Press Moulding

Last week I tried to make my own press mould for the first time, not very successfully. My plan is to create press moulds from composite thrown forms so I can build them together into large sculptures. I find it easier to hand build on a large scale with grogged clay, but it’s painful and not very effective to throw with heavily grogged clay, so I will create press moulds of the thrown objects instead. These forms will be for my final individual project . I’ve narrowed the brief down to explore the imagery of in Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’, Ch. Thin Cities 3, especially the idea of a network of pipes as underground veins…

“Whether Armilla is like this because it is unfinished or because it has been demolished, whether the cause is some enchantment or only a whim, I do not know. The fact remains that it has no walls, no ceilings, no floors: it has nothing that makes it seem a city except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be: a forest of pipes that end in taps, showers, spouts, overflows. “

I began by bisque firing a form I’d constructed from thrown sections then made a two piece plaster mould of this. The ceramic got stuck in the plaster when I tried to release it, either because I hadn’t used enough soft soap or because I hadn’t placed the middle line in the exact centre.

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Since for press moulding it doesn’t matter that the plaster is completely sealed together (unlike slip casting), I used glue to stick the broken plaster pieces together.

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This afternoon I’ve been making press moulded shapes ready to start sticking them together tomorrow to build large lattice structures.

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Alongside these I’ve been throwing functional ware for the anagama firing we’ll do at Naas in a couple of weeks. These 500g bowls are a little on the heavy side, I’m still a little afraid I’ll turn off too much clay and end up with a hole. I’m been experimenting with the angle and depth of the footrings to see what looks best…

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Cultural Differences between Sweden and the UK: Holistic Ceramics

“I think for Swedes, art and design and craft—woodwork, furniture, textile, lighting, ceramics, glass, architecture—very much inform one another,” …“There is not always crossover, but it’s a symbiosis; you can’t have one without the others.” – Saskia Neuman, Global Art Manager at Absolut, Stockholm.[1]

A couple of months ago my course visited Borås Museum of Modern Art to see something I was surprised to find in a modern art museum. Not one, but two exhibitions showcasing artists working in clay. The first was by contemporary Swedish artist Eva Mag and the second a retrospective of work by the more traditional potter Kerstin Danielsson. Clay and ceramics, often designated to the realm of ‘craft’ as opposed to high art worthy of a white wall contemporary gallery space, are something I’m not accustomed to finding at a modern art museum. This surprise encounter led me to think about the role of ceramics in Sweden in contrast to the British scene and ponder the more holistic attitude towards art that seems to be present here.

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Figure 1

Eva Mag’s multimedia work consisted of a film alongside life sized ‘body-forms’ made with clay filled fabric skins, wood and wax. In the video ‘Directions and shapes in a woman’s body’ (2013) Mag very physically manipulates blocks of clay into human form, constructing, deconstructing and finally wrapping the broken off clay pieces in the fabric of her dress. Through the film, the process of moulding the clay is shown to be more important than the final piece itself. Another artwork in her exhibition was a block of clay encased in a sewn fabric shell, suggesting the form beneath but hiding all surface. The design tenet of truth to materials is turned on its head. Like in Jone Kvie’s current ‘Metamorphosis’ exhibition at Göteborgs Konstmuseum where aluminium mimics cardboard, concrete and wood, in Mag’s work the materials are mysterious, disguised as other.

But it wasn’t just Mag’s work that made me question the traditional way I know of working with clay, on my course at HDK I have encountered a similar attitude of openness to other materials. I am surprised by the acceptance of mixed media approaches and alternative decorating techniques to glazes. Third year graduate Sara Kallioinen Lundgren often sprays her distinctive pop art style creations with bright spray paint. Others incorporate concrete, thread and fabric into their work and it seems common to introduce elements other than ceramic in displays – earth and gravel, photographs, video and sound. On our recent ‘Room’ course, one of the ceramics students worked exclusively with weaving and fabric. We have also collaborated with students from the jewellery and textile department to work on performance art pieces. There is the attitude that working things out in a different material first can be valuable.

