Jacob Sussman

New Commandments

“New Commandments” recombines historical symbolism through building, destroying, and merging to re-establish meaning. The work critiques rites of passage, masculinity, and stereotypes by deconstructing how histories, ideologies, and preconceptions form.

As a queer person raised in-between Judaism and Christianity, social preconceptions and religious expectations festered my formation. To take back autonomy, I reimagine historical, and religious symbolism and transmute them into new stories through mixing of painting, glazing, 3d-printing, and hand-building. The scanning of an object into data, then reconstructing it through digital fabrication, and manipulation through the ceramic process, creates a divergent artifact while still referencing the original.

Clay collaborates, memorializes, and transcribes narratives of distress, struggle, and transformation during its formation. This transcription references the process by which the body, the soul, and identity are molded through inside and outside interventions. These methods act as lenses of reinterpretation, a process of building new power structures from old rubble.

New Commandments - Prologue

This thesis is structured as a story. As with any good story, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. But what lies on the other side? What happens in between scenes? If one deviates from the prescribed story, what will one become? There is a lot left unsaid in stories, the subtext can be vague and the meaning can be reinterpreted. 

I explore these questions through three Acts: Cultural Formation and Obligation, Breakdown: Rebellion and Lamentation, and Aftermath: Reconciliation and Reconstruction. These Acts weave a path forward allowing me to experience, understand, and interpret my lineage. From the beginning to the end, and back again, we can walk through our stories together to edit, reconnect, and reconstruct them.

As an artist and researcher, I juxtapose cultural, religious, and scientific motifs to probe the transitory “middle space” of metamorphosis and create something divergent from the originals. My forms take on an entropic cadence that is like a dam about to break. In its language, pressure builds up in anticipation of the release.


Ceramic object in the shape of a broken helmet with textural glaze

Title: Helmet
Medium: Porcelain, underglaze, glaze, historical scans, oxidation
Date: 2023

“Helmet” critiques rites of passage and masculinity, specifically critiquing circumcision. The remains of a dilapidated Helmet are displayed. It has been brutalized, worn, and separated. Did it protect the body or is it all that is left? Armor is analyzed as an analogy used as a protective vessel for the body. A symbol of how tradition, history, and culture form our identity without our choice.

My Partner in Storytelling

Clay is an archival material.

It captures moments onto its body that can be read like a story. A touch, a pinch, a rip, a fold. Clay is a partner in a dance. As I speak to the clay in the language of the hand it speaks poems back to me. It receives my touches and unfolds them back to me in its own way. 

Clay is an archival material

Process is inherent in this material. 

Clay is an archival material. 

Once it is licked by flame, it hardens. Permanence is created through the transformation of clay in a kiln. It will now last for lifetimes. Every clay object fired is given the power of defying time. 

The story can no longer be changed through moments of touch, instead it must be changed through the laws of nature. Geological processes, a sort of natural alchemy, are harnessed to create a sort of elevated monument. 


Abstract figure made from piled ceramic shapes

Title: Passive Aggressive Heat
Medium: Stoneware, underglaze, resin, glaze, oxidation
Date: 2021

“Passive Aggressive Heat” presents an amalgamation of ceramic components locked together with palpable force. The structure fluctuates between building and breaking while never seeming to settle on a decision. Forms strike out at us resembling bones and fists while a wet, disrupted finish questions growth or decay. Residues of the object’s birth remain, forcing us to confront the emotion and struggle of itself. Space and holes proliferate the object’s body which piques curiosity about what resides inside and how it came to be this way.

Act I - Cultural Formation and Obligation

-I Am a Rock-

You are chosen to be something 

before you are born. 

The choice does not lie with you. 

You are formed from mud and earth 

and expected to be a rock. 

I am not satisfied with being a rock. 

I am hard


and cannot breathe.

I want to be smooth

and soft

I want to be able to feel warmth on my skin. 

I want to be able to taste water as it touches my lips.

 I want to be something more.

Something that can move freely. 

I do not want to be a rock anymore. 

I want to be something more.

