The Eternal Return

The Eternal Return by Brian Swann

In fall I stomp, bomb and spray them with worse than
agent-orange. They fall as black rain on soup and sinner
alike. And still they come. The locals say, Just sweep ’em up.
I do, again and again, and by first snow they’re gone.
In spring I find fly nurseries in riddled cowpats and think,
well, maybe this year they’ve gone somewhere else, and
I forget them. Until fall when they seep in again through
cracks and they’re everywhere, crawling up windows to
the sun, clustering as satanic clots in corners. Then they fall,
hit the floor singing high-pitched death-songs, dog-soldiers
staked to the spot, spinning on their backs, break-dancing,
flailing legs of thread, flapping mica wings, coming apart.
So I sweep them up, toss them out into the cold where
they will sleep their sleep, dream the same dream all winter
till in spring it comes true again, and the wake, born of dung
to no end save that which made them, serious as the sun into which
they vanish, to return, reconstituted, unresolved.

Swann, B. 2018, “The Eternal Return”, Salmagundi, , no. 199, pp. 68-68,227.

Ruminating on roundness again, a consequence of working with the wheel and the circular nature of wheel thrown vessels, I find myself interested in Nietzsche’s theory of the eternal return. Intended as a thought provoking experiment instead of an explanation of the universe, eternal return is the theory that life is endlessly repeating. Existence repeating itself in an infinite cycle through reincarnation is nothing new, cyclical time has been present in many religions from the ancient Egyptians to Buddhism and Hinduism. The idea of cyclical time is something we are not so familiar with in the west because of the rise of Christianity.
Nietzsche’s eternal return differs from reincarnation in that no soul is involved and instead of a new, better or worse life, we experience the exact same one over and over again. The weight that comes with this thought is heavy. On one side, we have the endless, pointless and absurd repeated suffering of existence. On the other, we find a joyful truth, a motivation to live the best life we can so that we will want nothing to be different next time around. He called this joy amor fati, literally, loving one’s fate. I find this a more appealing philosophy to life than the contemporary often reckless and selfish attitude of YOLO.
Nietzsche’s Eternal Return contrasts with the Christian attitude that this life is seen as inferior to the next one, a linear progression from one state to another. In the American Drama series ‘True Detective’ Cole’s character describes time as a flat circle, a closed system on which our lives are played out like films over and over again. Many films have played with the idea of time repeating itself – Groundhog Day, The Truman Show and more recently Happy Death Day and one of my favourites, The Frame. The Frame tells the story of two characters, each watching the other’s life through a TV show in parallel separate universes, and eventually each trying to save the other’s life.
The Big Bounce Theory of the universe postulates that matter and energy is a cycle of contraction and expansion. It’s perhaps not the most popular theory of the universe but it’s interesting to think of this in relation to the things I make. In an Eternal Return I would have made them an infinite amount of times before and will make them over and over forever. In that case there would be repeated, identical vessel forms superimposed on top of one another. What would this look like?

 

 

 

L6 Characteristics of Practice

Slide1 (800x450)My favourite projects from my study time in Sweden were the anagama and wood firings. I enjoyed creating series of mugs, bowls and bottles on the wheel and discovering the different ways the flames and ashes had affected the surfaces after firing. I’ve realised from visiting exhibitions and fairs including the 2018 Hatfield Art in Clay, that I’m particularly drawn to vessel forms so I’ve decided that this form will become one of the pillars of my practice. During the vessel course in Sweden we discussed how there is something in humans which means we need to create containers for everything. We build houses to contain ourselves, then create boundaries to make countries. Our entire reality is conceived in the container of our mind through our senses and the narrow field of vision that contains what we see visually. The vessel/container is a powerful metaphor.

