PDP L6 Exposure (Exhibition)

I feel pleased with the way I have tackled the challenge I set myself for this exhibition project. I have pushed many of the boundaries of my making comfort zone over the past five months, making larger scale and more ambitious work than ever before and leaving the expressive qualities of the malleable clay instead of removing the traces of process like I had previously.  Writing my dissertation on the relationship between ceramics and time was a huge influence on my practice. Through analysing artworks by three contemporary ceramic artists I identified different ways in which we experience time when making or viewing art, for example waiting, anticipating and recognising traces from the past. This led me to challenge the linear method of making I was using previously and try working in a more cyclical, improvised way, responding instinctively to the nuances of each individual form.

I came up against lots of difficulties during these past terms. Early on I struggled to control the larger clay pieces, both on the wheel and when building with them. By now though, I have developed skill and confidence in throwing with larger quantities on the wheel and have a tacit knowledge of when the clay is ready to be constructed with. I experimented with using heat guns at the beginning but discovered that although the clay was drier to touch, it was not necessarily strong, so I decided patience was the best way of ensuring the walls of my vessels were the same dryness throughout.

Inspired too by artists like Gareth Mason and Peter Voulkos whose methods of making are almost like a performance with such bravura and risk of collapse, I hoped though a cyclical process of deconstruction and reconstruction I could create a sense of stratified time. I have come to think of the fractured nature of the pots as a series of snapshots of actions in the making process, like a college by Picasso or Braque. In retrospect, one way I could have more successfully realised this vision is if I had worked in a closer way to Mason, taking parts from one vessel and incorporating them into another to make a new piece rather than keeping them separate. It was suggested to me that this would reflect the way we interact with other humans, a trace of an interaction with another person is left in our mind afterwards and plays a role in forging our identity.

Visits to potters also influenced my thinking. Last term’s visit to the Leach pottery and then trips to meet Jason Braham and Jack Welbourne this year (two potters working in the country potter tradition) made me begin to think about the role of the potter in today’s society and the confused role they play now that it can be argued potters are no longer needed to make functional objects. Reading The Ceramics Reader and visiting shows such as Collect in London made me much more aware of the amorphous role of ceramics in the art world today and as a result my work attempts to bravely defy classification, blurring boundaries between contemporary craft, pottery and art, not quite obeying the rules that define value through skill and neither subscribing to the cult of sloppy craft.

Contextualising Practice:

Gallery Context
The Role of the Potter
Photoshoot / Thinking Titles
Corridor Crit / External Examiner
Visit to One Wall Studio/Tradition and Modernism

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London Visit Day 1

Collect 

I visited Collect for the first time a couple of years ago but at the time I don’t think I understood exactly that it was a bringing together of international craft and design galleries, each with their individual focus and themes, and that many of the galleries were nearby enough in London to visit within the same trip. This time, one of my first impressions was surprise at the use of bright acrylics to decorate ceramic in Matt Sherratt’s work. Perhaps my views are prejudiced having studied on a purely ceramics BA, but having tried it myself, I now view painting ceramics as a lazier, quicker alternative to glazing and value much more the depth and subtle variations in glazes. In the same gallery as Sherratt’s sculptures (the Joanna Bird Contemporary Collections) I also found one of my favourite works in the show, Danish artist (and recent RCA graduate) Theis Lorentzen’s ‘Remnants’, £3000 assemblages of what look like collapsed terracotta vessels with a tin/lead glaze breaking at the edges. To create them, slabs of clay are cut or torn straight from the bag and thrown down to form a random but confident balancing composition. The work reminded me of my own recent vessels which have collapsed when I’ve sliced, patched up and stretched the clay too far. The quality of line where the glaze breaks to allow the clay’s iron to seep through is something I’m hoping to draw attention to with my newest glazes as well – it highlights the ragged silhouettes and adds a textile-like feel to the fired clay, like a seam running along the edges. Of all the gallery spaces, Officine Saffi was my favourite which their surreal, whimsical collection of objects. This Milan based contemporary ceramic gallery is one I’ll be looking out for at Collect in the future.

 

Marsden Woo

The Marsden Woo, although just around the corner from the Saatchi where Collect was held, was difficult to find because we didn’t expect the upstairs to be full of designer ballroom dresses. The ceramics gallery space is hidden down some stairs in a small room, but is a fantastic collection representing artists such as Alison Britton, Gordon Baldwin, Philip Eglin, Kerry Jameson and Nao Matsunaga. It felt a little uncomfortable to have the gallerist following us around since I’m not used to visiting these kinds of galleries which I expect are targeted more towards rich collectors than the general public. It has made me think much more about gallery structures which are different to the usual open gallery/museum (e.g. Craft in the Bay or the V and A). On the other end of the scale it seems you have appointment only exhibitions such as Claire Curneen’s current exhibition at Oneroom. Tabish Khan writes an interesting article on appointment only exhibitions here , discussing art’s accessibility and the ‘private sales room’ structure some galleries have. In between these two I found the Corvi Mora, a strange hidden away gallery which you have to ring a doorbell to enter.

