After visiting the Potteries museum in Stoke last week, visiting the V&A in London yesterday and looking at my own personal collection of ceramics, I’m beginning to see trends and patterns in the work I am drawn to and like to surround myself with. Much of my work in the first year was stuff I enjoyed making but didn’t necessarily like. By pinpointing styles and techniques I find attractive I hope to make work I can feel proud of and that speaks more clearly of me.
Inlaid Korean Punch’ong ware
Looking through my sketchbooks, notes and photos I’ve identified some key recurring themes and styles which I’m drawn to. Hopefully this can be a starting point for exploration when I return to university next month:
I just bought Eline Mugaas’s book about Norwegian artist Siri Aurdal whose huge undulating fiberglass coated sculptures had a big impact on me at the Venice Giardini. After seeing a small photo of Aurdal’s work in a book, Mugaas got in contact with her to find out more. Aurdal’s monumental work was radical in 1960s Norway, crossing the boundaries between sculpture and architecture, but recently she seems to have become just another female artist forgotten in the pages of history.
The book is the resulting images Mugaas collected from Siri’s studio – choc full of photographs, concept sketches, found imagery, collages, design mock ups, work in progress and sketchbook pages and is a real insight into how the artist’s mind works. Wavelike, sinusoidal shapes have become her signature motif inspired by her interest in mathematics and desire for the pieces to become interactive forms to be climbed on, walked through and graffitied over by the audience. I find something fascinating in the cross between organic and geometric form, the raw, polyester pipes a direct link to Norway’s oil industry in the 60s. Her decision to invite artists from the Oslo art scene to graffiti over her work at the opening of her Omgivelser (‘surroundings’) exhibition at that time can be seen as a politically engaged reaction to the seismic social and political changes that took place in 1968.
There’s very little written information about the artist herself but this mysteriousness just adds to the intrigue. Things, and people too, are always a bit more interesting when you don’t know their whole story. I suppose that’s why I’m so interested in the great unexplained mysteries from the past, from Jack the Ripper to The Dyatlov Pass Incident. When my grandparents were having a clear-out a few years ago the one book I asked to keep was ‘The Reader’s Digest of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts’ – a jumbled collection of sensational unsolved mysteries, myths, legends, hoaxes, superstitions an other curiosities.
That magical kind of halo effect things have when they’re more an idea in your mind that a solid, real thing, is very compelling. I remember being fascinated years ago when reading Lemony Snicket’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ because I couldn’t find any information about who the author really was, Lemony Snicket being a pen name. For the same reason J B Accolay’s Violin concerto No.1 in A minor will forever be one of my favourite pieces of classical music because nobody knows who he really was or even if a composer by that name really existed. Furthermore, I suppose that’s why Kerry Jameson’s dark work holds a certain kind of magic and intrigue because I can find so little information about her online and in books. Is there value to holding back information about your personal self and being an elusive artist? How does this change how we view the artwork?
Sunday was Giardini day and this time the artwork that got my heart racing was in the Norwegian pavilion – a massive sculpture made from fibreglass reinforced polyester pipes by Siri Aurdal (b.1937). The wave-like form called ‘Onda Volante’ (sea waves) looked like a giant version of my final centrepiece, the evenly spaced ridges on the plastic even referenced throwing lines. Walking around and underneath the cut tube sections I felt like I did walking around the aeroplanes at RAF Cosford museum, the curved plastic forms riveted together like wings of a giant aircraft. I felt the enclosed space didn’t do justice to it though, it was as if the form was trying to ‘flow’ outside, with tentacles pushing up against the ceiling. I’d love to see it placed in the Yorkshire sculpture park with wide expanses of space all around. Reading up about Aurdal after returning home I’ve discovered she came to fame in Norway in the 60s with large scale interactive sculptures that people could play and climb on, inspired by modular, mathematical forms. My interest in interactive artwork has been re-ignited!
