The photos in this blog post aren’t the best quality but they give an idea of the way I have been experimenting with the placement of my objects. After realising the vessels look best clustered (where they can appear to communicate with one another) and wary of making a sea of plinths, I moved away from my individual ‘Ranti Bam’ style plinths and decided I would have one long plinth instead.
I spent some time playing around with MA graduate Anne’s abandoned plinth which has been used in the photos below. Being very long and narrow (over 2m long) it meant I could only assemble my vessels linearly. At first I liked this idea as it would highlight the silhouettes of the pieces and could perhaps resemble an assembly line or a workshop shelf, creating an unusual juxtaposition between the links of the forms to mass-produced tableware and their fractured, unfinished nature. A linear narrative also has connotations of growth and progression and these vessels appear very much to be collapsing or growing in some state of flux. The linear plinth also reminds me of a previous post looking at an Adam Silverman exhibtion.
There is a danger with such a thick sided plinth as this one though, that it can stand out too boldly and a few people have commented on how, supporting my objects this plinth starts to look like the monolith from Space Odyssey. While Silverman’s installation is referencing the architecture of the gallery space it is in, his vessels almost disappearing into their monochrome environment, I want my vessels to be the vocal point and I want them to exude a kind of lightness and sense of humour. A bulky plinth such as this in a subtle shade of grey is too serious for my intentions.
Next, finding a shorter, wider white plinth, I tried creating compositions with more depth of field. Initially I thought the first image here was too clustered and the second too sparse, but in hindsight a closer clustering adds dynamism and movement to the group. Some appear to be leaning in, eavesdropping on conversations, some tiptoe carefully, some stand shy and precarious and others remove themselves from the group, standing apart independently, the differences are more pronounced. I didn’t intend my vessels to be so anthropomorphic but it seems inevitable that pots should remind us of people. Some of the marks I made even unintentionally resemble faces.
It is strange to think that each one began life as two bowls of roughly the same shape and weight. Each one then almost becomes an ode to the making of that particular form, depending on my emotions at the time, the particular way a thrown section slumped after cutting and on the weight of the walls and the drying speed. If they were poems they would each have the same integral structure but their contents would set them apart.
Last Thursday, after a slightly panicky start to the day when I discovered yet more of my test glazes had turned out unsuccessful, things began to feel better towards the afternoon as I realised I need to focus on making the best of what I already have. I realised I haven’t been asking myself concrete questions about what I want the sculptures to look like and as a result hadn’t committed to a choice of decoration.
Over the lunch time I took part in a corridor crit which was positive and constructive. Displaying my work on three plinths of different heights which I’d found around the school, I realised the plinths would not need to be as high as I’d predicted for the work to be at eye level because much of it is fairly tall. Themes which seemed to dominate the composition were growth, architecture, distortion, movement, a dialogue between function and non-function, order/disorder and collapse. I found it interesting how the others commented on the uniting feature of the horizontal throwing lines on all the pieces and how this made an interesting contrast with the vertical clay particle orientation in the legs. They also pointed out a harmony between colours, which was positive since I was worried the vessels were too disparate. In regard to curating the show in a wider sense it was suggested my work may be interesting beside Andrea’s functional thrown tableware, the continuity of the vessel and process of throwing raising questions surrounding the role and value of craft and skill in our contemporary society of mass production.
We realised too that it may be more practical to place my sculptures on clusters of plinths rather than individual ones to avoid the danger of knocking them over. It might be interesting to look into exhibition safety guidelines to figure out the distance required between each individual plinth if I choose a set up like the one in the exhibition plan.
Talking through my work with our external examiner Bonnie Kemske was also hugely valuable to me because I was forced to explain my ideas to someone who knew nothing of my work. Initially I thought I wanted to create a range of bright, matte glazes for the vessels but realised this was because I was following a pre-determined idea of what I expect the forms to look like. Perhaps the proliferation of ‘insta-porn’ pots has something to do with this – bright, beautiful, photogenic objects that look modern and fresh. It’s not that I don’t want to create modern, fresh, beautiful and photogenic vessels, but that the concept and the experience of viewing them in reality is more important to me than whether they look good online.
I realised when explaining the objects to her that what I needed to do was go with my original idea of using my pre-existing ash, shino, tenmoku and red oxblood reduction glazes which will place them very much in the context of Leach and British country pottery, but with the unexpected twist that the forms are sculptural. I hope this use of the familiar and domestic in a sculptural high art white plinth context will create an uncanny experience. In regard to the forms of the objects, again I solidified my conviction that the ones with defined rims and bases work better since they behave as a start and finishing point for our line of vision, an empty space on which the eye can rest. I have started to lay down rules for myself when making now so I apply these design considerations.
