Above is the process video I created on Premier Pro for our Research and Development brief. It documents my method of hand-building with pieces made on the wheel.
In this first attempt at writing an artist statement relevant to my current practice, I’ve tried to follow the format of answering the why, how and what of my making…
My practice stems from a motivation to understand the thrown form. Through a cyclic process of fracturing and reconstructing I hope to achieve an instinctive understanding not of the process of throwing but of the forms that result from this method of making. My belief is that through this process of reworking, of pulling apart and stitching together the various components of a vessel, it is possible to come to a truer understanding of what a ceramic pot really is.
I approach the breaking apart of my thrown forms almost as an autopsy, a dissection of the thrown sections. My process is an iterative response to the nuances of each thrown vessel which I slice, squeeze and punch, responding instinctively to the shifts in tension and balance in the form. It is a fraught and risky dance with gravity which I don’t always win.
I enjoy feeling the tension held within the undulating walls and the subsequent exhaling of that tightness as the clay is sliced, pierced and turned inside out. The surfaces of the vessels show traces of these operations in their scars and stitches. Through the cracks in the surface the viewer glimpses their interior, the void which is as integral to the vessel as the clay itself.
Over the past three years Constellation has been a huge aid to my subject area, encouraging me to ask myself more critical questions surrounding my practice e.g. what does it mean to say I make something? Martyn Woodward’s ‘New Materialisms’ study group in the first year was a catalyst in igniting my interest in the material I work with (clay) and making me consider the theoretical discourse surrounding materials which led to the topic of my dissertation. In my second year I found that I could begin to see the value of ideas from Constellation feeding into my subject modules, drawing closer ties between my research and practice. This year however, my dissertation topic has somewhat overtaken my subject work in the sense that there seems to be a bigger gulf than ever between the ceramics I make and the theories I have been writing about at the start of level six. I expect this is because most of my writing was done over the Christmas holidays when I wasn’t making. I don’t see this as a negative though, in fact, my dissertation research into how the different temporalities of materials, humans, objects and the environment impact our sense of time has provided me with many new routes of approach to my practice and I look forward to making new work based on these ideas for my exhibition module. Writing about the ‘live ceramics’ of Keith Harrison has made me think about the power time-based objects have over us through creating temporal anxiety and tension. From past Constellation reading I’ve made work which is intended to arrest the viewer’s attention, slowing down the interaction with artworks through elements of surprise, familiarity or disruption in the field of vision. Writing about time recently has made me think about the different times embodied in different ceramic processes such as throwing and hand-building and how I can juxtapose these for effect.
In preparation for my dissertation I began to identify topics of interest, pinpointing the themes of memory, time, speed, mindfulness and slowness. Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space and Arden Reed’s Slow Art were also important books in developing my ideas. However, I struggled with writing my literature review on how slow art can subvert the hierarchy of space since I realised the entire concept of slow art was so subjective I couldn’t define it. Unsure how to progress, I was encouraged by my dissertation tutor to write about my own perspective of time from my experiences of making and firing ceramics. This exercise helped me identify the three modes of time which were to make up my dissertation. In order to broaden my investigation into the relationship between ceramics and time I used the keywords I identified in Metsearch to find some short articles on the topics to begin with. I was introduced to some of the key philosophers that are concerned with our experience of time, namely Henri Bergson, E.H. Gombrich, the film analysis of Giles Deleuze and the phenomenological approaches of Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger. Moving on to larger texts, I found Heidegger’s Being and Time the most difficult and had to focus on bite sized sections related to temporality, with the help of study guides to make sense of the ideas. As a result of being unable to find many texts that discussed ceramics from the point of view of time, I instead looked into time and art in a broader context and learnt that the 60s was a period of important experimentation in this area. In Pamela Lee’s Chronophobia I found theories that equally applied to ceramics. The main difference with my argument is the emphasis on material agency and the different temporality clay possesses.
Reading Writing at University: a guide for students came the understanding that there are many different ways to write an essay and that I identify very much as a “diver writer” (Creme and Lea, 2008, p. 73) since I have to do a lot of writing, even if none of it is relevant, before I can even begin to think of putting a plan together. It’s valuable to recognise the writing approach I take so that I know I must start well in advance to start getting ideas down on paper. I also find I’m a “patchwork writer” (p. 74), using a collage approach of cutting and pasting paragraphs to alter the structure as I go along. I encountered a few technical difficulties along the way using Microsoft word, mainly with inserted images disarranging the format and difficulty indenting quotes, but managed to sort these with help from friends and the internet. I will consider using google docs next time I write an essay so I have backup copies saved automatically.
In regard to the writing itself, I was aware that the tone of my dissertation draft submission was fairly casual and descriptive so I made an effort to make the final draft more academic and analytical. Reading Tim Ingold’s Making, David Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous and Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space I’ve learned that I respect academic writing which is able to ground theory in vivid and beautiful descriptions of everyday experience. I find I easily get carried away with such descriptions e.g. of wood-fired pots or the throwing process unless I reign myself in. How to connect together chapters to enable the essay to flow was a challenge but I found getting a balance between working on individual sections and reading over chapters and the entire body as a whole was a help here. One weakness I feel needs to be addressed with my dissertation process was that, while I could think through my ideas fairly clearly on paper, I felt a lack of confidence explaining them verbally. This meant that I had difficulty talking through my ideas in group tutorials and bringing them up with friends and colleagues. In any future academic writing I have decided I will be more verbal about my research topic because hearing the opinions of others can be extremely valuable.
Creme, P., & Lea, M. (2008). Writing At University : A Guide For Students. Buckingham: McGraw-Hill Education.
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.
Calcium Carbonate (Whiting) 14
Potash Feldspar 35
Iron Oxide 0.52
Bone ash (Benaska) 2
Soda Ash 8.1
Nepheline Syenite 39.3
Ball clay 17.2
Celadon recipe here