The Beauty of Shadows

I’ve come to the realisation that much of my recent ceramic work has been concerned with ‘the vessel’ without myself being conscious of it. The deconstruction of traditional ceramic bowls and cylinders on the wheel and then reconfiguration of these recognisable vessel forms into a new form with openings that also contains space and holds volume has been central to these experiments.
Our seminar discussing the vessel threw up the question ‘Can’t anything be a vessel or a container?’. Everything is made up of something, even atoms contain a nucleus, electrons and forces of energy. Every sculptural three dimensional form with an inside or outside, despite serving no functional purpose contains in it connotations and metaphors, layers of meaning as well as air, space, darkness or light. Many of the traditional South American vessels at the archives on Tuesday were empty but their insides were a secret, invisible from the outside, guarded from view by the shell of the exterior. These forms contained darkness.
I keep coming back to the small tomb sculpture at the Potteries museum in Stoke-on-Trent. Something about this artefact and the way it holds light, containing a spotlight in the darkness of its interior resonates deeply with me. I recently read Tanazaki’s essay ‘In Praise of Shadows’ in which he discusses Japanese laquerware and how it’s subtle beauty can only be appreciated in the dimness of candlelight : “I discovered in the gloss of this lacquerware a depth and richness like that of a still dark pond, a beauty I had not before seen”.

One of the ideas that interested me in the seminar was how objects and things can contain memory, both physically like a USB stick, metaphorically like an old heirloom or more abstractly like the brain and body. My intention though is to focus on something perhaps equally ungraspable  – light. Memories feel real and they’re how we navigate the world and construct our current realities but they are only the creations of a complex organ in the body. Light similarly feels concrete and controllable, but the more you think about it , the more magical and abstract it seems. How can I create vessels that hold light, not in the sense of lamps or candle holders but vessels that hold light and shadow in their form, that capture light (whether natural or artificial I haven’t decided yet) and play with the tones of shadow.

The idea isn’t fully formed yet and I expect to deviate along the way, but it’s a starting point. Light and darkness control our lives. I feel more of my attention will be drawn towards that here in Sweden where the hours of daylight are short in winter but the extreme opposite is the case in summer where up north you can even experience the midnight sun.

I feel especially inspired by an exhibition on at Gothenburg’s public library at the moment, ‘Daylight and Objects’ by Daniel Rybakken, which explores illumination. His collection of sculpture objects made from glass and aluminium that border the line between furniture design and installation art (perhaps like Donald Judd) reflect and diffuse the artificial light in the environment to create the illusion of natural light. His theory is: ‘A lack of natural light in a space can create a feeling of being enclosed. An illusion of daylight creates a feeling of an expanded perceived space by giving information about what lies beyond the physical space. The presence of daylight lowers the contrast between the indoor and the outdoor.’  This knowledge must be known by people who work with space – interior designers and architects. I’m particularly interested in the architect Renzo Piano as an advocate for the use of glass and the importance of buildings that let in light. Perhaps optical illusions with light is a path I should explore in the next weeks.

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Surface Daylight (2009-2011)


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Right angle mirror (2010) – the illusion of an object suspended in space

Squares with Two Circles

Arising from our first theory/practice session last Tuesday I’ve identified the artist Barbara Hepworth as a key reference to my project, in particular a bronze work of hers called ‘Squares with two circles’ which I saw a couple of years ago at the Kroller Muller sculpture park in Holland.

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I remember I was drawn to this sculpture enough that I sketched it – the simple geometric forms at a slightly jaunty angle and its pleasing sense of balance gave it a kind of purity of form. The fact the lines aren’t parallel gives it an organic quality that helps it fit in with the natural environment. On each side only one of the circles funnels out which gives the two circles different qualities of depth and the way the patina on the surface is lighter in the upper half makes it appear to be dissolving into the sky at one end and firmly grounded on the other. The original form was made in 1963 although copies were made later which explains why there is also one in the Yorkshire sculpture park.