Another treasure was found in the Finland pavilion, where Heledd and I must have spent over an hour mesmerised, watching the very funny ‘The Aalto Natives’ by Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen. The installation is part film, part two talking puppets called Geb and Atum, who explore elements of Finnish society, history and national identity. The videos swap between different styles: CGI, hand drawn stop-animation and Muppet style puppets and according to the leaflet ‘explore themes such as nationalism, xenophobia, bureaucracy, and intolerance by way of absurdist satire’. Half the time it felt like a missing episode of the Might Boosh, the other half like a montage of the ABCs of death. I’m still confused as to why the Neanderthal guy had a Liverpudlian accent.
I loved Milena Dragicevic’s colour compositions at the Serbian pavilion. Her abstract paintings ‘Erections for Transatlantica’ drew in the eye from afar with bold colour. The strange, sculptural images are mixtures of her own intuitive drawings with forms taken from outside sources. I thought some referenced Islamic architecture, others forms of microbes and bacteria.
It’s not every day you find one of your friends has secured a place invigilating the welsh pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, so when I was invited by the fabulous goblin queen herself Heledd Evans (check her out!) to spend a weekend in Venice I jumped at the chance.
Arriving Friday evening, my first impression of Venice was the city at night, which I discovered is when it becomes truly magical. The tourists retreat to their hotels on Lido and the other islands, leaving the dim streets of the centre empty but for the odd watchful cat. The expensive boutiques and tacky tourist shops with their Murano glass, lace and sparkly masks close up for the night. Alleyways and courtyards, lit up by warm lamplights, take on an otherworldly quality of light, the closest I can think of is the chiaroscuro of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks or Magritte’s ‘The Dominion of light’. The air is warm and smells richly of flowers, vaguely of incense and spice. Music seems to surround you but you can never seem to pinpoint where it’s coming from – a saxophone solo beckons in the darkness, a pounding bass thuds across the bay from a cruising party boat.
Since Heledd was working, I spent most of Saturday alone, making my way around the Arsenale in the morning. At the entrance is the Viva Arte Viva exhibition. In the Pavilion of the Earth, Michael Blazy, a Parisian artist, has arranged a stack of magazines printed with bright photos of travel destinations like those from a tourist brochure. From somewhere high up drips water, gradually eroding the paper, revealing contour lines of colour like the topography on a map. This image of erosion reminds me of the deteriorating of the building facades around Venice where plaster is peeling to reveal a palimpsest of bricks underneath. I read this time based installation as a kind of ticking clock comment on climate change as well as the effect of increasing tourism on the environment of Venice and other tourist destinations.
Further along, in the romantically named Pavilion of Time and Infinity I found Belgian artist Edith Dekyndt’s ‘One thousand and one nights’. Behind a shimmering curtain of silver leaf lies a rectangular carpet of dust, illuminated in the dark by a spotlight. The lamp turns over time and a gallery attendant sweeps the dust back up under the light, lifting dust clouds into the air. The effect is mesmerising.
The pavilion that had the most memorable and powerful impact on me though was undoubtedly the Italian one. The exhibition here called ‘Il mondo magico’ included a very unsettling and yet utterly captivating installation called ‘Imitation of Christ’ by Roberto Cuoghi. Entering into the factory-like setting you’re confronted with a stage on which a mould of a crucified body lies, with all manner of machinery surrounding it. You feel as if you’ve just entered into Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory.
Beyond this, there’s a kind of Eden project biosphere tunnel flanked at the entrance by two shrivelled body forms cast in a silica-like organic material. A sign warns you of the presence of mould spores inside – hinting at what lies beyond. In the dim space, you enter the plastic tunnel lit from the inside with harsh white fluorescent lighting. At intervals there branch off small rounded pods, domes which can be entered by parting the industrial PVC curtains.
