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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The Role of the Potter

While I make objects that explore the expressive nature of the material of clay, breaking the rules of traditional wheel-thrown pottery, by choosing to make vessels I am placing myself in a centuries old tradition of making clay pots. My glazes and forms reference back particularly to Western traditions in the past few hundred years – the Leachean fusion of Eastern and European aesthetics, the classic forms of cider jars, harvest jugs and art nouveau vases and on the other side of the sea more recently, the macho, violent, destructive nature of works by Jackson Pollock and Peter Voulkos.

I am particularly interested in the idea of the ‘country potter’, a role which at one time would have been necessary for society but now with the mass-production of tableware becomes a synonym of sorts for the ‘British dream’ of moving to the countryside and living slowly at one with nature. The role of the potter today is perhaps more as a wellbeing guru, a reminder for us to return to our roots, respect the materials in the world around us and respect slowness too, in the form of the patience it takes to learn skill as well as the presence of mind we attain when interacting with objects made lovingly by hand.

My own work seeks to take inspiration from these traditions and complicate things, by removing the work from its functionality and placing the pieces on legs to remove their stable, humble nature as domestic objects. By fracturing the familiar ‘pot’ forms, they become more and more amorphous, the focus shifts increasingly from the ‘pot’ and form to the clay and material. Similarly the idea of the ‘potter’ for me has been amorphous and shifting during my time at university. The desire to encourage mindfulness and celebrate nature through making objects by hand sits at direct odds with the environmental impact of making ceramics, digging clay from the ground, mining for precious minerals and using up finite resources of gas or burning wood for firings.

These narratives surrounding the potter interest me and therefore I have attempted to situate my work in the overlapping region of the venn diagram between fine art and craft, on the outside looking in. The vessels for my exhibition sit on a scale between the almost intact jar form with a functioning lid at one end and a piece which can almost longer be called a vessel at the other, its base twisted out, walls slashed and punctured. Collectively they pieces work like a tug of war, jostling amongst themselves for superiority, some asserting that it is the virtuous nature of the humble pot which is best, others that it is the mysterious nature of sculpture.

Jo Taylor very ardently situates her work within the field of sculpture, even going so far as to join the Royal Society of Sculptors, and despite using a very similar technique to her of joining together thrown sections, because I make vessels it feels slightly uncomfortable for me to call mine sculptures. The additions of the legs moving them away from the domestic realm has swayed me somewhat but I still feel that because my work is so rooted in tradition, process and involves skill (even if I sometimes implement that skill in a sloppy way) it has much more in common with contemporary craft. Through the vessel form the viewer can trace back the objects to the simple rituals of everyday life.

 

 

Photoshoot / Thinking Titles

Not happy with the previous photographs I took of my work in the photography studio, the light being too dramatic and the darker colours of some of the glazes not standing out against the dark background, I decided yesterday to stage a photo shoot in the concrete and glass walled exhibition space of the CSAD foyer, with much more successful results. Being more diffused the light didn’t bounce too harshly off the surfaces from one direction like before. Uploading the new photos to my website this afternoon I realised I’m lacking details about each of the pieces, firstly their dimensions and secondly, the pieces don’t yet have names. While this isn’t crucial to my degree, it will help if I want to use the images for other purposes later on.

Over Easter I visited Kate Haywood’s exhibition ‘Traces’ as part of The Language of Clay at Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s ceramics gallery. The mysterious and delicate porcelain pieces, highlighted in places by flashes of blue, green or pink glaze with details gilded in bright gold leaf, hint towards function but leave us guessing. Coloured ropes like curtain tassels are attached to some of the pieces, suggesting they are somehow to be hung or worn on the body. The visual link to jewellery pieces is not surprising considering Kate’s background in jewellery design.