I’m interested in Hepworth’s forms in regard to my current project because of the way they act as framing devices for their environment, the holes referencing windows. Her emphasis is on form and texture rather than colour. I’m interested in the ways the forms I make create different tones of dark and light by the shadows they cast, so how colour is created by the artist in collaboration with the environment.

In the sculpture park the work is displayed outside the Rietveld Pavilion, a building in which you are at once outside and inside. This is an interesting space because of the way it blurs boundaries, the architecture more a huge sculpture you can walk through really. Many more of Hepworth’s artworks are displayed here which is appropriate since her work explores inside forms with carefully constructed positive and negative space.

I found information about this work on the Tate website and it discusses the holes in the form: ‘The integration with the landscape – one of Hepworth’s abiding concerns – is made actual by these openings, through what she termed the viewer’s ‘sense of participating in the form’ (Bowness 1971, p.12).’
I want to explore this idea that the audience can ‘take part’ in the form. It’s almost as if the interaction between you and the artwork becomes a performance, because you are not just seeing the artwork but using it as a device to look through, to perceive the world differently through, like a telescope or pair of glasses.
Placement therefore becomes important because what the sculpture ‘reveals’ through the frame will depend on where you stand in relation to it. It was important to Hepworth that the sculptures were displayed in the landscape as she explains: ‘I always imagine the sort of setting I would like to see them in, because I firmly believe that sculpture and forms generally grow in magnitude out in the open with space and distance and hills’ (Warren Forma, 5 British Sculptors (Work and Talk), New York, 1964, p.15)
I believe she may be speaking about the powerful way the changing of natural light and weathering of the material (through the day and seasons) can bring a sculpture to life in a way placing it in a room in an art gallery can’t.

Hepworth quotes from:

Three’s a Crowd

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Since I don’t have regular access to a wheel over the holiday, I’ve gone back to the technique that got me hooked on working with clay in the first place – coil building. Being surrounded at home with sculptures from my final college project has inspired these body-like organic forms. Strangely though, the catalyst for making them came after watching the colourful Bollywood romance film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Perhaps the fluid, energetic movements of the dancers was some spark of inspiration. While making I listened to the film’s soundtrack on repeat for hours. I’d like to think that contributed the way the sculptures look almost like dancers in motion, full of tension, with bulging muscles and sinews as if living things are trying to push out of them.

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I didn’t really have a plan in mind, only to get back into making and experiment with the new Potclays premium craft crank I picked up at ICF. It’s great to work with, full of grog so you can build up and up in no time with hardly any trouble. I was considering painting the surfaces but it dries to a pale fleshy colour which is what I wanted.

Over the summer our task is to look for different types of collections and I’ve been thinking: How many of something do you need before it can be called a collection? I’d say three us a safe number, I’d be happy to call these a collection of sculptures. A group of three has a magical significance and conjures up fairy-tale stories: Goldilocks and the three bears, the three witches in Macbeth, three blind mice, but it may also have religious significance e.g. the three wise men or the holy trinity. Despite the cross, I didn’t intend for the work to have any religious significance. Symbols and the way they are loaded with meaning interest me. In Eastern philosophy the swastika is a symbol of good luck and prosperity but in the west we can’t help but associate it with the Nazi party. All it is is a collection of lines but it’s potent with underlying meaning.

I left these forms out in the garden to see how the rain would distort them. I like this visual contrast of the controlled with the randomness of where the water has disintegrated the form.


Venice Biennale Day 2: The Giardini

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!

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Siri Aurdal: Onda Volante

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.

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‘The Aalto Natives’ Image: Art Fix Daily

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.

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Milena Dragicevic: Erections for Transatlantica



Venice Biennale Day 1: The Arsenale

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.

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Wandering Venice at night – Chiaroscuro

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.

Michel Blazy – Acqua Alta
Edith Dekyndt – One thousand and one nights

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.

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Roberto Cuoghi – Imitazione di Cristo

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.

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Lighting at Venice Design


Image credits:




Sandals on Stow Hill

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With the Chartism ‘In their footsteps’ launch event planned for this Friday morning, I took the train to Newport yesterday to meet up with Dylan, one of the project’s organisers, to figure out the placement of my sandals for the installation.