Slide2 (800x450)Themes of trace and memory of place have dominated my practice for a while now. I see the surface effects from the woodfiring as a continuation of this. Working on the Port Eynon Field project last year we worked with ideas of imaginary and mythical landscapes and it was interesting to see how working from the memory of a place is different to working directly with a place. Slide3 (800x450)

The Pembrokeshire coast is a place which holds a lot of memories for me. I’ve been visiting the area with my family since I was a child. Over the summer I went to visit Adam Buick’s studio and felt very drawn to his direct relationship with the environment. I liked his all embracing approach –the studio didn’t just happen to be in the environment it was part of it and what he made seemed to grow organically from the hills and the seashore. I want to return to using naturally sourced materials for my own work, for the aesthetics but also in order to make sure glazes are food safe.Slide4 (800x450)Matthew Blakely similarly uses materials collected from the environment. His focus is on rock glazes, samples of which he collects from various locations in the UK. Both potters use simple pot forms which act as a blank canvas for the random effects of crushed rocks , organic materials and ash to play on. In my own practice I’ve decided to focus on simple , functional forms, the complexity coming with the interplay of colours in the glazes on the surface.

Slide5Following on from my interest in spaces of transience in the city and ‘non-places’ and inspired by the artist Sapphire Goss’s recent interventions in Milton Keynes with a series of installations called ‘Eternity City’ I want to explore the flora particular to the urban habitat of Cardiff – the weeds and plants along the Taff trail and messy, overlooked roadside verges where we get a glimpse of what the city would look like if suddenly all people disappeared.

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At Hatfield I found I was drawn to functional ware – Ruthanne Tudball’s demonstration stood out. I like how she takes into consideration every aspect of the making including the waste product. She uses the pieces she took from the sides of the pot during faceting to decorate the knob on the lid. Her spouts and handles are made in an unusual way too – the teapot spouts are bellied out then folded over on top before being connected to the gallery rim. For the handles she first throws clay donuts before pulling them. I want to apply this same careful consideration of design to my own work. The idea of using something which is considered undesirable (in this case the waste clay) also ties in with the idea of using ash from undesirable weeds and plants in the city.

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Over the summer I borrowed a table top wheel to practice throwing. I tried making jars with galleries and flanges for the first time and really like the way these two pieces work as one, fitting snugly and satisfyingly together when you get the correct measurements. I threw the lid knobs up first then made the lid flanges hollow by trimming into them later. I want to try throwing the lids upside down so it’s easier to measure the flange against the opening of the jar. Each of the lids and jars is slightly different but I’d like to be at a stage where I can decide which design I like best and replicate it.

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Rusty oil cans and water boilers outside an antique shop in Machynlleth. Inspiration for form – I like the sharp lines and precise geometric shapes. These, like the overgrown spaces and weeds in the city I want to work with, are unwanted and uncared for.

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I’ve identified that I particularly like teapots and jars. Their lids mean that the pots become objects you feel invited to participate/play with more than you do with mugs or bowls. Something about the complexity of two or more pieces coming together to create one whole is exciting. Lidded pots call for the viewer to look inside and discover the purpose of the pot, what mystery it holds inside. Slide10 (800x450)

‘Stannar Vid’ – Non-Spaces Final Exhibition

 

On Thursday we culminated the Room/Space project with an exhibition of the work we have produced over the last month. My playful and brightly coloured body of work explores the concept of non-spaces and is an attempt to draw attention to the transitional invisible spaces we pass through every day without being aware of them. In order to highlight this my work was presented in alcoves in the arch spaces of the walls in the HDK’s stairwells, spaces we don’t often linger in but which become complex and beautiful architectural spaces once you start to look carefully.

A collection of 14 hand-built sculptures sit inside four shelf spaces of varying height along the staircases, the steps offering the opportunity to view them from many different angles. During feedback it was pointed out that these forms look like little figures interacting with each other, each with a different personality. The space between each of them gives them a sense of isolation though, which communicates the anonymity and isolation of individuals as they interact in non-spaces. Students pointed out that the forms were familiar and look significant in some way, although they weren’t sure where they recognised them from. Perhaps a well-chosen title could be a key to understanding the pieces. Maybe something like ‘Stannar vid‘, which is the automated voice announcement on Gothenburg trams to tell you your next stop. It suggests the way the staircase is a space for ‘getting to’ somewhere else, not a place just ‘to be’.