One of the things I particularly liked about this collection is the choice of names given to the individual pieces. The names could have come straight out of Douglas Adams’ The Meaning of Lif they sound at the same time so bizarre and familiar. Gads, Lidden, Peggle and Cora are just some of the examples. Others, such as ‘Shirr’ seen below with a gold covered brush model sitting on top of it, have links to the visual object. To shirr is to gather fabric into parallel rows and the sculpture shows porcelain carved into a mimic of gathered fabric. Dalloop is more of a mystery as there is no record of it in the dictionary but it still conjures up the idea of a ‘ye olde’ tool or utensil of some kind. Seeing the objects laid out as they were in the glass cabinets reminded me of the objects on display at the Viking Ship museum in Oslo, pieces of broken equipment and jewellery, often with extremely detailed and intricate carvings, sometimes gold and often difficult to figure out how they would have been worn or used without reading the museum guide. Detached from time and context the everyday objects we use today would similarly be objects of mystery – paperclips, screwdrivers and washing-up sponges all require a network of other things around them on which they depend for us to understand their function.

In a similar way to Haywood’s work my vessels also bring with them an expectation of function with their familiar utilitarian forms of jugs, cider jars, vases and a teapot as well as the mysterious legs some of them sit upon, connecting them to cooking tripods and architecture. In other ways our work is very different however. Key to my own sculptures is the contrasts in processes involved in the making, a play between the flowing, undulating thrown forms and the harsh, clean lines of the extruded shapes that pierce through them. The fight against gravity during the making process is also illustrated through the slumping clay walls, warped supports and pooling glazes. Haywood’s sculptures are so meticulously carved, to some extent you forget they are made from clay. There is though, an intimacy to both our work I feel, to hers because of the small, pocket sized scale and because the objects are placed so carefully together. Each piece is unique too which suggests a kind of personalisation. I think mine are personal in the way they are cut and put back together. When things break that we don’t particularly like, we throw them away to get a better one, but when things important to us break, we fix them.

Having considered these things, what then should I call my sculptures? Giving them individual names moves them even further away from the traditions of Leachian pottery and traditional craft they are references of, placing them much more in the sphere of fine art objects. Since the underlying mission of my degree show project has been to understand the vessel through a cyclic process of dissection and repetition, it could be fun to choose for each one a title that’s a synonym for vessel or container. There are over 50 Swedish words for snow, and the English language has similar gradients of meaning I could use ‘receptacle’ to ‘bin’…

Above: Images of Kate Haywood ‘Traces’ at Aber Arts Centre.

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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Exhibition Set-Up Initial Planning

For our formative we were tasked with creating a design for our exhibition. Currently I’ve been designated a space somewhere in the reception area with the concrete and glass walls. Will helped me put together a digital mock-up on Rhino of what the area might look like. I’ve taken inspiration from Ranti Bam’s display at Golbourne 50, a gallery that showed at Collect this year. The Nigerian born artist’s colourful clay vessels were displayed on individual plinths of varying heights so that you could walk among them, reminding me of trees in a forest or standing stones.

I’ve decided, depending on space, I would like five or six of my best pieces placed on individual plinths in this way. I also thought rather than having white plinths it might be an idea to leave them unpainted. For one thing, in the concrete space with a wooden skirting board, white plinths might stand out like a sore thumb rather than being the almost invisible props I need them to be. Secondly, the idea of my vessels is to celebrate the way they are made, not hiding joints and traces of the process but exaggerating it. Having a plinth on which you can see the joints and screws in the surface might add continuity to this idea through the display.

While visiting London for Collect this year I also visited the Franz West exhibition at the Tate Modern. Interestingly the plinths and rope barriers for the exhibition were designed by the artist Sarah Lucas who was a friend of his. The MDF plinths with what look like thermolite breeze blocks on top are certainly a statement as are the rope barriers in poppy, sweet-shop light blue, pink, yellow and green, characteristic of West’s more recent work. The colours reminded me very much of Sam Bakewell’s ceramic pieces which I had seen the day before. I though the MDF was an unusual choice until I read about West’s collaboration with Heimo Zobernig who specifically chose tones associated with offices and institutions.

