On Curation

The photos in this blog post aren’t the best quality but they give an idea of the way I have been experimenting with the placement of my objects. After realising the vessels look best clustered (where they can appear to communicate with one another) and wary of making a sea of plinths, I moved away from my individual ‘Ranti Bam’ style plinths  and decided I would have one long plinth instead.

I spent some time playing around with MA graduate Anne’s abandoned plinth which has been used in the photos below. Being very long and narrow (over 2m long) it meant I could only assemble my vessels linearly. At first I liked this idea as it would highlight the silhouettes of the pieces and could perhaps resemble an assembly line or a workshop shelf, creating an unusual juxtaposition between the links of the forms to mass-produced tableware and their fractured, unfinished nature. A linear narrative also has connotations of growth and progression and these vessels appear very much to be collapsing or growing in some state of flux. The linear plinth also reminds me of a previous post looking at an Adam Silverman exhibtion. 

There is a danger with such a thick sided plinth as this one though, that it can stand out too boldly and a few people have commented on how, supporting my objects this plinth starts to look like the monolith from Space Odyssey. While Silverman’s installation is referencing the architecture of the gallery space it is in, his vessels almost disappearing into their monochrome environment, I want my vessels to be the vocal point and I want them to exude a kind of lightness and sense of humour. A bulky plinth such as this in a subtle shade of grey is too serious for my intentions.

Next, finding a shorter, wider white plinth, I tried creating compositions with more depth of field. Initially I thought the first image here was too clustered and the second too sparse, but in hindsight a closer clustering adds dynamism and movement to the group. Some appear to be leaning in, eavesdropping on conversations, some tiptoe carefully, some stand shy and precarious and others remove themselves from the group, standing apart independently, the differences are more pronounced. I didn’t intend my vessels to be so anthropomorphic but it seems inevitable that pots should remind us of people. Some of the marks I made even unintentionally resemble faces.

It is strange to think that each one began life as two bowls of roughly the same shape and weight. Each one then almost becomes an ode to the making of that particular form, depending on my emotions at the time, the particular way a thrown section slumped after cutting and on the weight of the walls and the drying speed. If they were poems they would each have the same integral structure but their contents would set them apart.

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Blog Map of Research and Development Progress

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1. September 2018 (RESEARCH) L6 Characteristics of Practice
I begin early on in Term 1 defining some of the concrete pillars of my practice. I want to make vessels for one. A vessel is the original abstract form and its familiarity means I can imbue it with metaphors and layers of meaning while still being accessible to viewers. I also identify traces and memory of place as significant to my practice. I think I want to make functional, wheel-thrown forms decorated in ash glazes, utilising weeds and plant waste in Cardiff. In the months afterwards I will hone in on these ideas, realising it is the capability of clay to hold traces and memory that I am particularly interested in as well as the time of making.

2. October 2018 (RESEARCH) Sensory Geographer, Kinetic Poet
A month later I begin to understand more why making vessels is important to me. While my work so far has defied boundaries of fine art, craft and design, it becomes important to me to root my practice in this tradition of pottery since I want to especially feel connected to the tradition of clay in the UK, reaching back to Leach and Hamada who had such an influence on the development of ceramics in this country. While I admire the work of potters working in the country pottery tradition – Leach and his disciples including Batterham and Pleydell-Bouverie and contemporary potters like Jack Welbourne and Charlie Collier who have adopted these values, I don’t feel satisfied making functional work in this way. I find Leach’s potter’s book dictatorial and I connect with De Waal’s description of the passive-aggressively humble pot. I feel pots made with such a nostalgic aura can lack a sense of humour and so I want to rebel against this paradigm of ceramic virtue. A quote by Alison Britton about it being necessary to go beyond technical skill to make work relevant to today’s world strikes me as pertinent.

