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.



Vessel Project Development

Following on from my initial proposal to explore light and the vessel I began throwing forms (mainly off the hump) and constructing these together when leather hard. My discovery of the drying cabinet helped move the process along faster but I still made mistakes, misjudging the room temperature and not covering the clay enough or trying to construct the sections when they were too wet and would slump.
In my tutorial with David we discussed how I like the way the light hits the inside of these vessels, in a spotlight which almost looks like a painted brushstroke. The problem with the forms below is that it’s not clear that you are expected to look inside them, there’s nothing to draw the viewer in. How can I invite the viewer to contemplate the inside of the vessel?20180131_124709 (655x800)

At the moment the aesthetics of the outside form seems to be just as important as the inside effect, but I don’t think that’s something I want to lose. The way they look on the outside it important to me, not just how they work conceptually.

David suggest I try making simpler forms to see what is the minimum I need to create the kind of light effect I’m going for. After all, the tomb piece from the Potteries museum, the catalyst for this idea, is a simply made object. The museum emailed back about the piece with information that it dates from c.206BC-220AD and was acquired by the museum in 1937. It’s an unglazed earthenware piece made in China. I explained to David how I like the idea of light as a ‘material’ which is the antithesis of clay, ephemeral and weightless, but I don’t want to go down the traditional road of exploring light and clay through using translucent porcelain or making lampshades. He suggested I consider different ways these vessels can contain light, could light be emitted from them? Should they be displayed in a dark room?

Rather than exploring light though making simpler forms I decided to go the complete opposite way and construct much more complicated function-less vessels using the sort of components you’d use to put together a teapot. I felt I was getting hung up on the ideas side and not making much so I took a series of sketches I made while thinking of the idea of a ‘vessel’ last weekend and I’m seeing how these translate into three dimensional forms. I find I enjoy this way of working through ‘play’ a lot more. Following a trip to Brussels Musical Instruments Museum I began to sketch made up machines and musical instruments. I thought about how the first objects I made for this project (above) it on legs or a foot like telescopes or microscopes, and the idea that they look like they could be used for a certain function.

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Tests clays with coloured stain (made by MA student Emily)

I am still interested in working with the inside of the vessel though but I’m unsure how to go about it. How should the inside and outside relate? Should they be different colours? Back at college I a made a series of photos showing the inside of rubber gloves. They completely skewed your sense of the scale of the object, the photos looked like the insides of the body or colourful tunnels you could walk through. The same effect can be seen here: with photos showing inside musical instruments. I’m thinking of ways the sculptures could be used as photographic devices, but if I used them as pinhole cameras or coated the insides in light sensitive emulsion, I would only get the view looking out. What I really want is to document the space within. I wish I could shrink to the size of an ant and explore these spaces from the inside.

One next step I’m keen to explore is to take these forms into the plaster room, I want to create moulds of them and stitch together the slipcast sections to create bigger, more complex forms. I also want to try casting plaster into the constructed clay form, then making a mould of that, a literal mould of the inside. It might help to find some other artists who explore light and ceramics or the inside space of the vessel.

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

Peer Review Presentation

Peer Review presentation

Context – While in the city centre I came across these bollards outside the St David’s centre inviting passes by to look inside at tiny scenes of people. Artist Jane Edden created the scenes inside eleven bollards, deliberately making them black and white to contrast with the vibrancy and bustle of shopping centre: ‘I wanted them to be little moments of calm so that when people do bend down and look inside they completely enter another world.” The scenes reminded me of photos of the inside of musical instruments like violins, which look like expensive apartments because our sense of scale is distorted. Similarly I hope to play with the space inside the objects I make, drawing people in to a moment of calm.

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Context – This ‘tomb’ ceramic piece in Stoke’s Potteries museum has a hole in the top which casts a theatrical spotlight inside the form. I don’t have any details about its origins but could email the museum to learn more. The beautiful play of light reminded me of the shadows on Youngen’s work at this year’s BCB. How can my sculptures capture and play with light?

Slide2 (800x450)Context – In regards to my making methods Bryan Newman‘s composite thrown and distorted forms are a big influence. I like their playfulness and repetition of the circle motif which is loaded with symbolism.

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Skill – I’m still developing my skill of constructing with thrown forms. I’m learning that it’s best to dry these sculptures very slowly, wrapped in plastic bags to avoid cracking. I’m also aware that this process pushes me to improve my throwing because the imperfections e.g uneven walls in the vessels are revealed when they’re cut up. I’ve learnt to throw in porcelain too but have yet to gain confidence with it to start constructing composite forms. This is something I want to explore in future.

