Thora Finnsdottir.- GenJord
Thora Finnsdotti. GenJord

GenJord – Sustainable Ceramic Practice

We could pave entire roads with excess ceramics.

The interest in ceramics has seen explosive growth in recent years. Thousands of enthusiastic amateurs have taken up ceramics, and in combination with climate-conscious newly trained professional ceramicists, the field represents a wide and diverse range in a consumer world where we generally produce far too many things. We could pave entire roads with excess ceramics.

The GenJord project is an attempt at finding a more sustainable direction for ceramics. In this article, I describe the origins of the project and its visions, preliminary results and future aspirations.


GenJord – Sustainable Ceramic Practice is a project initiated by the Aarhus Academy of Fine Arts in collaboration with ceramic artist Helle Bovbjerg. The goal is to promote a sustainable approach to ceramics and ceramic production among Danish ceramic artists and makers and visual artists through research, knowledge sharing and networking.


Picking up the gauntlet

Would I dare to pick up the gauntlet that the Aarhus Academy of Fine Arts threw down in spring 2023 and join a project about more sustainable practices for ceramic makers and artists? After all, what did I know about sustainability? I did not know much, but maybe I could find others who knew more and thus help expand my own and our shared knowledge about the topic. I was also curious to see if the issue concerned anybody else besides myself. Could I help generate interest in and knowledge about the origins of our materials?

It seemed relevant to help gather knowledge about the impact of the manufacturers’ interventions in the surface layer of the earth and about the conditions that prevail where cobalt and other precious raw materials are mined in nature.

Had the cobalt I use been sourced with the involvement of child labour in African mines? Can the suppliers give us a fair picture of the sources of their raw materials?
How can we build greater awareness of and interest in the sourcing of our raw materials? How far did they travel before they ended up in our hands in the workshops?

These questions were of interest to me in my own ceramic practice. The Genjord project offers an opportunity to find answers and ask new questions in collaboration with likeminded individuals. Together, we can achieve more.


The project team behind GenJord was initiated by the Aarhus Academy of Fine Arts and myself. In addition to myself, the working group included Anne Louise Bang, textile artist and researcher of sustainable textiles; Karoline Bach Larsen and Ida Fonsleth, students at the academy; and film and TV production technician Halfdan Kruse. Together, we make up a strong team, supplementing each other, thanks to our diverse backgrounds, knowledge and experience.
The project would not have been possible without the great help we have received from the Aarhus Academy of Fine Arts, which provided the framework, and the generous support from the Danish Arts Foundation’s Committee for Craft and Design.

Sustainable production, recycling of materials and a new language

The participants in GenJord include young and older ceramic artists from all over the country with a variety of backgrounds, including educators. The first GenJord event was a workshop in which the ceramic artists undertook a process (ceramic from a systemic perspective) intended to offer a systemic understanding of practice-based research. The process was developed and guided by Anne Louise Bang. After this event, the ceramic artists organized into groups working independently, conducting studies and analyses of selected aspects of the topic.

Workshop by Anne Louise Bang.
Photo: GenJord

Some groups are focused on the recycling of materials. Others are looking into low-fired ceramics and earthenware. This involves lowering the firing temperatures and using raw-glazing in order to skip the initial firing: a method traditionally used by many potters.

A conversation developed about how we can improve our understanding of sustainability and sustainable methods in our practices and thus develop a language that helps us communicate our own approach to sustainability.

Well aware of the risk of ‘greenwashing’, the steering committee behind GenJord is hosting a talk about this topic on 26 August at DOKK1 in Aarhus. The event is open to the public – everyone is welcome.

A thoughtful foot on the ceramics brake

One group of ceramic artists is specifically looking into the courses taught in folk high schools, evening courses and youth education. The interest in ceramics has seen explosive growth in recent years, and these types of programmes have a high output of ceramic objects. In turn, this leads to huge amounts of clay slurry, scraps and left-over glaze that could enter into a circular system in the schools.

Broken plates are crushed and used again.

The group is exploring the use of new teaching methods and the implementation of sustainable initiatives that will be tested and communicated to the students. It is our responsibility to suggest new and different paths in education than the ones that are currently on offer. Although this is still at an early stage, we have received positive feedback from these experiments.

Promoting sustainable initiatives is not a quick fix. It involves changing minds and implementing new habits and goals for our products and professional practices. That is a complex task that may also seem quite airy and difficult to pin down, as several participants have commented.