3. November 2018 (PROCESS) Gas Firing Gallery
Feeling a bit lost, I decide that in order to understand clearly how I feel about traditional pots I first need to embrace them and become familiar with the processes involved. I adopt the stance of ‘know thine enemy’. Skill is important to me still because it teaches things that I think are good such as patience and commitment, remedies to our culture of speed where sloppy craft is prevalent. Over this first term I focus on improving my throwing skills so I am confident to take bolder risks as well as learning how to fire the reduction kiln and developing a range of reduction glazes based on traditional shinos and ash glazes. I decide not to focus solely on ash since it is difficult to get it in enough quantity and results vary dramatically depending on the type of wood in the mix.

4. Dec 2018 (RESEARCH) – PDP L6 Term 1 The Gesamtkunstwerk Bowl
Having written the main body of my dissertation at this point I have much more knowledge about the relationship between ceramics and time and its importance to my making (my thesis is titled ‘re-defining the experience of time in contemporary ceramics’). I am no longer confined to the indeterminate idea of ‘slow art’ and creating a relationship between an object and viewer which draws attention to the present moment. I frame my thesis argument through examining works by three contemporary artists in relation to time – Phoebe Cummings and her raw clay installations anticipating collapse in a future time, Keith Harrison’s performative firings demonstrating transformation in the present and causing temporal anxiety and Alexander Engelfriet’s practice exploring the preservation of traces made in the past. As a result I feel liberated to move away from the functional vessels of the bowl project and explore the layering of time and traces in my vessels in a different way – through building up and breaking down the vessel in a repetitive, continuous duration through time, working in iterative response to past moments.

5. Jan 2019 (RESEARCH) Statement of Intent for Exhibition Module 
I decide to return to a process I have used in the past, of hand-building with thrown forms to juxtapose two modes of time. I like how thrown forms capture the tension, speed and movement in the process of throwing but I also enjoy the breaking of this tension and creating new rhythms by slicing the vessels and sticking them back together in a new configuration. This process would not be possible without the skills I developed in the previous months in order to control and manipulate the clay. My vessels still feel too safe and I begin to look to artist/stuntmen like Peter Voulkos for inspiration. I begin to consider more the time of actions and making as a dance of choreographed or improvised movements.

6. Jan 2019 (RESEARCH) Gareth Mason / Mudfondler
In the same vein as Voulkos is contemporary potter Gareth Mason who I first heard of at the 2015 ICF where he was demonstrating. I found Mason’s method of working resonated with me since he sometimes works on a single piece for years, firing, re-firing, breaking apart, sticking together and re-firing pieces until he arrives at a piece which can be considered completed. Mason works especially with subverting our ideas of beauty, working in particular with eastern celadons, copper reds and traditional korean, chinese and japanese vase forms, smearing sections of the delicately thrown porcelain vessels in darker, earthier clays which fracture and bubble. He is interested in a sensous beauty rather than the refined, oculacentric beauty of the past. He creates sculptures which make the traditional korean moon jars resemble the dull relationship of Edgar and Catherine while his own are the passionate, destructive and toxic relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff, chained to nature and the dangers of the wild.

7. Jan 2019 (PROCESS) Building Bigger
I struggle with the tricky process of building with and altering thrown forms. I learn to work on pieces slowly over days, covering the pots in bin bags to balance out the dryness of the different sections. I experiment intuitively and spontaneously with mark-making, developing a vocabulary of marks which include slicing, squeezing, patching, punching, drawing on and cutting sections out of the clay.

8. Feb 2019 (PROCESS) Extruding and Throwing Combined/Adam Silverman
Following on from John Clarkson’s lectures on the bases of pots being ceramic ‘parergons’ and how the grounded nature of pots makes then feel safe and humble, I begin experimenting with extrusions alongside thrown forms. I begin intending to make extruded legs and frames for the thrown sculptures as plinths to elevate the status of the humble vessel but later use the extruded sections stuck on or pierced into the thrown pots. In retrospect, this is something I would like to push further in the future since I still feel I was too precious with my pieces. They took time to make and the pressure of an upcoming show meant I felt each one had to succeed so I didn’t quite push them to the edge of destruction. Later I returned to making extruded legs for my vessels to sit on, feeling the two vocabularies of shape (precise extrusions and fluid throwing) was too jarring.