 

The colours turned out much patchier than I intended but this nod towards rust and weathering also suggests the wear and tear caused by many people passing through a space day in, day out. I need to work on my glaze application, dipping and spraying would have created a more even surface colour than painting on. I’ve learnt the important of thinking ahead to decoration in the making stage too – the manganese in this dark clay has eaten away at the glaze. The red glaze turned out much pinker than I intended – with more time I would have perfected the colour matches by making more glaze tests.

 

Klara mentioned how she began noticing scratches and paint splatters on the wall which echoed the forms of the sculptures and other students mentioned the key word ‘curiosity’. I believe this display of work has been successful in changing he way we interact with this non-space but equally, by using forms inspired by tram interiors people explained how not only was this space transformed but that when they travelled home on the trams they would be looking out for these forms and textures by searching the other way around. Two spaces transformed in one!

Thanks Will Treasure for some of the photos 🙂

Room/Space Project Development

20180312_151307 (600x800)With two weeks left to go of the Room project I think it’s time for reflection on how the project has developed so far and how I intend to bring my exploration of ideas to culminate in a final installation.

I chose the HDK’s black grogged stoneware clay to begin making with, the graininess makes it ideal to hand build with because it keeps its form well. At first I worked quite strictly from the collages I made from the earlier tram drawings but discovered quickly that this ‘steampunk’ aesthetic wasn’t what I wanted. I don’t like the way the clay is manipulated to look like metal or rivets, instead of celebrating the qualities of this material I am hiding it. I realise that since this bothers me perhaps the tenet of ‘truth to material’ is somewhat important in my work.

After a tutorial and discussing with others I decided to focus on simplified forms instead of details. I still preferred my collages to the clay models, so this week I took the approach of collaging clay to create more two-dimensional ‘illustrations’ of my illustrations. These were made by rolling thin slabs and assembling them roughly and quickly together when in a leather hard state. The rough edges and unfinished, breaking apart look is an attempt to capture the fuzziness of how the memory of a place appears in our mind.

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In a group tutorial today a few people commented on the fresh and spontaneous way these objects feel because they have been constructed quickly and fairly sloppily. Although I would like to see the sculptures on a bigger scale it would be hard to get the same effect of haziness and sketchiness.  20180321_131528 (800x400)Looking for a semi-matte base glaze with which to experiment I found this simple recipe online at https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/daily/ceramic-glaze-recipes/low-fire-glaze-recipes/easy-peasy-cone-04-glaze-recipes/

Satin Base Glaze Cone 4 (1168C)
Frit                  50                    (used Borax)
Kaolin             20
Dolomite        30

I added 10% coloured stains in different proportions of colour to this to try and match the colours found in tram interiors in Gothenburg. The orange, yellow and light blue are prefect although the pink was supposed to be red and the blue is too purple. Unfortunately on the black stoneware these glazes bubble but I still intend to use these glazes to decorate my original ‘sketches’ in clay – the haziness of the colour might work to reflect the blurriness of memory and the patchiness might reference the dirtiness of the trams.

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Over the next two weeks I’m going to continue working with this collage technique but in a white low firing clay, hopeful the juxtaposition of these ‘sketched’ sculptures and a smooth, uniform and neatly coloured glaze will create impact. I’m going to try working on a slightly bigger scale so that there is some different in height levels in the final staircase exhibition. I have tried placing some objects on the stairs already to see how they look in this different context but the dark colour of the clay means they are lost against the surroundings. I hope the bright colours will change this and create a sense of playfulness and intrigue. I also plan to create more accurate blue and red glazes, a grey and a lemon yellow. 