For our formative we were tasked with creating a design for our exhibition. Currently I’ve been designated a space somewhere in the reception area with the concrete and glass walls. Will helped me put together a digital mock-up on Rhino of what the area might look like. I’ve taken inspiration from Ranti Bam’s display at Golbourne 50, a gallery that showed at Collect this year. The Nigerian born artist’s colourful clay vessels were displayed on individual plinths of varying heights so that you could walk among them, reminding me of trees in a forest or standing stones.
I’ve decided, depending on space, I would like five or six of my best pieces placed on individual plinths in this way. I also thought rather than having white plinths it might be an idea to leave them unpainted. For one thing, in the concrete space with a wooden skirting board, white plinths might stand out like a sore thumb rather than being the almost invisible props I need them to be. Secondly, the idea of my vessels is to celebrate the way they are made, not hiding joints and traces of the process but exaggerating it. Having a plinth on which you can see the joints and screws in the surface might add continuity to this idea through the display.
While visiting London for Collect this year I also visited the Franz West exhibition at the Tate Modern. Interestingly the plinths and rope barriers for the exhibition were designed by the artist Sarah Lucas who was a friend of his. The MDF plinths with what look like thermolite breeze blocks on top are certainly a statement as are the rope barriers in poppy, sweet-shop light blue, pink, yellow and green, characteristic of West’s more recent work. The colours reminded me very much of Sam Bakewell’s ceramic pieces which I had seen the day before. I though the MDF was an unusual choice until I read about West’s collaboration with Heimo Zobernig who specifically chose tones associated with offices and institutions.
The exhibition followed West’s artistic development in chronological order, beginning with his ‘Passstück’s’ – objects with which to play and improvise with as physical extensions of the human body. His next work almost referenced the ceramic art of Gillian Lowndes in it’s mixing of materials, metal and clay for example. He called this later work ‘legitimate sculpture’ as opposed to the ‘interactive sculpture’ that came before. He thought of his newer work too as interactive sculpture, welded together and painted with the sickly green of old hospital walls. The tacky-looking surfaces reminded me of the latex-like texture of my own work recently glazed pink vessel.
I like the idea of displaying my work on concrete breezeblocks and have found very cheap/free material available on gumtree and facebook. However, I feel that as I am moving to a new rented property soon and don’t own a car to transport the bricks making plinths of some sort appears to be a more practical option.
After my previous blog post about the kinds of surfaces I want on my sculptural vessels I created a series of glaze tests. Realising that I wouldn’t be able to fire my terracotta vessels or those with terracotta extrusions in the reduction kiln because of the risk of the clay melting or becoming too brittle, I decided to test some in the oxidation test kilns too. Above are my results from the gas kiln which all give a bright but slightly earthy dry surface that I thought would be less distracting than the shiny surfaces of my previous vessels.
The oxidation glazes (above) turned out a lot more glossy and gaudy than I expected. I’ve turned instead this week to the dry glazes book for simple recipes, quick to mix because of a small number of ingredients. Yixia suggested I use ordinary stoneware glazes but fire them to a lower temperature so they don’t mature completely and remain dry and pastel coloured like she has been doing. It was interesting speaking to Hannah too who has been using ferric oxide raku glazing. For her the firing process is the most important part and she decides on her forms based on how to show these firing effects best. For myself it’s the other way around, starting with form and thinking which surface will work best afterwards. I think most makers prioritise either the form or the surface.
The large glazed vessel forms shown here were all fired in the large red gas kiln, the first time I’ve fired work in this kiln since starting university. While the top half reached 1280C, unfortunately the cone at the bottom looks to have only reached about 1220/1240C. Perhaps as a result of this, on the largest of my thrown and altered constructions the glaze flakes off and hasn’t fused to the clay body. The glaze on the sculpture above is the same speckled blue-green that you can see on the first test piece at the top of the page, but because of the nature of the firing has instead become a very fluid dinosaur green, too variegated in shades to work well with the complex forms. It’s a set-back as it was one of my favourite shapes and as I don’t have time for in-depth glaze refining in these last few weeks, I’m going to abandon this glaze completely for the time being.
The photos above show two pieces almost completed and with surfaces I would be happy to show in my degree show. The sculptural jar was made in the spirit of some of the vessels I saw in Sandy Brown’s studio – bottomless because there is no concern with function here. Like her vessels which were often just canvases, not designed to hold anything except for surface decoration. I like to think of mine as sketches of pots in three-dimension. They look like pots and reference traditional vessel forms but are completely impractical and stitched together, optical illusions that subvert our expectation. The mustard yellow glaze works very well and gives a buttery texture that’s not too shiny to distract from the form. Iron oxide in the glaze gives it this colour but I wonder if I substituted that for cobalt, rutile or manganese, could I create similarly textured glazes in different colours?