As project head, I believe that taking action, initiating a movement and contributing to greater awareness among ceramicists is more important than ever. The GenJord project is not claiming to have the perfect answer or the right solution. However, we can help highlight issues and challenges in the profession. It is also my hope that the project will inspire individual ceramicists to take a more conscious and sustainable approach and to make new choices in their workshop practice.

Reusing materials
Photo: GenJord

Climate anxiety, community and a thirst for new learning

Several of the participants have been affected by doubt: ‘Will this have any impact at all?’ and ‘Does it make a difference what I do?’ However, more and more people are willing to make changes and accept that even small steps can make a difference. It is not just in ceramics that we need to make a choice. We all need to make choices. Everyone needs to contribute to the green transition and get better at looking after our planet.

The huge interest in the GenJord project is testimony to great curiosity and a thirst for knowledge and new learning among ceramic artists and makers. We also see people’s delight at being invited into a community.

Photo: Ceramicist Thora Finnsdottir

Our internal workshops and external talks are popular events. The external talks are a way for us to maintain interest and an opportunity to share our knowledge with the widest possible audience. There is a good turnout for our events, which are attended both by ceramic makers and artists and by other artists. This helps the project spread like ripples in the water.

Photo: GenJord

International outreach

On 2 June, ceramic artist Lillann Ulverud gave a presentation about the GenJord project at a ceramics conference held at the Centre for Ceramics in Norway. She spent two months with me as an artist-in-residence, arranged through Norwegian Crafts, and interned with me in the GenJord project.

Through the project, I attended the large American ceramics conference arranged by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA). At this event, I met several of the NCECA’s Green Task Force members and encountered great interest in GenJord. Among the interested conference attendants was Professor Linda Swanson of Concordia University in Montreal, who visited Denmark and gave a talk at Godsbanen in Aarhus on 8 June.

The NCECA’s Green Task Force have invited me to give a talk about GenJord at one of their open monthly meetings. I look forward to establishing a dialogue with them.

Sustainability and the green transition are issues that reach across borders, and international networking is an important part of the effort.

We sense a strong need for bringing ceramic makers and artists together.

The future

Since we launched the project in 2023, it has grown tremendously, and we have attained a wide reach – a reach that goes beyond the original project framework. We are now collaborating with 40 invited ceramic artists and makers, all of whom have attended two workshops.

The project is scheduled to conclude with a large symposium at the CLAY Museum of Ceramic Art Denmark on 2 November. During this event, the museum will be closed to the public, and the day will be dedicated to presentations of the groups’ results so far in the form of small exhibitions with samples and experiments and PechaKucha presentations by the groups. The event will include debates and talks and will offer ample opportunities for networking and knowledge sharing. It is intended for a professional audience and has a capacity of about 200 ceramic makers and artists.

The GenJord network is producing lots of new ideas for continued development that reach well beyond the project’s closing date in November this year. Does that mean we will be ready to present a complete answer and manuals for a sustainable ceramic practice, vol. 1? Probably not, but we hope that we will have inspired a large group of people working with ceramics. Set off ripples in the water. Created good models and sparked a desire to consider solutions that are kinder to nature and to the planet’s resources, in workshops as well as in education.

In the steering committee, we are delighted to see GenJord grow and to see our initiatives live on in new, exciting projects. We sense a strong need for bringing ceramic makers and artists together. Perhaps in an annual GenJord seminar, where we can continue the knowledge sharing and the exchange of ideas about sustainable practices.

Upcoming events

26 August at 15.30: Presentation by Kirsti Reitan Andersen on the topic of greenwashing. DOKK1, Aarhus.

2 November: Symposium. CLAY Museum of Ceramic Art Denmark in Middelfart.

Link to GenJord

Project partners

GenJord has received support from the Danish Arts Foundation’s Committee for Craft and Design, the development fund for local youth and adult education of the Danish Ministry of Culture, Oplysningsforbundenes Lokalforeningspulje [the Adult Education Associations’ Fund for Local Associations], Aftenskolernes pulje til Grøn Omstilling [the Evening Schools’ Green Transition Fund], the City of Aarhus and Dansk Oplysningsforbunds Initiativpulje [the Initiative Fund of Danish Adult Education Association].



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458: An interview with Robert Harrison and Danielle O’Malley about the history and goals of the NCECA Green Task Force. The group works to educate and empower artists to engage in sustainability and environmental stewardship.

459: A panel discussion on taking an environmental approach to making with Marianne Chénard, Julia Galloway and Ché R. Ochtli.

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