Non-Space and Tram Sketching

For our current ‘Space/Room’ project I’m interested in exploring the phenomenon of ‘non-places’ or ‘non-spaces’. I can’t remember where I first heard about this, but I recall thinking about it after reading Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’ and remember thinking when flying from the UK to Gothenburg, how airports are the ultimate ‘non-places’ spaces we move through to get to somewhere else instead of destinations in themselves.

According to Wikipedia: Non-place or nonplace is a neologism coined by the French anthropologist Marc Augé to refer to anthropological spaces of transience where the human beings remain anonymous and that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as “places”. Examples of non-places would be motorways, hotel rooms, airports and shopping malls. The term was introduced by Marc Augé in his work Non-Places, introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity.

The non-place differs from the idea of an ‘anthropological space’- a space where people can share a space that empowers their identity, in that non-places are filled with strangers who remain anonymous and lonely. Non-places can also be subjective though – to a group of friends who choose to spend the day together at a shopping centre and the people who work at an airport, the spaces might not be considered non-places. The idea of transience in relation to ceramics interests me because ceramic material is the opposite of transient in its solidity and durability.

My starting point for this project was to visit and document Gothenburg’s Centralstation – recording sounds, photographing and noting down shapes and words in response to the space. Reading Marc Auge’s chapter about ‘non-spaces’ and Mahyar Arefi’s article ‘Non-place and placelessness as narratives of loss’ helped define more concretely what non-spaces are. These places lack diversity, surprise, ambiguity and livability, we are often fed through these spaces in a system by following a set of instructions, signs or arrows.

Travelling back to the university from the train station I felt lost and unsure of how to continue. I hadn’t felt particularly inspired by this place. Drawing my attention back to the present though I realised I was travelling in another ‘non-space’, the inside of a tram. When travelling on trams as I do every day here in Gothenburg my thoughts are so often elsewhere that had I not payed attention, I probably couldn’t tell you what colour the floor, walls or seats were. I decided to shift my project to highlight the material qualities of the interior of trams in the city, making objects that echo and paraphrase the forms, colours and textures of these spaces which usually remain invisible to those inside them. My intention is to display the work in a different non-space – the stairwells at HDK. I move through these static spaces almost every day of the week. In contrast I remain still in the tram and it’s the space itself that moves with me inside it.

I spent this afternoon travelling on trams sketching the forms and textures I could find around me. Once I began looking I realised how complex and mysterious these spaces are. There are so many buttons and levers, hidden compartments and strange shaped protrusions that suddenly these spaces that seem very mundane and unexciting became landscapes of shapes. Later I photocopied and enlarged my drawings, cut them out and collaged them together into abstract machine compositions reminiscent of ‘robot wars’ creations. The next step is going to be to transform these ideas into 3D. I might use paper maquettes to get a sense of the scale needed for the staircase before starting to work in clay…

20180309_170803 (800x600).jpg


Performance Art Workshop

20180303_174533 (800x615).jpg
Performance piece with group participation

Last week we were set the task of working in pairs with students from the textiles and jewellery departments to create a performance artwork which in some way explored space and the room. On Thursday afternoon we got together to watch each other’s performances. I’m familiar with the work of artists such as Yoko Ono and Maria Abramovic, but this was my first experience of creating my own performance. It turned out to be a lot of fun and yielded some interesting results about how people behave when placed in different situations as a group or individuals.

In the first performance we saw one person trying to catch avocado stones the other was throwing at her inside a heavy ceramic cylinder to 80s disco music. The high energy performance felt like watching an sporting competition. In another performance the three artists each wrote consecutive letters in their turn with black ink on a sheet of paper stuck to the wall. After they’d made their mark the paintbrush was handed to a member of the audience and we were invited to carry on the message. It was an interesting exploration in setting rules – the artists had set rules that they only painted one letter but some of the audience instead drew lines and symbols, some kept to the ‘rules’ that had been set. One of the students splashed the paint onto the paper so it got on the wall and ran down to the floor, out of the set ‘boundaries’ of the paper. One we’d all had a go drawing something the paintbrush carried on for a bit until someone decided for the group that the artwork was finished and placed the paint down on the floor. The result of the final piece was unpredictable. We as the audience had to set our own end point. It’s an interesting exploration of language too, there was a mixture in the class of first languages so perhaps we all expected words to be formed in languages familiar to us.