9. March 2019 (PROCESS) New Glazes for Fractured Vessels
I realise I am a maker who prioritises form over surface. Unlike Gareth Mason, my sculptures are uniformly glazed so as to highlight the marks and traces in the clay. I struggle with deciding how to glaze my pieces before realising it makes the most sense to draw from my previous reduction firing knowledge and glaze the work in shinos, tenmokus and ash glazes which reference back to the standard ware at the Leach Pottery in St Ives. The familiar, domestic glazes are unexpected on such unorthodox and sculptural forms.

10. March 2019 (PROCESS) Corridor Crit / External Examiner
I can begin to identify the small details that make one of my vessels work and start imposing restrictions on my making after so much freedom previously. Minimising choice can be liberating.

Visit to One Wall Studio/Tradition and Modernism

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been to visit various artist studios in Cardiff with the hope to get a better impression of the Cardiff art/ceramics scene in preparation for after graduation. One of these was One Wall studio, a ceramics workshop in Adamsdown set up by Jack Welbourne and Arthur Goodfellow in 2017, both graduates of the ceramics course at CSAD. The upstairs of the industrial unit building houses an exhibition space while downstairs is the workshop with shimpo wheels for pottery classes. Jack showed us the kick-wheel he works on that sits in the corner, explaining that he built it while still at university. His pots are functional, reduction fired stoneware, intuitive rather than designed to be precise and following in the rich tradition of British country pottery and the likes of Leach and Batterham. He uses local clays and wood-ash on a rich, coarse clay body, the ashes with additions of different feldspars to give them subtly different surface textures. It’s fascinating to see someone working almost as the archetype of a country potter in such an urban setting.

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Pots by Jack Welbourne

Interestingly Jack doesn’t sign his work which raises the question of why do I sign my own pieces? Shoji Hamada famously never signed his pots believing instead that the work was signed by the nuances of each individual maker’s hand at the different stages of the making process. Is it romantic to put your work out into the world as the product of an ‘unknown craftsman?’. I have begun this year to sign and date my sculptural pieces, partly as a way to keep track of when I made things for myself, partly out of pride and partly out of a hope to one day help future educators in ceramics. It’s of great interest to me that many younger potters like Jack and Wichford Potter Charlie Collier insist on making a living in the tradition of country pottery today. Rather than fully committing to a life of making vessels in this way, I feel like I prefer to peek in to this way of life and making from the outside, subverting this British/Eastern tradition by making forms that reference it but are distinctly function-less and sculptural while still not quite crossing the line into sloppy craft. Reading Leach’s potters book feels to me a bit dictatorial, as if there is a correct beauty, aesthetic and taste.

I really enjoyed reading this article I found today (below). It’s a few years old but I think still relevant and although designed to entertain more than to really critique contemporary craft, it raises the interesting point that ‘The serious modern potter is a priest of a nobler, simpler way of life’  but that the result of this is that modernist ceramics inspired by Hans Coper and Lucie Rie is dull because it has a ‘holier-than-thou morality, sexless artistic restraint, and oatmeal puritanism.’ It reminded me of Grant Gibson’s interview with Edmund de Waal for the Material Matters podcast on porcelain in which de Waal talks about ‘needy’ pots, pots which are so humble they are almost passive aggressive in their modesty. I love what these humble pots stand for, of quietness, mindfulness and introspection but equally I can find this minimalist aesthetic lacking humour, and their seriousness can be alienating. I appreciate a Morandi though as much as a Picasso painted jug and I feel my own work is an attempt to balance on a precipice between the dull and the excessive, the safe and the chaotic and fractured.

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Ash glazed vessel by myself

Link to article: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2015/nov/05/modern-pottery-leeds-bbc-the-great-pottery-throw-down