The exhibition followed West’s artistic development in chronological order, beginning with his ‘Passstück’s’ – objects with which to play and improvise with as physical extensions of the human body. His next work almost referenced the ceramic art of Gillian Lowndes in it’s mixing of materials, metal and clay for example. He called this later work ‘legitimate sculpture’ as opposed to the ‘interactive sculpture’ that came before. He thought of his newer work too as interactive sculpture, welded together and painted with the sickly green of old hospital walls. The tacky-looking surfaces reminded me of the latex-like texture of my own work recently glazed pink vessel.

I like the idea of displaying my work on concrete breezeblocks and have found very cheap/free material available on gumtree and facebook. However, I feel that as I am moving to a new rented property soon and don’t own a car to transport the bricks making plinths of some sort appears to be a more practical option.

Building Bigger

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The images above show my first attempt at making a larger composite form. I threw two bowls (approx 3 kg each), a 4kg ring and a 2kg cylinder with the aim of making a kind of narrow necked bottle shape. However, I made the mistake of not covering the clay overnight because I thought this would leave it at a leather-hard state for me to construct with in the morning. The sections dried too much but I manage to just about salvage them by spraying lots of water over the surfaces and wrapping them tightly in plastic for a couple of hours. Although they were workable, they split easily and it was a battle to get them to join together at all. The bottom bowl had too much weight on it and started to bend and split, leaning the pot to one side. This jaunty angle, although initially unintended, does lend the pot character and life. It speaks of the struggle of making and the active nature of a material in constant flux.

I spent yesterday going back and forth, altering the pot little by little over the course of the day – pushing out cyst-like lumps, gouging, slicing with kidneys and pin tools. I added on more protruding thrown clay sections, trying to find a pleasing balance in the asymmetry.  Today I decided that what the vessel requires is a foot-ring to elevate it. The form is in such a precarious state I was worried that lifting it up to work on the base would destroy it completely. Jasper suggested I make separate ‘feet’ for the pot to balance on, much like plant pot feet (below) so I’ve thrown a thick ring of stoneware clay which I plan to cut up into sections tomorrow. I hope having space underneath the pot will give it a sense of weightlessness and elegance which will juxtapose strangely with the pot’s warty, scarred and slumping appearance.

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Source: http://www.rhsplants.co.uk

I intend to bring up the issue of glazing in my tutorial tomorrow because I don’t know if I want to carry on gas firing for this exhibition module. On one hand, I have already tested many reduction glazes, am familiar with this clay and I like the variation in effects from reduction – it’s more exciting. On the other, the gas kiln has broken down a few times in the past months and could cause problems closer to the exhibition deadline, and firings can only take place a few times a week so it might take a long time to get larger work through. As well as this, gas kilns are hard to find outside of university so it may be a while before I have access to one after I graduate.

The Underside: A Ceramic Parergon?

This afternoon Jon Clarkson introduced us to the idea of the parergon. This can be thought of in art terms, as something subordinate to the completed work of art, an embellishment of sorts. A frame is a parergon to a painting, a plinth to a sculpture. It is something which is an integral part of how we experience the artwork but at the same time almost completely hidden from view as our focus is directed elsewhere. Some artists in the past have drawn attention to these invisible elements of the artwork. Howard Hodgkin is famous for continuing his paintings onto the frame, literally thinking ‘outside the box’. As a result of treating the wood inside the frame and the wood of the frame in the same way, we start to interpret ‘object’ as ‘material’. Constantin Brancusi also created ambiguity in his stacking of plinths, creating a conversation between finished, unfinished and not even started sculptures. In my past post I mentioned how the base and the rim of the pot are two of the most important parts to think about since they define the start and end points making up the line of the object’s profile. How can I begin to make use use of the base of the vessel, a part which is so often overlooked?

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Howard Hodgkin ‘Indian Sky’ 1988-89 Source: https://howard-hodgkin.com/artwork/indian-sky