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Figure 2

Back at my home university however I feel there is a more ‘purist’ and perhaps snobbish attitude to ceramics regarding surface in particular. Glaze chemistry and research is something we are encouraged to master while exploring ceramic surfaces through paint, collage and other techniques is perhaps seen as a ‘lower’ form of decoration as it requires less skill and knowledge. This desire to define ceramics according to more traditionalist attitudes appears to extend to the UK ceramics scene in a wider sense too. In contrast to Sweden, Britain has a huge selection of Ceramic festivals every summer – Art in Clay, Potfest, International Ceramics Festival, Earth and Fire and Ceramic Art Wales to name a few. These are exclusively ceramic fairs that typically last over a weekend. While these, alongside the popular TV show ‘The Great Pottery Throwdown’ have helped bring ceramics to a wider audience and give makers a great platform for selling their work, it may be that they are also contributing to the wider society seeing ‘pottery’ as something distinctly separate from other forms of art. As an example to illustrate this rift in thinking about ceramics, I can take the names given to the BA courses both here and in the UK. In Cardiff I study on an undergraduate course called BA in ‘Ceramics’ while at HDK the course’s title is ‘Ceramic Art’. The names alone suggest less division between ceramics as a craft and as a fine art in the Swedish art world.

After further research I discovered I’m not the only one to feel that Sweden has a more holistic art scene than the UK. Stockholm based artist Stuart Mayes (originally from London) in an interview with ‘The Local’ (Sweden’s English language news website) explains: ‘I find the Swedish art world to be more holistic, academic and sustainable. Swedes have a much more inclusive and open attitude towards art. I think the English government has quite a conservative perception of art; they don’t really value it as something important and that doesn’t empower me as an artist.’[2] Mayes isn’t a ceramic artist but his observations may also be true for the ceramics scene. To some extent though, the conservative attitude towards ceramics in the UK and desire to hand down pottery skills in the tradition of the British godfather of ceramics Bernard Leach, can be seen as something positive. Schemes like ‘Adopt a Potter’ in which potters are assigned apprentices to learn their ‘trade’ make sure that traditional skills live on and that the sloppy craft of ceramicists like Rebecca Warren and Grayson Perry have something to contend with.[3]
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Figure 3

As a result of working in what feels like a more interdisciplinary environment, my current work has evolved. I have begun to experiment with wrapping fired clay in thread as a form of surface decoration. Our text seminars have encouraged me to look at ceramics in a wider sense too. In these discussions we are each invited to choose a text to explore the theme of the course, however these texts can be anything ranging from a poem to a legal document to an exhibition review. After discovering an article about Rachel Whiteread’s concrete casts during our recent ‘Vessel project’ I began working with plaster in a different way to how I have before – creating plaster casts as the finished piece instead of moulds from which to slipcast. The unspoken rules to which I’ve stuck to in the past have been broken. However, since the casting of these forms wasn’t possible without the original clay moulds, isn’t this still ceramic art? Like in Eva Mag’s video, I am still working with clay but it isn’t the final outcome. I find myself eager to explore new ways of making which challenge the idea that a ceramic artist is exclusively a maker of clay objects.

 

Images

Figure 1. Detail from How Much Does a Mountain Weigh?’ by Eva Mag. Source: http://www.evamag.se/works.html

Figure 2. Artwork by Sara Kallioinen Lundgren. Source: http://sarakallioinenlundgren.com/

Figure 3. Detail from sculptural piece I made for the Vessel project. Ceramic and thread.

 

 

[1] Van Straaten, L. (2017, November) An Insider’s Guide to the Stockholm Art Scene. Retrieved from: https://www.departures.com/art-culture/stockholm-art-scene-travel-guide#intro

[2]  “The Art Scene in Sweden in Less Competitive” (2010) Retrieved from: https://www.thelocal.se/20150209/my-love-for-stockholm-has-no-limits

[3] Read more about ‘sloppy craft’: Adamson, G. (2008, March/April) When Craft Gets Sloppy, from Crafts no.211, 36-40

Object for Ken Stradling

For the third year in a row, second year ceramics at CSAD have been invited to create an exhibition at Bristol’s Ken Stradling collection by responding to objects from the collection. Unfortunately I don’t have the chance to return to see the collection for myself, but I’ve scoured the website and found a piece of design which captures my imagination – Eric Magnussen’s stainless steel ‘Vacuum jug’ (designed 1976).

