, and condiment bottles. She makes milk crates, ibises, and a pigeon eating vomit, titled ‘Friday Night’.

Mechelle Bounpraseuth-Barilla's 'Breadington' Glazed Earthenware, photograhed by Peter Morgan

Luke O’Connor, another one of the 12 permanent artists, studied at the now-relocated Sydney College of the Arts and came into Kil.n.it via a residency program. Luke says the barrier to entry is low with ceramics, anyone with the materials can make a mug that they then use for their morning coffee every day. 

And anyone does.

Once a week, the kiln is opened to fire works for whoever needs it. You can book space for one teacup, a shelf or two, or the whole thing if you need it. People come from all over with their works – hobbyists, artists, someone who has handmade an ashtray in their garage, and people rolling out limited lines of functional ceramics.

Luke O'Connor's 'Elipsoid', pink
Joseph with one of Luke O'Connor's pieces.

Now, a place that has drawn people in is spreading out. Throughout March, for Art Month, contemporary artists and galleries will be displaying their works in public places throughout the city. Our lobby is currently taken over by Kil.n.it artists, with original works on display and for sale. Come visit March 9-15 and take a piece of the city home with you.

Kil.n.it pop up gallery at Paramount House Hotel