Corvi Mora

Sam Bakewell’s (UWIC graduate) exhibition ‘Time for Waste’ at this gallery was the highlight of my London trip. The collection of objects centres around a series of brightly coloured ceramic block assemblages and the coloured clay dusts which were collected from sanding the blocks down. Although the dusts look as if they might blow away if you breathe too close, they’ve been re-fired onto the rectangles as you can see on some piles which show traces of sintering. The parian clay which has been used gives the blocks an almost milky, translucent quality like a panna cotta dessert. The choice of colours tingles the taste buds too, reminding me of trips to the sweet shop as a child, jelly beans, starbursts and sherbet powders. The texts written by Alison Britton and Edmund de Waal to accompany the exhibition are beautifully written and draw attention to the complex relationships between clay, waste, dust, time and things forgotten and lost.

 

Contemporary Applied Arts

I was very pleasantly surprised by the size of this gallery and the variety of ceramics in the collection. While the Corvi-Mora is more orientated towards Fine Arts and Mint which I visited yesterday has a much more home decor/furniture vibe, this venue has a much more craft orientated approach. To exhibit at CAA you must be a member, the call for which goes out around April time each year and costs £130. Among the work I was most drawn to were the large thrown vessels by Chris Taylor (priced at £510 for the smallest). He appears to first paint on coloured slips, then apply transfers, then loosely apply a transparent glaze to change the colour of the slip darker in some areas, then apply over-glazes in floral patterns on top. The work is low fired but I imagine it still costs as much as stoneware to fire the work multiple times to build up layers.

 

As a result of my trip I’ve began to pinpoint figures who align closest to my current practice and the deconstruction /sculptural qualities of the vessel. Dylan Bowen’s fun, sketch-like vessel caricatures at CAA and Alison Britton’s forms at Marsden Woo which reference domestic vessels but use almost symbolical shapes for spouts and handles are exciting to me in terms of shape. Surface-wise I’m very much drawn to the dry, matte glazes of Sun Kim’s porcelain vessels at Collect which appear to absorb the light, as well as Sam Bakewell’s glutinous tiny cityscapes.

What is Contemporary About Craft?

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The building of Electric Mountain, the Dinorwig hydroelectric power station in Snowdonia

In her 2013 essay ‘What is contemporary about craft’ Julia Bryan-Wilson puts forward eleven propositions about the nature of contemporary craft, encouraging debate about  the relationship between art and craft today. Many of the propositions are paradoxical – Craft is contemporary because it can be found everywhere in contemporary fine art/craft is irrelevant and a romantic leftover of the past. Craft is contemporary because it is a rebellion against capitalism/ craft is contemporary because it is thoroughly capitalist and obsessed with the market. Craft is contemporary because it embraces the digital/craft is contemporary because it retains its tactile quality and connects people in the flesh rather than the digital world.

In all propositions it’s possible to see both sides of the argument. However, I’ve been attempting to define which statements I agree with more and less in order to reach my own definition of contemporary craft. Proposition 5 is problematic to me. It puts forward the idea of craftivism as craft intermingled with activism, something radical and revolutionary. I like the idea of contesting the tyranny of mass production such and the advertisements run by members of craft collectives and the makers movements every christmas to buy handmade presents. Proposition 5 also states that ‘Craft is environmentally conscious and respectful of the earth’s diminishing resources’ which is something I vehemently disagree with. There seems to be some assumption in the ceramics community that what we do is somehow good for the environment because we are learning to be respectful of a natural material and are working ‘slowly’ or in alignment with a  philosophy of the vitality of things. How many ceramic students know exactly where their clay came from or where the cobalt, manganese, chrome oxide etc. was sourced or how it was processed? In the glaze room we are lucky enough to have jars of powders already ground down to mix into glazes but there is nothing to teach us what these materials looked like in their naturally occurring state. I don’t know anything about the workers involved in the chain of events that led to the materials reaching my desk at CSAD, the processes of purifying the chemicals, the impact of the processes on the environment. The electricity and gas used for the kilns are finite resources. The only way the work that would be environmentally friendly is if I dug my own clay, sourced my own glazes and used a sustainable method of firing e.g. using wood from sustainable sources. Close to my home in North Wales, hidden in the hills outside Corris is the CAT (Centre of alternative technology). I wonder if it could be possible to fire ceramics through truly renewable resources – harnessing energy from solar, tidal, wind or hydroelectric resources to fire a kiln without leaving an imprint on the environment.

Image source: https://www.dayoutwiththekids.co.uk/electric-mountain

 

Craft, Art and Design

At the start of the month we began as a group to consider the characteristics of what Natasha calls the ‘three old chestnuts’: craft, art and design in order to better understand in which field/fields we position our own practice.