Following the march of the Chartists down Stow Hill, a series of footprints have been etched into the pavement at intervals, with the hope that members of the public will interact with them, literally following ‘in their footsteps’. The ones here face Bethel Community Church and when standing on them, the pair of ceramic African sandals below will be visible. The Sanctuary project at the church works with international communities and offers support to asylum seekers and refugees in Newport. I spent time with an English class there earlier this year where we welcomed the men to make clay shoes for the installation at St Woolos cathedral at the top of the hill. Interestingly many of them ended up making sandals, so this pair will sit outside the sanctuary project to represent them.

The glaze turned out much patchier than expected, probably because I had to wipe the previous layer of reduction glaze off when I realised my mistake (these are oxidation fired). However, when seen from high up on the street the white stands out pretty well.

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Week 3 Field: Illuminate

Our third field collaboration was an introduction to installations and film, focusing more on concepts and ideas than previous field labs that have focused on techniques. The task was to create a triptych: three associated artistic works intended to be appreciated together. We tried some idea generating exercises to begin thinking about how to approach the task, playing the surrealist drawing game ‘exquisite corpse’ and drawing a still life from memory. Sean Edwards introduced us to the work of a number of artists including Douglas Gordon’s ‘Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait’ that shows a football match from the unusual perspective of one single player. This distortion of perspective was probably an influence on our first artwork, a 20 second film and the middle part of our triptych.

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Exquisite corpse

My group was interested in the individual journeys we repeat each morning on our way into the building and to our studio spaces, so similarly to the schematic drawing exercise, we each filmed our individual paths from reception to our spaces and back down to where we met in the heartspace. Alex spliced the four journeys together and sped them up. The result is a very speedy, busy montage that feels almost overwhelmingly hyperactive and needs to be watched a number of times to follow all four windows. I’d say it contrasts starkly with the generally relaxed atmosphere of the art college. Although one of the cameras is facing backwards and another facing the ceiling I feel the video would have been more successful if the other two were filming from less predictable perspectives i.e. from the height of a child or just filming the feet. The idea was that we showed familiar journeys from a point of view that was unfamiliar and unexpected to try and elevate the ordinary.

Next the films were rotated, and we created a second artwork (the first part of the triptych) based on another group’s film. The one we were given showed a pair of skyscapes: two videos of slowly moving clouds overlayed and accompanied by the recorded birdsong. This slow paced, contemplative video of the natural world was the complete antithesis to our first piece. We decided to make a simple, straightforward installation that made use of natural light. Firstly we went outside to gather branches, placed these on a photocopier and proceeded to print them onto acetate with varying degrees of opaqueness (density setting). In the fine art studio we then overlayed these into the rectangle on the window, framing the sky outside, then placed a few potted plants at the base, echoing the trees at the bottom of the screen when the camera quickly pans down at the end of the video. The simple style and natural light reflected the tranquillity of the video well I think. I’m not sure if it’s what you’d normally classify as an installation because it wasn’t very big. This artwork was my favourite to make because we worked with the physical rather than digital and I learnt a new photocopying technique. I would have liked to have had a hand in editing the films though because it’s something I’ve never done before.


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Part 1 of the triptych

Finally, the artworks rotated again and we made our third and final work inspired by a group’s still life exploring the concept of time. The original work was a circle of 6 apples, each bitten and then placed on a table at different times during the day so the bruising showed the deterioration of the apple over time: a kind of ‘apple clock’. After hearing about filmmaker Peggy Awesh and her documentary style, the plan was to have a bit of fun by reverse the idea of people causing the apple to deteriorate to the apple causing us to deteriorate. We were to film ourselves on a night out, drinking only drinks derived from apple of apple flavoured, then use snapchat to create a series of short videos at intervals in the night, showing the deteriorating effect of alcohol! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to be part of the final video. Although it was a fun concept, I feel the idea of the deterioration over time is a bit lost because of the way the videos and images are not chronologically ordered. We probably should have organised to have a sober member of the group filming instead!