In order to paraphrase the jug I’ve been playing at word association – space, double walled vessel, temperature, asymmetry, interaction, thermal, insulation…

       INSULATED
Origin: From the Latin ‘insula’ meaning ‘island’, connotation of protection.

I’ve decided to work with the idea of insulating. As a starting point I intend to buy spray insulation foam to create some forms and then make plaster press moulds of these to use. I’m thinking about islands, the space in between, emptiness and transition. I’ve heard the term ‘liminal space’ bandied around, maybe it’s time I dug deeper.

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Vacuum jug in the Ken Stradling Collection

‘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

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

Snow and Sophisticated Queuing

(Started yesterday 11am)

Outside this morning, the generous icing of snow on the ground of my new accommodation at Olofshöjd is beginning to thaw. This is my fourth day in Gothenburg, Sweden since arriving by plane from Manchester via Brussels on January 14th, my third at Olofshöjd, the city’s central student accommodation run by SGD Bostäder. It’s a surreal experience to be an International Erasmus students from the flip side of the coin. Despite the outward similarities, the culture here already feels pretty alien to the UK. I’ve already made the faux pas of forgetting to take my shoes off before sitting down at our local student café and have had some very strange looks when paying for my groceries with cash (everyone here uses card). I’ve also been confused by the sophisticated queuing system here where you take a ticket before waiting for your number to be called, which they seem to have at most reception desks. I’m somewhat familiar with this system in the UK, at McDonald’s for example and when you got your feet measured at Clark’s for shiny new school shoes, but here it’s everywhere. The city’s network system of trams has also been a little difficult to navigate, but unlike the UK where it’s almost impossible to get away with cheating the public transport system, here many locals hop on and off the trams without paying, even though I hear you can get a hefty fine if you’re caught.

Tuesday was our first day at the Högskolan för design och konsthantverk (HDK) on Kristinelundsgatan where David Carlsson introduced us to our first project brief – quite an open project but one that can generally be summed up with the question ‘What is a vessel/container?’. We began with a seminar exploring the connotations and meanings of the two words (in Swedish: Kärlet and Behållare). Are the two synonymous? I don’t think so. A container might be thought of as less precious than a vessel, closed off, while a vessel is expected to have an opening. Container has undertones of functionality and purpose while a vessel might be more decorative, a flower vase. The word ‘vessel’ itself rolls more elegantly and poetically off the tongue than ‘container’.

To help me think about how I want to approach this project I chose three images I felt drawn to that explore the idea of the ‘vessel’:

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This honeycomb object ‘Made by Bees’ is by a Slovakian designer called Thomas Gabzdil Libertiny. I found it in a book at the HDK library called Process by Jennifer Hudson. A collaboration between nature and technology – the artists placed a hollow mould of the archetypal vessel into a beehive and the bees subsequently filled in the negative space with wax resulting in a unique organic vessel. Unlike ceramic vessels this will decay and disintegrate, changing form over time. I find the ephemeral quality of this material fascinating. Unless fired, clay will sprout spores and mould too eventually (as I discovered when I left a load of damp porcelain in a box for months and it turned orange). I am also drawn to the playful nature of this object with the use of bees which  reference the traditional use of vases to hold flowers. Interestingly vessel translates into Welsh as ‘llestr’ and a beehive is a ‘llestr gwenyn’ – a bee vessel.

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I found this image of old watering cans on my phone from a trip to St Ffagans. I chose these more for their aesthetics than anything – the visibly soldered joints, the balance of the forms and crescents. They also made me think about the other components we add on to vessels to make them more functional to us such as spouts and handles, and how these change what the vessel communicates. These above are put together in a way which make them look like they are recycled from other pieces of waste metal.

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The third image is of a ceramic vessel I found on Tuesday when we visited the ceramic collection at the archive of Gothenburg’s World Culture Museum. Its rounded base caught my attention because it relies on the form finding its own balance and centre of gravity. Depending on the weight of what goes inside it would sit differently. It reminds me of drinking horns and ice creams – awkward shapes you can’t put down unless you’ve finished eating or drinking from. I like the idea of objects that are difficult and so force us to think and question what we take for granted.