In one performance three of the students moved around into different positions, engaging each with a different object: an ironing board, a bin bag of clay and a chair. They held each improvised ‘still life’ frame for about six seconds before moving again, carrying forward the linear narrative until the time was up. Another performance involved the two students ‘in power’ placing the rest of us around the room as if we were inanimate objects. It felt like being a mannequin in a shop window.

A couple of the girls invited us to sit inside a circle of thread in silence where they attempted to make eye contact with each of us in turn. The final performance involved two of the students hiding in a corner of the room behind some boxes each working with the material most familiar to them – clay and wood in this case. They didn’t announce the performance had started so you had to find your way to their small room where they created a intimate space of stillness and contemplation, a safe space for themselves into which we felt we couldn’t intrude.

I worked alongside Sanne, a student from the jewellery department to create a performance which involved us creating an enclosure similar to a sheep pen with a couple of tables and leading the audience one by one into this tightly enclosed space. We kept some ‘chosen’ people on the side and after we’d closed in the ‘pen’ with chairs, we got out a line of chairs facing it and invited the ‘chosen ones’ to sit with us, eat popcorn and watch the people who were trapped in the enclosure before us. The whole performance took place with the Star Wars theme tune playing in the background.
Our idea was to turn our fear of performing in front of the others upside down, by structuring ourselves as the viewers and them as the ones being watched. We hoped the fizzy drinks and popcorn would create the feeling of being in a cinema, but I also compared the performance to the human zoos I learnt about at the current ‘Diorama’ exhibition by Annika Dahlsten and Markku Laakso at the Röda Sten Konsthall.

In feedback about the artwork we learnt that those who were led into the small table room initially felt like they were the chosen, privileged ones, that they were going aboard a space ship (the star wars tune create this illusion), but after the next stage of the performance took place they realised they weren’t going anywhere and didn’t get any popcorn. This quickly ignited a revolution led by one of the students who stepped over the boundary we had created between us and followed by other students the popcorn and drinks were quickly shared between everyone. Those in the power seats felt bad for the others and began to give out popcorn too, but it took a few minutes before people felt comfortable stepping out of the roles the game had created for them.

It was interesting that so many of the performances involved the rest of the audience. Perhaps when you have a fear of performing, including everyone else is a means of feeling less exposed?

Thoughts on Space

This morning we took part in a discussion about spaciality with Mirjana Voukoja who is an architect and PhD student at the HDK. Below I’ve listed some ideas which arose that may become starting points for our next ‘Room’ project:

  • Our experience of space is linear but space has no beginning or ending, it only connects to other spaces. What space comes before or after?
  • In-between spaces such as corridors, airports, train stations…places we pass through in order to get to others.
  • Memory in relation to space – memories of being with someone who is no longer here, how can loss and absence be contained in a space? (Rachel Whiteread).
  • Inside and outside – when you experience the inside of a building the outer wall is no longer just a flat facade, you can imagine the space behind it.
  • The ability of indigenous people and people in the past to navigate with the body in space
  • We use our bodies to divide and understand space…we have a tacit and embodied understanding of space (Interactive Space)
  • Space is all about relationships.
  • We have a global awareness now which means we are able to see our space in relation to the rest of the planet and other countries (e.g. from having seen proof the earth is spherical and in space).
  • How where you grew up influences what you think of spaces – Having grown up in mountainous North Wales I feel a kind of agoraphobia in flat open countries like the Netherlands. Someone growing up in the city might feel the same fear and feeling of being trapped in the countryside or a forest.
  • Politics/power relations concerning space – a hierarchy of height or levels
  • Thinking of space as a material, like clay, light or fabric are a material
  • In ceramics, the space of the artwork is sometimes confined by the space in the kiln and the point at which the clay sags and slumps under weight.
  • Space in the afterlife/beforelife, stages of life and death which we are unable to step into or out from.
  • Drawing the object by looking at the negative space that surrounds it.
  • Oculacentrism in relation to space – we experience the world visually, but how do those with visual impairments experience the same space?
  • Sound in a space – how have artists created sound installations that change depending on how we move through the space?



