315 Artist Residency

Elemental Alchemy

Sculpture and Material Innovation by Lili Yas Tayefi 

Elemental Alchemy by Lili Yas Tayefi reflects the ephemeral and ever-changing nature of the human experience. Crafted with innovative use of upcycled materials such as newsprint, and adorned with natural dyes, this digitally fabricated organic form speaks to advancement underpinned by fragility and the rebirth of life cycles. Rooted in personal exploration of familial ties, ancestry and femininity, it embodies both rigor and spontaneity in process development. The piece invites its audience to take pause and immerse in the liminal space where art and science converge, consider the interconnected nature of each moment as it becomes history, and contemplate the beauty of impermanence.

Artist Statement: 

Approach & Process: 

In my artistic process, I explore the intricate dance between form and materiality, intertwining narratives of familial bonds, cultural heritage, embodied experience of place making, and transformation offered by the creative process. Drawing from a background in art, robotic fabrication, and material science, I embarked on a journey as the pilot artist to address the residency’s exciting parameters: Craft a large-scale sculpture that is modular (can fit through a door), lightweight for travel and robust enough to withstand travel across exhibition spaces, yet large enough to create an impact in various locations.

Working with ceramics, I grappled with the limitations of kiln sizes, the risk of cracking, and the fragile nature of the medium. Amidst these challenges, I found solace in building a sculpture inspired by the Farsi word for 'love', each wall handbuilt upward infused with prayers, lineage and mysticism. As it collapsed in its final stage after one month of slow building, I was reminded of the lesson of impermanence, life's fragility, the art of letting go, and allowing something new to be birthed by the lessons of failing forward. 

Meaning & Inspiration:

During moments of rest and reflection, I found resonance in the story of 'Skeleton Woman' by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, symbolizing the universal cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Her tale mirrored my ongoing journey with artistic practice—a testament to the transformative power of creation and self-discovery. Like Skeleton Woman, I confronted the fragility of my creations and the transient nature of existence, birthing a journey of material alchemy, and through experimentation, unearthing a durable air-dry clay recipe, liberating the final form.

Form & Fabrication:

The resulting sculpture embodies a stacked form nesting fertility, rebirth, and the intricate balance of energies inherent in nature. Rooted in intuition and informed by personal history, lineage, and sense of place, my art is a manifestation of my subconscious. Translated from dreamlike sketches to digital modeling, I turned to CNC milling to achieve precision—a seamless fusion of tradition and technology.

Material & Context:

While inspired by contemporary artists in Iran, the recipes coating each form are made with materials available in, or native to the Americas, emphasizing the significance of geography and vernacular. Using traditional pigments like Indigo and Cochineal from a visit to Oaxaca, once considered more precious than gold, the sculpture is infused with a vibrant tapestry of cultural identity and travel experiences. The range of air-dry paper clay recipes are crafted from upcycled materials such as revived newsprint, cardboard and tissue paper, speaking to sustainability and resilience. Each emerged from intensive research, experimentation and repetition, to hone industrially viable results when searching for durability, drying time and quality, crack prevention, clay-like workability, and pigment absorption. 

Conclusion & Residency:

Elemental Alchemy speaks to both external creation and inner transformation, a synthesis of past and present, my relationship to form and spirit. Through the residency, I've expanded my artistic practice beyond ceramic sculptures, discovering new modalities for large-scale work. The journey paralleled my journey of self work and discovery, reflecting routines and practices that keep me spiritually connected in order to create. Rooted in narratives of familial ties, ancestry, and femininity, this sculpture invites the contemplation of impermanence, rebirth, and the cyclical nature of the lessons in human experience.


Land: As an artist who draws inspiration from nature, and is a guest on this land, I would like to acknowledge that this work has been created on the traditional Treaty 7 lands of the Blackfoot Confederacy, Tsuut'ina First Nation, and Stoney Nakoda Nations. We honour the ongoing contributions of Indigenous peoples to this land.

Calgary Arts Development (CADA): I am forever grateful for CADA’s ongoing and outstanding support, their values, and investment in artist growth in our city.

Brookfield Properties: Thank you to Brookfield’s gift of studio space to create large scale work, while activating areas of our vacant downtown core, as well as public exhibition of the work. 

315 Artist Residency in Bankers Hall:

The 315 Residency by Brookfield Properties, funded by CADA, is a 6 month program that provides artist studio space in our central downtown core, Bankers Hall, with myself as the first artist-in-residence. 

The inaugural residency has offered me the gift of time to explore and develop new modalities, and expand my depth as an artist while stitching together my backgrounds in design, digital fabrication, material science, with the organic process of creating art.

Team: I could not have done it alone. I am very grateful for my community of makers and thinkers in this city and beyond who have engaged with this project. From Rodrigo Aguirre, computational designer in Barcelona, 3D modeling my sketches to digital space, to the team at Carvel Creative, who fabricated the form using their 5-axis CNC milling machine. Jonathan Zoeteman and Bernine Marie for their inspiring impromptu visits, photo journey and sparking dialog about artists’ spiritual upkeep during creation and experimentation. And finally the studio team: Parisa Rafat, material research assistant, filling long studio nights with laughter; my right-hand executive assistant who is continuously so generous with me, Kyla Zeniuk; and invaluable studio assistant, Mackenzie Lockett. 

Thank you to the kind security team at Bankers Hall for taking care of us at all hours of the day.

Artist Bio: 

Lili Yas Tayefi is an Iranian-Canadian interdisciplinary artist, architectural designer, and educator specializing in digital fabrication with extensive experience in handcraft and a background in biodegradable material science. Lili’s practice, LYT Studio, honours ‘feel first’ and precision-led philosophies. Her body of work ranges from 3D printed and hand built innovative ceramic sculptures to painting, printmaking and filmmaking. Embedded with duality, her works invite an exploration of identity, social justice, and the reclamation of culture and placemaking in diaspora. A proponent for education and research, Lili is an instructor at both the Alberta University of Art and Design, and the University of Calgary, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, often designing and fabricating her own tools including an early version of a clay 3D printer, while in continuous search for natural material alternatives.