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Study trip to the International Ceramics Studio in Kecskemet, Hungary

This is my second time travelling to the International Ceramics Studio in Kecsekemet. Two years ago the trip was a joint trip made up of UCLan ceramic students and members of Northern Pottery Association. This time it was made up with current pottery MA students and recent graduates in addition to our course leader, David Binns, and our technician, Geoff Wilcock. Thus, I had a fair idea of what awaited us during our two weeks in Hungary and expectations were high. Having returned back home I can only say that these were exceeded and we had a great time full of intense pottery making. Here I'm not even trying to attempt to record of all the different activities but limit myself to just a few relevant observations.

Arriving at ICS in Kecskemet in snow

Needless to say, our trip wasn't limited to just making as we had a chance to see some of the sights of Budapest and Szeged. For me, seeing the use of the highly ornamented interiors of the churches such as the Matthias Church in Budapest and the Votive Church in Szeged was a real visual feast. The choice of colours with the clever lighting prevented them from feeling garish while being unapologetically ornamental. There will be a few patterns I'll pick up for my work from here.

But I also enjoyed seeing some of the folk art in the Bozsó Museum in Kecskemet was great. Again I was looking out for decorations and ornamentation. The ceramics didn't appeal to me as much as the painted furniture or embroidery did. I was very fortunate that I was part of the group that had a private view around the museum with an English speaking guide. That really helped to get a better understanding of the exhibits.

Embroidered waistcoat

One of many painted chests

What I saw of Hungary reminded me a lot of some parts of Germany. Especially the sort of architectural detailing found on the often decaying Jugendstil and Biedermeier buildings which remind me of the neighbourhood I grew up in Hamburg, Germany. I just wish I had a better camera to capture these details.

Typical old street in Kecskemet

In a way, most of the cultural heritage we saw was from the mid 19th century to early 20th century. Not much of the post WW2 period was featured except for as part of the poster exhibition we visited in the Móra Ferenc Museum in Szeged.


However, we also managed to representations of modern/contemporary art and design when visiting two exceptional exhibitions at the Műcsarnok Kunsthalle (=Palace of Art) in Budapest. The large Nine Ateliers exhibition showed works of nine contemporary Hungarian artist and involving nine curators. The intention of bringing work from the artists' studios 'into the open' in this exhibition was, according to the museum's website intended for "Artists emerging from their isolation are not only given the chance to meet the public but also to engage in a critical, ontological and philosophical dialogue with ‘other studios’, other artists with the same ambitions and dedication as their own." In a way this mirrors very much what our whole trip was about. We engaged with each other, left our isolation as makers behind by sharing our experiences and making practices.

Műcsarnok Kunsthalle
One room in the Nine Ateliers exhibition

John Malkovich as Marilyn Monroe and Che Guevara

The other exhibition here was an unexpected photographic treat by Sandro Miller: Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich | Homage to Photographic Masters in which the actor John Malkovich is photographed in reenactments of iconic photographs. This was a real postmodern treat for me as I had just watched the movie Being John Malkovich a couple of week previously. What appealed to me with this exhibition is the play with identity. The original photos are so iconic that they have become part of a cultural language. Because of our familiarity with these images the identity of the original subjects nearly becomes secondary to the image itself. So what happens if the subjects get exchanged with another, with a well known actor?

Anyway, back to the ICS in Kecskemet. In context of the MA I'm currently engaged in what has this trip given me? I'll probably will need more distance in time to fully appreciate and evaluate the long term influences on me. At the moment I can say, next to the social aspect of bonding etc with my fellow travellers, it has increased my understanding how the world of pottery and its makers is an international community and can offer opportunities beyond England. This was such a fully immersive pottery trip with lots of making and many different firings (bisque, wood firing, oil firing, raku firings and oil rake firing) that I'm still so full of it that I find it hard to pick out any meaningful high lights.

Some glazed pre-fired pots

I really enjoyed the glazing process for the pots which were fired in the wood fired kiln. Normally, my ceramic surfaces rely on intricatily applied decorations with only a limited choice of a single glaze applied to one piece. Here I enjoyed mixing and layering all sorts of different glazes and see how they interacted with one another. This was really quite liberating. In future I may consider combining some of my less time-consuming decorative surfaces with a freer glaze application. Not that I'll be likely to have access to a wood fired kiln soon but I would take the opportunity should it arise.

Result after the first wood firing

Having spent a bit more time on the pottery wheel both before and during the trip I come away with a feeling that, should I really wanted to apply myself to it, I think I could make a decent go at throwing pots. Not sure that this is the way for me to go - I like hand building ceramics - but it is reassuring to feel that I could chose that option if I wanted to. But I would need to practice a lot to gain a proficiency that would satisfy me.

I managed to make a few little marquettes which I've already started to size up to make larger pieces. This is the way to develop the forms for my sculptural work. I need to make many more. Sketches or drawings are limited in their two-dimensionality and can only serve as a starting point. Marquettes as sketches in clay are far more useful for me.

I don't ever want to be a curator of an exhibition. As part of our time at the ICS we staged a brief exhibition of our work done during our time there. It was really great seeing what we all had achieved during our short time there. And even though our work was done under the same time restraints and fired in the same way using the same glazes there was a huge variety of different ceramics on show. But I struggled in deciding which of my own work to show. Well, it's good to know one's limits, I guess.

On a completely different level, we had so much fun. The initiated will know what I mean when I refer to murder weapons, Rock Lobster, yellow marigolds, palinka etc.. Real memories have been made and, needless to say, I loved the experience and returned totally knackered but happy!

This is my pottery output during this time (7 are missing)

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