Alien Shells

These forms above where made by casting plaster (2:1 plaster to water ratio) into thrown vessels with the technique described here. Red and black iron oxide was used to dye the plaster and the yellow surface effect is the result of using yellow earthenware clay to cast into. I enjoy the surprise of finding the hidden inside form within the clay once the plaster has set, it’s always a mystery to what form it will take. These plaster casts are fragile, they feel like eggshells to hold. I prefer the more complex asymmetrical forms like the one at the top of this page – it looks alien. The smaller pieces that fell off look a lot like shells. The pink one is also interesting, the controlled, smooth inside of the thrown vessel becomes the outside and the inside is changed to the very gloopy looking texture of plaster halfway to drying. It looks like the inside is alive, spilling out onto the outside.

It would be possible to make moulds from these moulds and complete the circle with a slipcast ceramic object which had the original’s inside form on the outside. Simpler, symmetrical forms would probably be best to try out first though.


The Fantasy and Reality of the Vessel

This morning’s discussion on our chosen texts brought up some interesting perspectives  on vessels as objects and phenomenon. A common theme was borders and boundaries – as humans we are ourselves vessels with an inside and outside. Perhaps as a result we like to impose this differentiation on things we encounter in the world. We build houses, containers for us to live and work in and we create boundaries between land and call them countries, containing people within an imaginary line. We are obsessed with imposing order on chaos.

Perhaps viewing our body as an individual vessel, separate from other body vessels breeds xenophobia and lack of empathy. Perhaps we need to expand the vessel that contains ‘us’ to contain all of the planet, all people. One of our texts ‘Escape’, a poem by D.H.Lawrence compares our ego to a cage :

When we get out of the glass bottles of our own ego,
and when we escape like squirrels from turning in the cages of our personality
and get into the forest again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright
but things will happen to us
so that we don’t know ourselves.

Maybe this perspective of the vessel is contemporary, stemming from after the industrial revolution, when we became disconnected from nature, separated by technology. Is technology a vessel? It might be argued that most of us live inside our phones.

The very words we use are containers of metaphor and meaning. It’s all the more clear when you begin to study a foreign language, words begin as abstract sounds, disconnected from anything until you learn their meaning and they become images in the mind, part of the puzzle of a sentence. Our field of vision is a vessel – containing a fictional landscape with distinct boundaries, a fictional landscape we perceive as reality.

In Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space we found a description of the dual dream modes involved with making an object, we can be creating a painting with a goal of an image in mind, but at the same time our mind is wandering off thinking about all manner of other images which must in some way manifest themselves in the final artwork. The final work is the outcome of these two fantasies. It is itself but something else at the same time.

I also found myself thinking about my chosen text – The Rachel Whiteread essay in the context of ‘imagined vessels’ such as in the mathematical ‘Urn Problem’ to work out probabilities or the Physics problem of ‘Schrodinger’s cat’. Within these problems, the contents of the imagined vessels is a mystery, unknowable. In contrast, Whiteread makes solid the imagined space creating what we might call ‘hyperrealities’ through the destruction of the original object.



Plaster casting and Mummified Space

Initially interested in how a vessel can hold light, this project has taken a turn and I now find myself investigating the space inside the vessel. Inspired by British sculptor and Turner prize winner Rachel Whiteread I have begun to cast plaster into my thrown constructions with the hope this will create an extra layer of distance from the original object, rendering the invisible visible and bringing form to something which was originally intangible.

In her 2014 essay ‘Loss and Melancholy in Rachel Whiteread’s Casts’ Sheyda Porter compares Whiteread’s work to Freud’s definition of ‘the uncanny’ because of the way  ‘it refers to something unfamiliar arising in a familiar context and vice versa. ‘ She goes on to explain how French psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan defines the uncanny as ‘the very image of lack’ – and what better way to describe Whiteread’s work, turning the inside out and giving form to the void? I hope by using a similar technique I can turn my thrown objects, which show clearly how they have been constructed, into more intriguing objects of mystery which show the part of the vessel you can’t usually see. Porter quotes from Slovenian philosopher/psychoanalyst Salvoj Zizek ‘instead of the vase embodying the central void, the void itself is directly materialized. The uncanny effect of these objects resides in the ways they palpably demonstrate the ontological incompleteness of reality: such objects by definition stick out, they are ontologically superfluous, not at the same level of reality as “normal” objects.” ‘. The whole essay can be found here.

untitled-one-hundred-spaces-1997 (777x390)
‘One hundred spaces’ -resin casts of the space underneath chairs (1997) by Rachel Whiteread. Image source:

The process I used means lots of the plaster leaked out. As a consequence the negative form of the vessel’s void also has an inside and outside:

