Saturday, September 17, 2016

Wordsworth and Basho: Walking Poets, Kakimori Bunko, Itami

A modified version of the 2014 exhibition 'Wordsworth and Basho: Walking Poets', which was held at the Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere, will be on display at Kakimori Bunko, Itami, Japan, from 17 September to 3 November 2016. I have made new work for this exhibition based on research undertaken during my ceramics residency in Seto, Japan. 

Again, my work responds to themes of memory and the ephemerality of the human condition in the work of both Basho and Wordsworth. While Basho often revisited ruins and other sites of communal memory, Wordsworth was concerned that human endeavour – including monuments and works of literature – was at risk of destruction through catastrophe and would be outlasted by nature. This work takes as inspiration Wordsworth’s The Ruined Cottage and the well-known ‘summer grass’ haiku from The Narrow Road to the Deep North composed by Basho when he visited the abandoned estate at Hiraizumi, in 1689.

In a haiku written in 1678, Basho refers to the annual procession made by Dutch traders from their enclave in Dejima, Nagasaki, to pay homage to the Shogun in distant Edo. During the Edo Period (1600–1868), it was only the Dutch and Chinese who were permitted to trade with Japan, providing a limited portal to the world. Pottery sherds recovered from Dejima show that the Dutch took British ceramics, including transfer-printed Sunderland pottery, to Japan in the nineteenth century. Through form and surface decoration, my work explores the idea of hybridity, blending east and west, and attempting to show commonalities in the work of both poets. My porcelain vessels feature imagery derived from research into ruined industrial sites in Seto, a traditional centre of Japanese pottery production. Setomonogatari is a portmanteau  word formed from Setomono – the traditional term for Seto pottery – and monogatari, meaning ‘story’. Blades of glass grass grow from the vessels, suggesting the endurance of nature over culture. 

Work made for the show: Setomonogatari 5 – Iga to Nagasaki (2016)
Porcelain, glaze, pink lustre, ceramic decals, glass, mixed media, 
Approx. 45 x 24 x 22 cm
Photo: Jo Howell, 2016

Setomonogatari 6 – The Ruined Cottage (2016)
Porcelain, glaze, pink lustre, ceramic decals, glass, mixed media, 
Approx. 43 x 24 x 22 cm
Photo: Jo Howell, 2016

Sunday, August 28, 2016

World Archaeology Congress 8, Kyoto, Japan

I presented a paper in the 'Breaking the Frame: Art and Archaeology in Practice' symposium of the World Archaeology Congress in Kyoto, 28 August - 2 September 2016. Organised by Carolyn White (University of Nevada Reno / USA) and Ursula Frederick (University of Sydney/Australia), the session sought to explore the increasingly close relationship between art practice and some forms of archaeology. This year's WAC had a prominent 'art and archaeology' component with various satellite events and exhibitions throughout Kyoto. The session was accompanied by a temporary exhibition of artwork at the Museum of Kyoto in which I displayed new ceramic work. 
In my presentation, titled 'Setomonogatari – Ceramic Practice as an Archaeology of the Contemporary Past', I argued that my creative ceramic practice has much in common with archaeological approaches to the contemporary past in that it takes the form of a creative materialising intervention, focusing on marginal or otherwise overlooked aspects of person-object interaction. I illustrated this by reference to recent artworks made in Seto, Japan, a traditional centre of pottery production. By reanimating old moulds and repurposing discarded sherds, my work explores the sites changing materiality through time and is itself a proactive contribution to the archaeological record, capturing an enduring glimpse of the past and present of this ceramics community.

Temporary display of artwork at the Museum of Kyoto to coincide with WAC8's art and archaeology theme. My work can be seen in the vitrine in the background. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Contemporary Clay and Museum Culture Book Launch at the University of Westminster

As one of the contributing authors, I was delighted to attend the book launch of Contemporary Clay and Museum Culture. Edited by Christie Brown, Julian Stair and Clare Twomey, this compilation of essays provides a critical overview of the relationship between contemporary ceramics and museum curatorial practice. My chapter, 'The Crinson Jug from clay to the grave (and beyond): exploring the ceramic object as a gatheirng point', traces the biography of one of the jugs I made during my PhD research at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, showing how it became activated as a locus of memory. 