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A Gothenburg tram interior : http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/T_Gothenburg.html

Thoughts on Space

This morning we took part in a discussion about spaciality with Mirjana Voukoja who is an architect and PhD student at the HDK. Below I’ve listed some ideas which arose that may become starting points for our next ‘Room’ project:

  • Our experience of space is linear but space has no beginning or ending, it only connects to other spaces. What space comes before or after?
  • In-between spaces such as corridors, airports, train stations…places we pass through in order to get to others.
  • Memory in relation to space – memories of being with someone who is no longer here, how can loss and absence be contained in a space? (Rachel Whiteread).
  • Inside and outside – when you experience the inside of a building the outer wall is no longer just a flat facade, you can imagine the space behind it.
  • The ability of indigenous people and people in the past to navigate with the body in space
  • We use our bodies to divide and understand space…we have a tacit and embodied understanding of space (Interactive Space)
  • Space is all about relationships.
  • We have a global awareness now which means we are able to see our space in relation to the rest of the planet and other countries (e.g. from having seen proof the earth is spherical and in space).
  • How where you grew up influences what you think of spaces – Having grown up in mountainous North Wales I feel a kind of agoraphobia in flat open countries like the Netherlands. Someone growing up in the city might feel the same fear and feeling of being trapped in the countryside or a forest.
  • Politics/power relations concerning space – a hierarchy of height or levels
  • Thinking of space as a material, like clay, light or fabric are a material
  • In ceramics, the space of the artwork is sometimes confined by the space in the kiln and the point at which the clay sags and slumps under weight.
  • Space in the afterlife/beforelife, stages of life and death which we are unable to step into or out from.
  • Drawing the object by looking at the negative space that surrounds it.
  • Oculacentrism in relation to space – we experience the world visually, but how do those with visual impairments experience the same space?
  • Sound in a space – how have artists created sound installations that change depending on how we move through the space?

Image:https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/how-to-build-an-indoor-fort-109414

Alien Shells

These forms above where made by casting plaster (2:1 plaster to water ratio) into thrown vessels with the technique described here. Red and black iron oxide was used to dye the plaster and the yellow surface effect is the result of using yellow earthenware clay to cast into. I enjoy the surprise of finding the hidden inside form within the clay once the plaster has set, it’s always a mystery to what form it will take. These plaster casts are fragile, they feel like eggshells to hold. I prefer the more complex asymmetrical forms like the one at the top of this page – it looks alien. The smaller pieces that fell off look a lot like shells. The pink one is also interesting, the controlled, smooth inside of the thrown vessel becomes the outside and the inside is changed to the very gloopy looking texture of plaster halfway to drying. It looks like the inside is alive, spilling out onto the outside.

It would be possible to make moulds from these moulds and complete the circle with a slipcast ceramic object which had the original’s inside form on the outside. Simpler, symmetrical forms would probably be best to try out first though.

The Fantasy and Reality of the Vessel

This morning’s discussion on our chosen texts brought up some interesting perspectives  on vessels as objects and phenomenon. A common theme was borders and boundaries – as humans we are ourselves vessels with an inside and outside. Perhaps as a result we like to impose this differentiation on things we encounter in the world. We build houses, containers for us to live and work in and we create boundaries between land and call them countries, containing people within an imaginary line. We are obsessed with imposing order on chaos.

Perhaps viewing our body as an individual vessel, separate from other body vessels breeds xenophobia and lack of empathy. Perhaps we need to expand the vessel that contains ‘us’ to contain all of the planet, all people. One of our texts ‘Escape’, a poem by D.H.Lawrence compares our ego to a cage :

When we get out of the glass bottles of our own ego,
and when we escape like squirrels from turning in the cages of our personality
and get into the forest again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright
but things will happen to us
so that we don’t know ourselves.

Maybe this perspective of the vessel is contemporary, stemming from after the industrial revolution, when we became disconnected from nature, separated by technology. Is technology a vessel? It might be argued that most of us live inside our phones.

The very words we use are containers of metaphor and meaning. It’s all the more clear when you begin to study a foreign language, words begin as abstract sounds, disconnected from anything until you learn their meaning and they become images in the mind, part of the puzzle of a sentence. Our field of vision is a vessel – containing a fictional landscape with distinct boundaries, a fictional landscape we perceive as reality.

In Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space we found a description of the dual dream modes involved with making an object, we can be creating a painting with a goal of an image in mind, but at the same time our mind is wandering off thinking about all manner of other images which must in some way manifest themselves in the final artwork. The final work is the outcome of these two fantasies. It is itself but something else at the same time.

I also found myself thinking about my chosen text – The Rachel Whiteread essay in the context of ‘imagined vessels’ such as in the mathematical ‘Urn Problem’ to work out probabilities or the Physics problem of ‘Schrodinger’s cat’. Within these problems, the contents of the imagined vessels is a mystery, unknowable. In contrast, Whiteread makes solid the imagined space creating what we might call ‘hyperrealities’ through the destruction of the original object.

 

Plaster casting and Mummified Space

Initially interested in how a vessel can hold light, this project has taken a turn and I now find myself investigating the space inside the vessel. Inspired by British sculptor and Turner prize winner Rachel Whiteread I have begun to cast plaster into my thrown constructions with the hope this will create an extra layer of distance from the original object, rendering the invisible visible and bringing form to something which was originally intangible.

In her 2014 essay ‘Loss and Melancholy in Rachel Whiteread’s Casts’ Sheyda Porter compares Whiteread’s work to Freud’s definition of ‘the uncanny’ because of the way  ‘it refers to something unfamiliar arising in a familiar context and vice versa. ‘ She goes on to explain how French psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan defines the uncanny as ‘the very image of lack’ – and what better way to describe Whiteread’s work, turning the inside out and giving form to the void? I hope by using a similar technique I can turn my thrown objects, which show clearly how they have been constructed, into more intriguing objects of mystery which show the part of the vessel you can’t usually see. Porter quotes from Slovenian philosopher/psychoanalyst Salvoj Zizek ‘instead of the vase embodying the central void, the void itself is directly materialized. The uncanny effect of these objects resides in the ways they palpably demonstrate the ontological incompleteness of reality: such objects by definition stick out, they are ontologically superfluous, not at the same level of reality as “normal” objects.” ‘. The whole essay can be found here.

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‘One hundred spaces’ -resin casts of the space underneath chairs (1997) by Rachel Whiteread. Image source: https://www.wikiart.org/en/rachel-whiteread/untitled-one-hundred-spaces-1997

The process I used means lots of the plaster leaked out. As a consequence the negative form of the vessel’s void also has an inside and outside:

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Form constructed with thrown sections then supported with extra clay. Plaster was poured in the top.
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Once the plaster was set, I destroyed the clay shell around it, feeling like an archaeologist discovering a historical artefact in the ground. The original form is destroyed and the resulting object becomes a ‘memory’ or a ‘ghost’ of the original.
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The plaster form inside shows the throwing ridges that are a negative of the ones on the original thrown form. I’ve been told it looks like a component of a steam engine. 
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I didn’t leave the plaster to set long enough so the outgrowing plaster sections fell off
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The holes in the vessel introduce light into the dark interior.

I was disappointed when the smaller plaster sections fell off, next time I need to be less impatient and let the plaster dry properly before removing the clay. Large air bubbles in the plaster meant lots of the detail got lost too. Interestingly though, these smaller plaster casts reminded me a lots of fossils when I felt them in my hands. Sheyda Porter describes Whiteread’s sculptures as ‘mummified’ space. Similarly fossils are traces or impressions of something that was once living, the soft tissues decompose leaving hard bone and shell which are covered in sediment which hardens into rock over time. Once again, I find myself returning back to the theme of memory.

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

Speed and Memory

A friend sent me this quote she found on tumblr today. I feel it’s the missing link I’ve been searching for, linking ideas of slowness and memory that I’ve been interested in this term…

“There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting. Consider this utterly commonplace situation: a man is walking down the street. At a certain moment, he tries to recall something, but the recollection escapes him. Automatically, he slows down. Meanwhile, a person who wants to forget a disagreeable incident he has just lived through starts unconsciously to speed up his pace, as if he were trying to distance himself from a thing still too close to him in time.

In existential mathematics, that experience takes the form of two basic equations: the degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.” – Milan Kundera