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Skill – In the past, if a glaze didn’t have the desired results, I found a new one. By learning  how to change elements in a glaze to get different effects, I feel confident altering recipes to tailor them to work for me, rather than starting from scratch each time.Slide5 (800x450)Skill – Collaborating on this project has made me consider my work in new ways. I’ve started documenting how I work with film and sound instead of simply static images. Taking time out to discuss ideas with another student rather than a tutor has been fun because some of the ideas are a bit ‘out there’ and probably not really achievable in the short space of time we have.

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Idea – In the past I haven’t thought much about how my art will be displayed as I’m making it, but I’m starting to find myself interested in art that you interact with in ways other than looking at an object on a white plinth.Slide7 (800x450)

Idea – I began by throwing random vessel forms then constructing them without a design in mind but this resulted in pieces that didn’t look balanced and were missing bits and I ended up with lots of leftover forms to reclaim. I’ve started sketching designs then working from these instead, to save time.Slide8 (800x450)

Idea – A friend, Ian Hinchliffe suggested to me the sculpture below would look great on a big scale so you could walk inside it, so I’ve decided to think about how my pieces would look scaled up or down. I want to learn how to use Photoshop to make mock-ups of these as public artwork, thinking about the work of Norwegian artist Siri Aurdal I saw in Venice.

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Introduction to the meshwork

My study group for this year’s Constellation Level 5 is Jacqui Knight’s ‘The Meshwork of objects: Reading, Mapping, Curating’.

In our introduction in week 1 we discussed whether a human is the sole author of an artwork or if the making of something is more of a co-operation of a person and the meshwork they’re involved in, which includes environment, history, culture etc. We also discussed ‘thingliness’ and how objects become ‘things’ when a) they stop working and b) when we make new stuff out of them. This reminded me of Martin Woodward’s lectures last year when we explored how tools and objects hide from view and have a power of themselves because of the way they rupture the order of the meshwork when they stop working or don’t behave as we want them to. Paper for example, might seem stative but we can get a nasty paper cut which shows the material has an agency of its own.

We spoke of Tim Ingold’s powerful theory that everything in the world is in a state of becoming, that objects are only punctuation points in the life of things. The laptop I’m typing this on is made of elements which will continue beyond the timeframe of its use as a laptop as well as beyond our timeframe as humans. This theory is perfectly summed up by the idea of a holistic ‘meshwork’ whereby we are accountable for everything we put out into the world because of a kind of ‘butterfly’ effect. It’s crucial in thinking about environmental issues too. As a ceramic student it is particularly interesting because I put the clay through irreversible chemical changes in the kiln. The ephemeral nature of the things I make can be illustrated by the way the clay I sculpt or throw with can be slaked down, reclaimed and re-formed into a new object.

Summative Powerpoint


  1. SKILL I have significantly developed my throwing skills and now feel much more confident on the wheel.
    I enjoy the process but rather than seeing it as a means to an end, I see it as the start of a process of construction.


  1. CONTEXT I feel inspired by the work of Gordon Baldwin I saw at COCA York as well as Carnia Ciscato at Collect ’17 who hand-build with thrown forms. Unlike slabs the clay holds some of the energy and motion of the wheel and has a springiness and tension to the touch.
    IDEA I’m interested in the idea of a piece showing traces of how it was made.


  1. IDEA Idea of trace and memory was important in café society project. I wanted to create mugs for a café that would be a piece of home in Cardiff for when I felt homesick and missed the wild, rural landscape of North Wales. I hope to saggar fire them with combustibles from home so the surface holds a physical trace of the landscape. I focused on throwing a particular shape – a mug I remembered from home, but when I found a picture of it afterwards I realised my memory of the object was different to reality. How reliable are our memories?


  1. IDEA This idea of the unreliability of our senses was further explored in Constellation – New materialisms. We drew an object from touch then from sight and it made me think about what I think I know as opposed to what I actually know. How does our memory influence how we interpret the present?


  1. SKILL/CONTEXT I enjoyed the screenprinting field lab where we learnt about colour theory and played with the placing of colour. I’d already been interested in learning how to make coloured slips and thinking of the clay more as a canvas for painting on but the field project inspired me to work more in colour, especially for the pop art oil lamps.


