Day trip to Stoke: BCB 2017 and Potteries Museum


Another trip down to Stoke, this time with the new first year MA students and to take in the British Ceramics Biennial exhibition I've heard so much but never been to. As we arrived a little ahead of time we managed to have a look around the gallery in the Visitor's Centre at the Spode factory.

The only other time I've been to the Spode factory was shortly after the factory closed and they were selling off their blue and white china. We inherited some and thought it may be nice to supplement it. Well, they are still selling part of it off.

I am still not sure whether I like this sort of dinnerware or not.

The Spode gallery had a good display of late 19th century handpainted tiles produced by Copeland in Stoke. They are a good reminded how patterns originating from Islamic architecture or Roman mosaics or Iznik tiles have heavily influenced the aesthetics or the late Victorian crafts and designs.

I was really taken by the pottery on display by Nick Marsh. In hindsight, it might also have been the way they were displayed that appealed to me: on shelves made from rough planks of wood or on fancy little pedestals.

The framed pottery collages made by Philip Hardeners was less to my taste. Maybe it is just that it reminded me a bit too much of public art. However, it was intriguing enough to make me stop and take look at them.

Well, this was a bit of warm up before we headed over to the main event, the British Ceramics Biennial Exhibition:

Well, this whole exhibition was a bit overwhelming. Initially, because it is spread across such a large space it didn't seem that there was much to see but that wasn't so. I will limit it to eight items/impressions:

1. The building itself was for me really the star of the show. I love derelict industrial buildings and this one retains lots of traces of its industrial past throughout.

2. I loved the pots and painting by Hannah Tounser in which she combines the inspirations of the British coastline with the colour palette and patina found in this Spode building. I particularly like how details, such as the small yellow/gold square is echoed both in the pot and the accompanying painting.

3. The little sub exhibition in a side room Place and Practices: UK/Korea Exchange 2017/18 was worth exploring. I particularly enjoyed the large scale groups of ceramic towers by Oh Huanjong. Because they were so large it was a much more immersive and interactive piece of work. I felt like a child in a forrest in which I could hide.

4. The hanging strips of sheets of Spode pattern transfer sheets. I probably like them for the same reason that they reminded me of childhood and hiding between hanging sheets or in a den made of bedding.

5. Eusebio Sanchez's figures are closest work to the kind I'm doing that I've found among the exhibitors. They don't actually look anything like my work but are also some form of creatures which he makes by coiling clay. For him it is important to show the coils which, along with the nearly furry glaze finishes applied, give them a kind of feral feel: uncanny and undefinable.

6. I am not sure whether I'm more impressed by the exquisite coloured porcelain bowls made by Marios Kalamenios or the the lovely display of his coloured clay disks. The boxes are like a very expensive set of watercolour pans. Mm, yummy!

7. Like a print by Miro or similar this assemblage of ceramic shapes by Amy Mackle is much more like a drawing than traditional pottery. Interestingly this work even though it has not been framed but it does rely on a plain matt background to work.

8. An lastly, I liked these earthenware pots that were dotted around the place to catch drips from the leaking roof. Initially they looked to me as if they could have been produced in the South-West of the USA. However, they were made in India and shipped over. In a way the represent the universality of pottery across the globe as they may also have been made in South America or Africa or Australia.

There are more artist and more pottery I could write about and also add loads of photos showing the lovely peeling paint work in this China Hall but this is enough. Also we needed to get some lunch and get a move on.

The Potteries Museum

Arriving at the Potteries Museum I see that Emilie Taylor's Edgelands travelling exhibition is here. I had contacted her in the previous year in order to interview her for one of my essays. However, she was too busy to see me as she was both making final preparations for this show and for having a baby.

Even though there were very few visitors when I looked around I noticed that many of her works on show had been sold. I was impressed by how much space was given to the work on show. It was far from being crowded.

I actually liked the work better than I had anticipated by just having seen them digitally previously. In addition to the graphic line decorations they have an additional painterly and textural quality I appreciate. I like surfaces that aren't totally flat but through texture convey a handmade quality and tell the history of their making process.

The imagery Emilie Taylor uses here is based on young women occupying urban liminal spaces such as abandoned waste grounds found on the edges of many social housing estates. What struck me as poignant was how these were viewed by mostly female visitors (during my visit to this exhibition at least) in an nearly empty space tucked out of the way in this museum - another liminal space in context of a city like Stoke - just with very different connotations from the ones depicted on Taylor's pots.

In the basement of the museum hosted one half of the HEART:BEAT exhibition. The other half was at the Bethesda Chapel, which we didn't get to visit. This exhibition was based on a two week residency of artists from different disciplines in a remote Indian village in Maharastra, India. This was a way to help establish a local centre to help preserve and develop local Warli cultural and creative practices. The installations and works were brought over to Stoke and shown here.

Here just a bit background:

The Warli people, who live in the mountain and coastal region where Maharashtra and Gujarat districts meet, are said to have been doing their distinctive art since about 3000 BC. They are known for the way that they cover the walls of their traditional red ochre mud houses with intricate white drawings. These drawings were a way to impart knowledge about Warli traditions and belief system, which is closely linked simple rural life and its dependency on nature. The themes depicted in Warli drawings cover farming, hunting, fishing and other everyday activities but also ritualistic activities such as marriage or dances. The simplicity of the decorations have recently caught the attention of other designer and art makers. Warli patterns can be found in contemporary textiles used both in clothing and home decor. At the same time, efforts are being made to encourage to preserve the traditional methods by the original Warli people.

I didn't really have the time to engage and understand fully the whole scope of this exhibition and decided to concentrate on what appealed most immediately to me which were the painted panels.

What appeals to me is their visual simplicity and abstraction or, as some may call it, their naivety. There are very strong elements of patterning but mostly these are part of panels of storytelling where there is an absence of the sort of 3-dimensinal depiction so dominant in Western art. It seems clear to me that a 'realistic' verisimilitude is not aimed for. The importance is to convey meaning through abstracted yet recognisable elements.

We finished our trip with a visit to Valentine Clay's new building. It was nice to see so much diverse pottery on show and how helpful they were to get us bags of clay and free samples late on a Friday afternoon.

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