20180219_100505 (800x796)
Form constructed with thrown sections then supported with extra clay. Plaster was poured in the top.
20180216_154601 (600x800)
Once the plaster was set, I destroyed the clay shell around it, feeling like an archaeologist discovering a historical artefact in the ground. The original form is destroyed and the resulting object becomes a ‘memory’ or a ‘ghost’ of the original.
20180216_161014 (688x800)
The plaster form inside shows the throwing ridges that are a negative of the ones on the original thrown form. I’ve been told it looks like a component of a steam engine. 
20180216_171052 (800x719)
I didn’t leave the plaster to set long enough so the outgrowing plaster sections fell off
20180216_161344 (800x600)
The holes in the vessel introduce light into the dark interior.

I was disappointed when the smaller plaster sections fell off, next time I need to be less impatient and let the plaster dry properly before removing the clay. Large air bubbles in the plaster meant lots of the detail got lost too. Interestingly though, these smaller plaster casts reminded me a lots of fossils when I felt them in my hands. Sheyda Porter describes Whiteread’s sculptures as ‘mummified’ space. Similarly fossils are traces or impressions of something that was once living, the soft tissues decompose leaving hard bone and shell which are covered in sediment which hardens into rock over time. Once again, I find myself returning back to the theme of memory.


Vessel Project Development

Following on from my initial proposal to explore light and the vessel I began throwing forms (mainly off the hump) and constructing these together when leather hard. My discovery of the drying cabinet helped move the process along faster but I still made mistakes, misjudging the room temperature and not covering the clay enough or trying to construct the sections when they were too wet and would slump.
In my tutorial with David we discussed how I like the way the light hits the inside of these vessels, in a spotlight which almost looks like a painted brushstroke. The problem with the forms below is that it’s not clear that you are expected to look inside them, there’s nothing to draw the viewer in. How can I invite the viewer to contemplate the inside of the vessel?20180131_124709 (655x800)

At the moment the aesthetics of the outside form seems to be just as important as the inside effect, but I don’t think that’s something I want to lose. The way they look on the outside it important to me, not just how they work conceptually.

David suggest I try making simpler forms to see what is the minimum I need to create the kind of light effect I’m going for. After all, the tomb piece from the Potteries museum, the catalyst for this idea, is a simply made object. The museum emailed back about the piece with information that it dates from c.206BC-220AD and was acquired by the museum in 1937. It’s an unglazed earthenware piece made in China. I explained to David how I like the idea of light as a ‘material’ which is the antithesis of clay, ephemeral and weightless, but I don’t want to go down the traditional road of exploring light and clay through using translucent porcelain or making lampshades. He suggested I consider different ways these vessels can contain light, could light be emitted from them? Should they be displayed in a dark room?

Rather than exploring light though making simpler forms I decided to go the complete opposite way and construct much more complicated function-less vessels using the sort of components you’d use to put together a teapot. I felt I was getting hung up on the ideas side and not making much so I took a series of sketches I made while thinking of the idea of a ‘vessel’ last weekend and I’m seeing how these translate into three dimensional forms. I find I enjoy this way of working through ‘play’ a lot more. Following a trip to Brussels Musical Instruments Museum I began to sketch made up machines and musical instruments. I thought about how the first objects I made for this project (above) it on legs or a foot like telescopes or microscopes, and the idea that they look like they could be used for a certain function.

20180206_171920 (600x800)

20180129_143603 (772x800)
Tests clays with coloured stain (made by MA student Emily)

I am still interested in working with the inside of the vessel though but I’m unsure how to go about it. How should the inside and outside relate? Should they be different colours? Back at college I a made a series of photos showing the inside of rubber gloves. They completely skewed your sense of the scale of the object, the photos looked like the insides of the body or colourful tunnels you could walk through. The same effect can be seen here: with photos showing inside musical instruments. I’m thinking of ways the sculptures could be used as photographic devices, but if I used them as pinhole cameras or coated the insides in light sensitive emulsion, I would only get the view looking out. What I really want is to document the space within. I wish I could shrink to the size of an ant and explore these spaces from the inside.

One next step I’m keen to explore is to take these forms into the plaster room, I want to create moulds of them and stitch together the slipcast sections to create bigger, more complex forms. I also want to try casting plaster into the constructed clay form, then making a mould of that, a literal mould of the inside. It might help to find some other artists who explore light and ceramics or the inside space of the vessel.