A detail of the book. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Sunderland 10 x 10 Artist in Residence at Hilton Garden Inn and SAFC

In May, I was one of the artists selected for the Sunderland 10 x 10 residency programme, which paired ten artists with ten local businesses. I worked with Sunderland Association Football Club and the staff of the newly-opened Hilton Garden Inn to make a collaborative artwork for the hotel. This process was intended to give the staff a sense of ownership and engagement. I established an informal focus group with several of the hotel's front of house staff, as well as marketing staff from SAFC. 

A mug decorating workshop as part of the focus group with staff at the
Hilton Garden Inn, Sunderland.

Sunderland 'til I die (2016), a prototype wall piece developed for the
Hilton Garden Inn based on a traditional Sunderland pottery jug form. 

Community in Clay - Enterprise Place Membership

Following on from my AHRC Cultural Engagement Fellowship at the University of Sunderland, I have joined the University’s Enterprise Place start-up support scheme to develop my socially-engaged ceramics practice.

Addressing the NHS’s ‘Five steps to mental wellbeing’ and the Government’s recent Culture White Paper, the Fellowship aimed to investigate how an engagement with creativity and making might promote a sense of wellbeing by encouraging social interaction and active participation in the learning of new skills. As part of this, I developed a ceramics workshop programme for clients of Forward Assist, a leading charity supporting military veterans in north east England. These workshops were held in association with the National Glass Centre. Alongside this, I have been working as an artist associate of Equal Arts’ Hen Power Project, where I have been using clay and ceramics as a way to engage people suffering from dementia in residential centres in the North East.

These experiences of working with clay in a community setting have inspired me to explore this aspect of my practice as a socially engaged business and I will now be trading as Community in Clay. 

Alan and Colin of Forward Assist applying decals to their fired ceramic works. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

AHRC Cultural Engagement Fellowship

Between February and April 2016, I was an AHRC Cultural Engagement Fellow based at the National Glass Centre, University of Sunderland. Capitalising upon my doctoral research, this project involved devising and delivering a ceramics workshop programme in collaboration with the National Glass Centre and Forward Assist, a charity supporting military veterans in the North East. The project explored what role ceramic practice might play in commemoration and wellbeing and I supported the veteran participants to make their own ceramic work. 

Veterans Colin, Alan and Peter decorate mugs with decals based on their respective regimental cap
badges and tattoos.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Seto International Ceramics and Glass Art Exchange Program 2015

Between November and December 2015, I was ceramic artist in residence as part of the Seto International Ceramics and Glass Art Exchange Program 2015. 

I regard my art practice as a form of research through which I interact with particular sites, communities or historical museum collections. Taking part in the programme enabled me to participate in a community with a rich and living tradition of ceramics production.

All over Seto, there are signs of its long and continuing engagement with clay and ceramics. During the residency, my accommodation was located next to a clay quarry and I used locally produced porcelain and red clay to make my work. Abandoned, crumbling ceramics factories exist alongside going concerns, and almost everywhere you go, broken sherds of pottery can be found under foot. On visiting the excavated Konagaso kiln site, I was moved when I found fingerprints impressed into a clay kiln support fired some 500 years old. While the often heavily weathered buildings and shop signs were a nostalgic reminder of Seto’s heyday, meeting artists and visiting factories showed that the city is still a vibrant centre of making.

The Setomonogatari series was inspired by this sense of continuity and change, particularly as expressed through material culture and the built environment. Discarded ceramic objects have been recovered and incorporated into new work. An old plaster mould has been reused, bringing it back to life and highlighting its silent story of person-object interaction. The three wall pieces were made with a plaster press mould taken from a piece of rusty corrugated iron, a building material ubiquitous in Seto. In creating a piece of ceramic art, we are making a material offering which has the potential to endure into the future, intact or as sherds. I documented my time in Seto through photography, often uploading images to Instagram. Many of these photographs were used to make ceramic decals which decorate the works, especially the porcelain pot and ema labels. By turning this digital information into lasting, solid forms, I hope that these works will preserve and tell the story of my time in Seto – my setomonogatari – as well as pay homage to the place and its people.




Work made during the residency: Setomonogatari 1 (2015), porcelain, decals, pink lustre. 
Photo: Seto City Cultural Promotion Foundation, 2016.

Work made during the residency: Setomonogatari 4 - Fortune (2015), red clay, porcelain, mixed media, decals. Photo: Seto City Cultural Promotion Foundation, 2016.