This week I’ve began extruding with crank and constructing what I’ve started to think of as frames or scaffolding onto which my vessels will sit. I’m interested in the contrast between precise and imperfect, soft and sharp, human and inhuman. The grounded quality of pots is something I wish to challenge. Their humble nature lies partly, I believe, in the fact they have a solid footing in their surroundings, growing almost like plants from the matter of daily life itself. By elevating them and subjecting them to forces of gravity I hope to highlight the way the material slumps and flows slowly, almost like a liquid over time, to fill the gaps in the containers of its environment. While the grogged crank’s strength makes it great to hand-build with, I’ve chosen to continue throwing with a St Thomas stoneware to save the skin on my hands.
Thinking of my extruded pieces as frames or plinths brings me to Adam Silverman’s 2017 exhibition at Los Angeles’ Cherry and Martin Gallery. A circular section is cut in a gallery wall through which a long beam of dark timber protrudes, supported on breeze blocks. Silverman’s training as an architect is bought to the forefront in his manipulation of the gallery space and the vessels become monochrome components or metaphors in the installation space. The round hole references the openings on the vessels and frames the gallery space as a vessel in itself. It may also reference the circular wheelhead on which the forms all originated. It feels almost as if the vessels aren’t been celebrated for their clayness and individual qualities though, only for their power through repetition in a wider narrative.
Another interesting example of framing is Silverman’s piece for the 2015 exhibition Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better. A composition is placed in what looks like the bottom section of a toploader kiln. While I’ve become interested in showing traces of making and process in my work I’ve never thought to directly include the tools and equipment I use in the finished piece itself, they have always been the back of the canvas, the scaffolding that supports the outer facade. Writing my dissertation I came across the chapter in Tim Ingold’s Making that discusses how we think of things as either objects or materials depending on the context. Kilns for me have always been objects but to a scrap metal dealer they are materials. Silverman has used them in the same way with parallels to the circular frame in Ghost.
Silverman’s technique of joining thrown sections together on the wheel is an avenue I haven’t explored yet. As seen in the vessel above I always throw and join them together separately. My vessel above is terracotta, thrown and stuck together and sat on extruded legs. Later as it dried, the base fell out so I may have to create a new pair of legs with a more stable connection. This form took on a lot of personality in the making. It slopes with attitude and the sections stuck on look like hands posing on hips giving it an air of sassiness. The images above show the progression as I manipulated the surface over a period of a couple of days. I’ve become much more patient with the vessels, allowing them to dry more before cutting into the surface. The extruded cross section in the hollow cone looks almost like a cartoon plaster. Patching up and mending is as much part of what I do to these vessels as deconstructing and cutting.
The thrown sections on the bats in the image at the top here were made into the vessel below. Unhappy with the asymmetry, I pushed a dry terracotta section made by connecting extruded tubes into the tall body. Reading this then as a kind of handle, I added a spout to the opposite side, making the more familiar form of a jug. If the structure hasn’t collapsed by Monday I plan to work more into the body to unite the sections better, not hiding the joints but drawing them together as part of a whole. I’m beginning to get a feeling for when they are finished, once I have paid attention to every little part of the surface. At the moment the making is very spontaneous and improvised. Perhaps to make more complex structures with parts sitting on top of one another and extruded frames and plinths, I will need to work from preliminary drawings in a more design focused manner.
After a conversation with Alice about Italian Still life painter Giorgio Morandi, I went searching for sheets of coloured card on which to experiment with photographing my series of sculptures from the ‘non-spaces’ project. It’s fascinating to see how much the glare from the coloured card effects the objects. The dark blue which is my favourite gives a kind of softness and warmth to the glazes. The yellow is too sharp and harsh while the grey and light blue make everything look washed out.
It’s fun to take the shapes, forms and colours out of the context of the original project. Instead I’m simply working with their material properties in a kind of collage. This method has a lot in common with the work I saw recently at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm about ‘Concretism’. Concrete art ”accustoms man to a direct relationship with things and not with the fiction of things” by rejecting the creation of the illusion of space and three dimension on canvas. Similarly, I don’t want to create an illusion her. I am not interested in conveying any deep meaningful message, I’m only concerned with the balance of form, colour and of positive and negative space.
In other news, I’ve started constructing larger sculptures using repeated press moulded sections in a white molochite stoneware. I’m really excited by the possibilities of working in this way. I like the control over the overall shape from the press mould. It restricts the decisions I can make so I only have to decide where to place them. This new clay is great to work with too – it dries quickly , supporting itself, and so far none of the joins have cracked. I want to see if it’s possible for the shapes to interlock and interact once they have been fired to form one larger piece.
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.
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.
This afternoon I’ve been making press moulded shapes ready to start sticking them together tomorrow to build large lattice structures.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
A selection of my work is currently on show at Three Doors Up, Queens Arcade in Cardiff as part of ‘HAPTIC’ – a tactile exhibition of ceramics sculpture curated by my very talented friend and flatmate Heledd Evans. Proud to have my sculpture featured on the poster! If you’re in Cardiff, drop round to see what the ceramics students at CSAD have been up to! The show runs until the 24th of March.