Maja Escher is based in Lisbon, Portugal, where she moved from Odemira, in Alentejo. Her parents were early migrants of a growing and seldom addressed movement, of northern and central European citizens to Portugal, to build small sustainable farming projects. Therefore, she lived in conditions that many Alentejanos fled to work in bigger and more modern cities. Escher took this awareness of endangered ecosystems and telluric know-how to her Lisbon studies in fine art and ceramics, and expanded her interest in alternative modes of living by studying Waldorf Pedagogy in Germany. Her work ramifies and penetrates different fields of knowledge related to the earth and the environment, including ancestral philosophies and techniques, but also technological systems.
Drawing is her way of thinking and organizing information that she collects in many forms, from idiomatic expressions to materials and shapes that she disseminates across her clay work and subtle sculptures. Her installations often seem a dynamic toing and froing from language structures such as sentences, and operating devices showing directions and poetic solutions to complex problems acutely felt today with the rising of temperatures and flooding, among other climate emergency phenomena. Therefore, the elements are often the focus of her work, particularly water.
For Worlding, Maja chose to work on the sixth iteration of her project “Rain Machine”, a utopian quest for a device to control rain. It is called “How to Make Rain in 5 Steps”, alluding to the information language of internet tutorials and forums; but more importantly, the title and subtitle of this project manifest the tense relationship between science and popular information (or, more to the point, between scientific, empirical and popular knowledge) that Escher articulates in her work, both critically and lyrically.
Escher’s creative process is immersive, interactive and participative. Hence, the stages of “Rain Machine” always develop first as a collection and investigation process, then as a notation and drawing endeavour, and finally as a studio production. She is investigating both industrial and alternative methods of incorporating water in human and natural cycles. This project has recently been reframed and made even more poignant by the flooding in central Europe, particularly Germany, as well as the scarcity of water levels in the Santa Clara lake in Odemira, leading to water deprivation and harm to the ecosystem of the Mira river, both close to Escher’s origins.
How does this utopian project develop? Escher’s operates like a contemporary information hunter-gatherer, foraging for materials. In her quest, the place also dictates what to look at, how to seek for it, and who to listen to. She brings the collected material and information to her studio, after having recorded it in her sketchbooks and notebooks. The shapes and sayings find their way into the work, in her unique way of using clay, almost against the rules of good practice, or in drawings and other materials. Shifting expectations, Escher’s work promotes an immersive relation with art spaces by proposing a sort of pragmatic enchantment to this complex condition of being here.
Maja Escher’s residency is supported by:
Worlding is supported by:
A special thanks to the Embassy of Portugal in the UK.