 Maybe I would have chosen to be a rock.

 But you took that choice away from me.

Looking back on my formation, and through its obligation, is the first Act that we will walk through as a way to get to the root of what has happened. By producing 3D prints of historical, symbolic objects that were scanned from the originals, one can revisit the past, connect references, and build language through associations and meanings. Where is our default programming? What are the quirks, meanings, and divisions that were instilled in our formations? I need to know how the program runs. Then, maybe, I can let go and truly have autonomy.


Large, ceramic jar covered in imagery with ceramic printed Yad adorned lid


Close-up picture showing orange line and imagery drawn on large, ceramic jar

Title: Bang My Head Against the Wall
Medium: Porcelain, underglaze, glaze, historical scans, oxidation
Date: 2023

“Bang My Head Against the Wall” presents itself as a distorted, totemic jar. This jar references a traditional, Jewish washing jar but is severely divergent from its original state. It is structured in a 3-tier system which has a bottom, a middle and a top. This hierarchy references American social, cultural, and religious hierarchies that portray, absurdly, the importance resides at the top. The top of the jar is adorned with an uncanny hand, printed from a Yad that has been squished and morphed into something slightly inhuman. 

It points to the sky, to God or maybe Aliens, another hierarchy above the physical plane. From one side it points like one points at a person while from another angle the hand resembles a middle finger sticking up. Wrapping around in repetition reads “Yakov” which means Jacob. In Hebrew, my family calls me this when they are very mad because I made a mistake or did something wrong. This transitory middle acts as the place of conflict that happens when the immovable object meets the unstoppable force

Act 2 - Breakdown: Rebellion and Lamentation

Through this Act, we explore ideas of entropy and the deconstruction of symbols. The prescribed meaning of symbols, icons, and tradition are put into question. This is explored by distortion and abstraction of forms. Masking of meaning through mixtures of painting, glazing, and hand-building. Reinterpretation allows freedom and space. 
What does a child do when you tell them they are wrong? In Judaism, we have a story during Passover called the "Four Children". The lore goes that every child asks a certain type of question and then proceeds to label them. The four children are the wise child, the wicked child, the simple child, and the one who does not know how to ask. This hierarchy is ordered by intellect so we are off to a great start in forming confident autonomy. I have always wondered which one I am, I assume I am the wicked child.

Act 3 Aftermath: Reconciliation and Reconstruction

What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force? The space where things meet. Does it explode into nothingness or create new fantasy? In this final Act, we examine the meeting place where new meanings are formed by symbols twisting and merging into a new language. I take the symbolic 3d prints that have been abstracted into divergent versions of themselves and assemble them with handbuilt clay. New power structures are built in this union and diverge from the original. The forms grow and become symbolic objects in themselves that represent transformation.
My formation is part of me; Judaism, Christianity, history, culture, symbols, icons, associations, trauma, my incomplete body, my queerness, my divergency, my persecution, my masculinity, my femininity, my non-binary, my kinks, my strengths, my weaknesses, the stress, the struggle, the beauty, the love, the awe, my life. But, I can reinterpret and find my meanings. It is my culture. It is my right. I can take back my autonomy and build my bridge.


Signpost made from two ceramic printed Yad's pointing in opposing directions


Close up showing kosher stamped ceramic glazed surface

Title: Which Way is Kosher?
Medium: Porcelain, terracotta, underglaze, glaze, historical scans, oxidation
Date: 2023

“Which Way is Kosher?” is a satirical critique of tradition, rites of passage, expectations, and religious rules in American society. This critique points out the hypocrisy but also the confusion that comes with interpretations of religion and societal laws. The dual hands are 3d prints of a Yad which is a Jewish object used to read the Torah, Jewish written law. Painted figures dance in the sickly, phallic form that is covered in oozing, bloody orifices. Two triangles in red are painted, a separated Star of David, in between two red phalli. They point up and down while a stamped (that was printed from a 3d scan of a stamp that was used to certify if food was kosher from the Jewish Museum of Oświęcim) Kosher Certification was fused to the body with underglaze.


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