Working with clay can be liberating. You touch it, you smell it, you shape it, and you develop a relationship with nature through it. It’s a living organism, breathing until it comes out of the kiln.
Many believe clay to be the birthplace of all life on Earth. This idea can be found across disparate belief systems throughout history and is still intriguing scientists today. For the three philosopher-potters who founded Yfi Ceramics in Athens, it’s a material that provides limitless creative potential of a different sort: there’s a reason Yfi means texture in Greek.
“Improvising, feeling, following the material’s lead, you can transform clay into something beautiful. Beauty is something we aspire to as well as functionality. We are three different people, each with our own aesthetic preferences. We try to achieve something that marries all three points of view that will still turn out beautiful.”
Located a stone’s throw from Kerameikos, the potter’s quarter in ancient Athens and the etymological root of ceramics, the Yfi studio is both a step of continuity for the neighbourhood’s history and the first on a journey between friends brought together through a youthful curiosity about clay’s possibilities. Antigone Kaklidi and Nikolina Lentza met at the studio of mentor Sofia Trigoni, a figure who they both found hugely inspiring, while studying systems design engineering at university on the island of Syros.
Meanwhile, Aimilia Douka was putting her degree in philosophy, pedagogy and psychology to use with her own socially-minded pottery workshops in Athens. Each has dabbled in other creative pursuits from jewellery to furniture, but, as Antigone explains, “what unites all three of us philosophically is that we are not limited or constrained by clay. Other materials are more matter-of-fact, telling the artist how to create — but not clay. Its voice is softer and more sensual.”
The trio’s studio is a colourful exhibition of experiments, aesthetically opposed to factory lines and restaurants that prefer uniformity over the unique. “When you're working with clay, you're experimenting all the time,” explains Aimilia. “To create a specific colour, we have to experiment. So every time you open the kiln you are curious, because you might be surprised by what you see. Sometimes an unintended consequence can be even more beautiful than what you expected.”
In their versatile shapes and sizes, ceramics have been the canvas of choice for many of Greece’s storytellers over time: through painted scenes and mythologies on bowls, plates, vases, amphorae et cetera, many stories owe their longevity to clay. Each piece of tableware at Nōema tells the story of an artistic experiment, an “imperfect” collaboration between nature and human hand that serves as a prop on the stage of life. These objects are designed to last, dedicated to the timeless act of coming together around food.