You wouldn’t really want to go inside. Each pod is filled with a couple of peculiarly shaped operating tables, on top of which, on beds of black foam lie a couple of cast bodies, shrivelled, shrunken and withered, their surfaces crusted in mould or oozing with slime. The whole thing feels like walking into a dystopian computer game like Fallout, the bodies could be those of the feral ghoul zombies that haunt the radiation polluted wasteland. It’s very disturbing but at the same time you can’t help yourself taking a peek into the next dome, and the next, in the same way many people can’t help turning to have a look when they pass and accident on the road.
Exiting the giant igloo at the far end you come to a wall where dis-formed cast body parts are arranged into crucified Christs but with limbs missing and displaced. The juxtaposition of futuristic space domes and scientific equipment with the religious undertones of the body in the position of crucifixion is an unsettling fusion of past tradition and science fiction. According to the guide booklet Cuoghi is ‘inspired by the Imitation of Christ, an ascetic medieval text that he reinterprets from the standpoint o what he calls a “new technological materialism”. ‘ The tunnel may symbolise the tomb where Christ was buried, and the mould might represent the Resurrection in that it’s a new life form that only blooms and thrives following the death of others.
I’ve been thinking about what it is these artworks have in common. What is it that really interests me? There’s definitely an element of collaboration with outside ‘non-human’ forces – the ability of the dripping water to erode, the randomness of the shapes of the dust clouds and the lack of control over how the mould on the ‘corpses’ grows. There’s also a time based element, these artworks change and develop over time rather than staying static. Might I explore this in my own work, thinking about the constant weathering of rocks and forming of clay that goes on around us all the time? Phoebe Cummings’s work springs to mind.
I spent Saturday afternoon getting lost in the back alleys of Venice, happily stumbling across the design pavilion at the Palazzo Michiel by chance.
SKILL I have significantly developed my throwing skills and now feel much more confident on the wheel.
IDEA I enjoy the process but rather than seeing it as a means to an end, I see it as the start of a process of construction.
CONTEXT I feel inspired by the work of Gordon Baldwin I saw at COCA York as well as Carnia Ciscato at Collect ’17 who hand-build with thrown forms. Unlike slabs the clay holds some of the energy and motion of the wheel and has a springiness and tension to the touch. IDEA I’m interested in the idea of a piece showing traces of how it was made.
IDEA Idea of trace and memory was important in café society project. I wanted to create mugs for a café that would be a piece of home in Cardiff for when I felt homesick and missed the wild, rural landscape of North Wales. I hope to saggar fire them with combustibles from home so the surface holds a physical trace of the landscape. I focused on throwing a particular shape – a mug I remembered from home, but when I found a picture of it afterwards I realised my memory of the object was different to reality. How reliable are our memories?
IDEA This idea of the unreliability of our senses was further explored in Constellation – New materialisms. We drew an object from touch then from sight and it made me think about what I think I know as opposed to what I actually know. How does our memory influence how we interpret the present?
SKILL/CONTEXT I enjoyed the screenprinting field lab where we learnt about colour theory and played with the placing of colour. I’d already been interested in learning how to make coloured slips and thinking of the clay more as a canvas for painting on but the field project inspired me to work more in colour, especially for the pop art oil lamps.
SKILL Influenced by the paper stencils we used in the field screen printing I learnt how to use the laser cutter to cut my own paper stencils for the pop art project, with crisp sharp lines to suggest advertising graphics and mass production. Also with these oil lamps I began exploring the idea of building with thrown forms, and discovered the difficulty of controlled drying.
IDEA Realised with this technique that I was interested in the theme of balance. It’s something I have explored a bit in the past, exploring how the body balances on my foundation course. CONTEXT I came across Lisa Krigel’s stacking forms at Made in Roath and became interested in the compositions of balancing dirty dishes in the kitchen. CONTEXT My constellation essay examines the philosophy of balance in relation to eastern philosophy and the ceramics of Bernard leach, looking at balance creates harmony in art as well as everyday life
CONTEXT After coming back from France and playing games around the dinner table I wanted the centrepiece to be interactive or a kind of game. However, I was much more interested in taking a process driven rather than schematic approach, so worked through playing with the clay.