The word ‘craft’ conjured up words like traditional, skill, accessible and multicultural. The biggest difference for me seems to be that craft is material or process-led in contrast to art and design in which the idea dominates over the material (see the sacrifice for art and craft). What differentiates my ceramics course from Stoke’s Clay College or an apprenticeship at Leach St Ives is that we balance a process and ideas-driven method of making – we are encouraged to constantly question why we are making rather than focusing on honing a skill through constant practice.

If design and art are at either ends of a scale craft may be somewhere in the middle, bordering both. While design is associated with function and art less so, for a potter considering functional ware, craft may be associated with functionality. Craft has connotations of humbleness and integrity and also a sense of being personal, similarly to art. Design on the other hand, implies less a focus on the individuality of the maker and more on the demand of the market.

Going back to ‘Sculptural Vessels across the great divide’ which I also quote from here, Anthony Gormley and Tony Cragg share a similar definition of what art does: ‘Whereas art, Gormely states, questions the world and complicates things, craft objects reconcile the needs of human life and the environment’ (pg.74 , Racz, I. Ceramic Reader), ; ‘Art, he feels, occupies a special category of objects that offers itself as ‘complex symbols for new experiences’ (Cragg 1985: 59, Ceramics Reader). Both speak of art as a complicating of things, often rich with symbols and layers of meaning. Words we associated with art included emotion, reaction, controversial, experimental and political. While craft is supposed to appeal to our senses, art nowadays with its depth of conceptualisation and minimalism is perhaps more inclined to appeal to our intellect. Many people have written about art’s oculacentric  hierarchy and preciousness over craft and design which give value to our sense of touch.

Design might make us think instead of mass-production and and an end-focused method of making rather than process-focused. Once striking difference between the three categories is that design as opposed to art and craft seems to be the most focused of the three on pre-design. While visiting the Leach Pottery in St Ives a couple of weeks ago we spoke to Clementina Va der Walt, a South African artist in residence there and she told us that she doesn’t like the way these terms craft, art and design are constrictive and considered separate. It’s a view many makers share from my experience. I consider myself to be all three. Since my work isn’t sketched out and planned meticulously (at least at the early stage of idea generation that I’m in ) I consider myself less of a designer and as the development of skill and links to traditional ceramics play an important part in my work I would say craft is central to my practice. However, if I’m asked I say I’m a ceramic artist or a potter. A potter because I am a vessel maker and an artist because my way of thinking about what I make is more aligned with fine art practice.

 

 

The Sacrifice for Art and Craft

I’ve just come across a text in ‘The Ceramics Reader’ called ‘Reconsidering “The Pissoir Problem”‘ by Bruce Metcalf. In it he describes conceptual art using the definition of artist-philosopher Adrian Piper who suggests we think of conceptual art ‘as being art that subordinates its medium, whatever its medium, to intellectually interesting ideas’.

Metcalf proposes that the difference between being an artist or a craftsperson depends on what you sacrifice. For an artist, the medium is subordinated by the idea. Art is intellectual, or according to Arthur Danto ‘art is embodied meaning’. Craft on the other hand puts the material first, the idea comes second since craft practice is more about labour. These days, Metcalf says, ‘everybody wants to be an artist‘. It’s something I feel resonates with me as someone who came to ceramics from a fine art background. Recently my work has become so much more about the idea than the joy of working with clay. I don’t want to forget what drew me to working in ceramics in the first place through. The ability wet clay had to reshape itself and ‘remake/re-model’ like the Bryan Ferry song (‘Next time, is the best time we all know’) drew me to it, perhaps as a metaphor for a way of continually reshaping and changing my own self. The stubbornness of clay I felt had a lot in common with my own stubborn attitude.

I began to define myself while at HDK as an artist who happens to work in clay. I realised from feedback in tutorials that a lot of the things I made could equally have been made in metal, wood or plastic. Superimposing shallow metaphors about clay suggesting the fragility of human civilisation onto these objects afterwards felt superficial and false. I realise I am starting to sacrifice my material for the idea. But the results from the anagama firing and the fantastic material qualities of the alchemy and metamorphosis of glaze and clay during the process has made me remember that this magic is the thing which really excites me, these objects mean more to me than anything else I made while in Sweden.

 

Results from the Anagama

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20180529_120350 (600x800)

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CHUN
Calcium Carbonate (Whiting)     14
Potash Feldspar                              35
Kaolin                                               22
Quartz                                               27
Iron Oxide                                       0.52
Bone ash (Benaska)                       2

K SHINO
Soda Ash                                  8.1
Nepheline Syenite                  39.3
Spodumene                             30.6
Kaolin                                       4.8
Ball clay                                   17.2

Celadon recipe here