The former Spode pottery factory was used as the main hub of the event
I found out about the British Ceramics Biennial (26th September to 8th November) on the news, and it got me intrigued as I have never visited Stoke on Trent, the pottery home of England before this trip. Since the 17th century, the area (now a city composed of six towns) has been associated with industrial-scale pottery manufacturing, and it earned its nickname as “The Potteries”.
In the 1970s there were 200 potteries factories operating in the area; today there are around 20. The demise of British manufacturing saw the shut down of many well-known pottery factories like Wedgwood, which went into administration in 2009. Many renowned British ceramics brands now produce their potteries in Asia to cut costs, and this has had a profound effect on the industry. And as a result of the closing of the pottery factory, British Ceramics Biennial was set up in 2009 to promote the declining industry.
Luckily, the revival and appreciation of British craftsmanship in the last few years has brought new light to the industry and British manufacturing. Younger potters and ceramic manufacturers have been setting up small studios and factories in the city, which is helping the economy and restoring the reputation of this once-thriving pottery city.
Top right: Ingrid Murphy and Jon Pigott‘s ‘The Campanoligist’s Tea Cup’; 2nd left: Rita Floyd’s ceramic flowers
Although I followed official map to the main hub of the event, I was quite skeptical as I walked through the gates of the derelict looking former factory ground of Spode. (The factory is no longer in use, but there is a Spode Works Visitor Centre on site which opens in the weekends.)
It was a relief when I eventually found the entrance to the exhibition area. The vast (and rather cold) factory space had been transformed into a gallery showcasing the best of British ceramics including works by renowned and up-and-coming artists from different parts of the country.
Eleven ceramic artists were selected for the AWARD competition, and their installations were exhibited in the centre of China Hall. The winner, Sam Bakewell‘s ‘Imagination Dead Imagine‘ is fascinating clay structure housing 12 years of occasional object making.
I also love Caroline Tattersall‘s ‘Geysers/ Breaking Through‘, which was inspired by Patricio Guzmán‘s ‘Nostalgia for the light’ (one of my favourite documentaries). Several curved vessels containing clay reveal the material in different states including ones emitting bubbles and steam like the gurgling geyser. The primitive and ephemeral aspect of this work demonstrate fully the versatility and essence of clay.
Top: Mella Shaw; 2nd left: Paul Scott‘s ‘Guldagergård Tree’; 2nd middle: Amy Hughes; 2nd right & 3rd: ‘Imagination Dead Imagine’ installation by Sam Bakewell, the winner of the 2015 British Ceramics Biennial AWARD; 4th left: ‘Crossing Boundaries’ by Anne Gibbs; 4th right: ‘Breaking Through’ by Caroline Tattersall; 5th row: Aneta Regal; Bottom row: James Rigler
Another showcase installation at the site was ‘Resonate: Remembering the lost soldiers of North Staffordshire’ by Stephen Dixon & Johnny Magee, which was placed in a separate room. Dominated by a monumental clay head by artist Stephen Dixon, made using a ton of clay sourced from the WWI battlefield sites of Passchendaele, the sculpture is based on the Victory Medal of 1919. The structure was accompanied by a sound sculpture by Johnny Magee, which orchestrated the familiar and incidental sounds, poignant songs and popular music of the period.
2nd left: Angie Thirkell‘s Eastern inspired ceramic tableware; 2nd middle: Kate Haywood; 3rd & 4th right: Standing on the Verge/Live Up by Nao Matsunaga; 4th leftt: Zen Rogue by Vilas Silverton; 4th middle: Charlotte Barker; Bottom row: Ragna Mouritzen
I was very impressed by the standard and variety of works showcased at the site, though I would have lingered longer if the site hadn’t been so cold!
After visiting the main hub, I walked across town to The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in city centre before it closed its doors at 5pm. Aside from its superb collection of over 5000 ceramic pieces, it also traces the history of British ceramic manufacturing and the importance of Stoke in this industry.
The temporary ceramic exhibition ‘Confected, Borrowed and Blue…an installation by Paul Scott’(7 February 2016)is a delight. Scott uses the traditional visual language of blue and white decoration on ceramic to explore contemporary social and political themes. There is irony and playfulness in his works, as demonstrated in ‘Scott’s Cumbrian Blue(s), Cow in a meadow (after Damien Hirst)’.
Top left: The statue outside of The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery; Top right: The poster of ‘Confected, Borrowed and Blue…an installation by Paul Scott’;2nd row: The facade that depicts the manufacturing of potteries; 3rd row: Paul Scott’s ‘Scott’s Cumbrian Blue(s), Fukushima’; 4th row: ‘Scott’s Cumbrian Blue(s), Cow in a meadow (after Damien Hirst)’; 5th right: Eric Ravilious’ design for Wedgewood
To be continued…