CONTEXT Wouter dam inspired forms.
SKILL Going back to the idea of trace, I like work that shows signs of how it has been fired as well and am drawn to more experimental firing techniques such as raku and the pit firings we did with Mick and over Easter. I like the firing being an experience in itself not just something that has to happen. Reading about mindfulness and Eastern Philosophy has made me not want to think of any part of my making process as a means to an end, but as an experience to be enjoyed of itself.
These two still life compositions were inspired by seeing Chloe Peytermann’s ‘atolls’ at Collect earlier this year. I layered coloured slips and leftover glazes thickly on top which created bubbling, marbled surface colours. The thrown bottle forms on top reference vessels but are not containers in themselves. I’d like to make similar compositions in porcelain with bottles on top referencing the cheeky ‘wonky wine bottles’ illustrations I did for Dylanwad Da’s recipe book a few years ago.
The bottles in my drawings below look a bit like little people, crowds gathered together in conversation on floating ceramic icebergs. I like the idea of playing with function – although the small bottles might be able to be used, they will be secured together to a base which makes them impractical. The upside down thrown forms act as plinths or tables on top of which other objects can be displayed.
I collected together these 10 images as a starting point for thinking about this year’s final project – a centrepiece for a table.
Since we’ve just returned from a week in France, I immediately began thinking of how sharing meals around the dining table there each night bought us together as a ceramics family. Nearly every evening meal was followed by games around the table, especially ‘Werewolves’ – could the centrepiece incorporate a game in some way? Perhaps the narrative of the game ‘Werewolves’ could be displayed or the object could hold a pack of cards… This first photo was taken using the Theta S app and a 360 degree camera. Depending on where you sit at the table, the centrepiece will appear slightly different; perhaps I could play with optical illusion.
I found this piece by Ian Godfrey when we visited the ceramics collection at the V&A and love the little quirky drawers that remind me of an advent calendar. Fortune cookies or cards could be held in the drawers of my centrepiece for dinner guests so it becomes interactive. Maybe the drawers could be filled with unusual objects and after each meal the guests are challenged to pick some at random and make a story up about them. I want my centrepiece to be fun.
Kerplunk – I remember this game from my childhood. Could it be made in clay? The sticks and marbles could be slipcast…
After looking at Lisa Krigel’s work I’ve been keen to explore how thrown forms can stack, which could be another possible starting point. I’ve been in the kitchen photographing our dirty dishes and the asymmetrical compositions that can be made with these everyday objects are pretty exciting. Could I make a beautiful object inspired by these items in their dirty, rejected state? The cycle that kitchen utensils go through could be something to explore – they are used, become dirty, then washed and cleaned again to be used. You would never find dirty pans on display in the centre of a table at the start of a meal, so the idea of a beautiful centrepiece inspired by them seems fun. I like the small details like the lip in the glass measuring jug in the photos. As a starting point for the project I plan to see what other compositions I can make in the kitchen and sketch them from different angles.
I want to develop my throwing skills during this project but am particularly interested in artists who use the wheel in unconventional ways. The artists above have hand constructed thrown sections to make flowing sculptures that demonstrate the circular motion of the wheel.
I love Gareth Mason’s expressive use of glazes. Another potter who throws but distorts the thrown form. Abstract surfaces really show off the material qualities of clay and glaze and the gold might hark back to the opulence of antique centrepieces. I could get lost in the rich texture and abstract landscape of a centrepiece with this kind of surface for a long time.
Could my centrepiece be a kiln? I was disappointed we didn’t get to fire our kilns in France but with more time I would have designed and built a more complex design. Objects could be fired inside then attached on in some way so they become part if the finished piece. The process and result then become one and could serve as a conversation sparker at the dinner table.