  1. SKILL Influenced by the paper stencils we used in the field screen printing I learnt how to use the laser cutter to cut my own paper stencils for the pop art project, with crisp sharp lines to suggest advertising graphics and mass production. Also with these oil lamps I began exploring the idea of building with thrown forms, and discovered the difficulty of controlled drying.


  1. IDEA Realised with this technique that I was interested in the theme of balance. It’s something I have explored a bit in the past, exploring how the body balances on my foundation course.
    CONTEXT I came across Lisa Krigel’s stacking forms at Made in Roath and became interested in the compositions of balancing dirty dishes in the kitchen.
    CONTEXT My constellation essay examines the philosophy of balance in relation to eastern philosophy and the ceramics of Bernard leach, looking at balance creates harmony in art as well as everyday life


  1. CONTEXT After coming back from France and playing games around the dinner table I wanted the centrepiece to be interactive or a kind of game. However, I was much more interested in taking a process driven rather than schematic approach, so worked through playing with the clay.

CONTEXT Wouter dam inspired forms.  Slide9

SKILL Going back to the idea of trace, I like work that shows signs of how it has been fired as well and am drawn to more experimental firing techniques such as raku and the pit firings we did with Mick and over Easter. I like the firing being an experience in itself not just something that has to happen. Reading about mindfulness and Eastern Philosophy has made me not want to think of any part of my making process as a means to an end, but as an experience to be enjoyed of itself.

Summative powepoint

L4 Subject Summative PDP

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Things can be otherwise – I’m a bucket becoming a fire

I feel this year I’ve focused (although not as much as I could have) on improving my throwing skills. It’s a process I enjoy, but rather than viewing it as a means to an end, I see it as more as a starting point for the process of construction, much like artists Wouter Dam, Carina Ciscato and Walter Keeler.

I began the first project ‘Many a Slip’ trying to repeat throw a particular form – that of a distinctively shaped mug I remembered from home. I discovered though, when I found a picture of the actual mug, that my memory of the object was distorted, a caricature of a mug. This made me think of how unreliable memory is and blind drawing exercises in the New Materialisms Constellation study group explored these ideas of how we perceive with our senses further. This idea of memory and trace fed into the ‘Cafe Society’ project. My cafe was to be a piece of home in Cardiff, somewhere I could go to escape the busy city and feel I was back in the wild, mountainous landscape of North Wales. The layout of the place would be similar to my favourite coffee shop in Dolgellau – T.H.Roberts, the old ironmongers, the top floor kitted out with second hand sofas, and they would serve the local speciality – Popty’r Dre’s honey buns.

I made a series of my ‘home’ mugs which I hope to saggar fire tomorrow with combustibles sourced from the Dolgellau area – seaweed and shells from Barmouth beach and sheep wool and lichen from the farmers fields on the foot of Cader Idris. I want the surfaces of the mugs to show a physical trace of my home. The project has made me think of the things I take for granted and how your memory of a place can change when you move away and grow older. It makes me think of Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth Noir novel series – about an alternative underworld Aberystwyth which he only began to write about when he moved away from the place.

With the handbuilding of thrown forms I find myself returning to the theme of balance, which happened to be what I wrote my final Constellation essay about. I find my making process if becoming more and more process driven rather than schematic and pre-planned. I find I like to play with the material and discover ways sections want to fit together harmoniously and naturally rather than trying to bring a drawing or plan into being. This thinking has definitely been influenced by learning about ideas of the agency of materials in Constellation. I feel as a result though that I’ve abandoned research a bit and work in sketchbooks less than I used to.

I noticed this change of thinking most when I came to the final ‘Centrepiece’ project and originally wanted to make an interactive piece or a game, but realised I didn’t want to work to a plan. It’s also becoming more and more important to me that what I make shows a trace of how it’s been made. This is why I like the flow of throwing lines and marks where the fire has licked the clay in kilns that aren’t electric fired. I hope to move away from the standard oxidation electric kiln firings next year. I’d especially to learn how to use the gas kilns for reduction firings and look more in depth at alternative firing methods like raku, saggar and wood firing. I liked the unexpected, uneven results and surface textures you get this way, like the ones on my final centrepiece.

Looking through my blog I feel it would help to post a summary of my developing ideas at the end of each week next year so I can see a more clear progression. Also I’d like to upload films of myself working so I can more dynamically document the skills and techniques I’m learning.