Last week was the culmination of a group project that I took part in with four other CSM students, where we developed work for the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden. Two of those pieces were included in the What Can Ceramics Do? exhibition at the Wedgwood Museum in Stoke on Trent as part of the British Ceramics Biennial which is runs until 5th November. Having traveled up last Thursday to see our exhibit, I was also part of the team who presented the work to the Ceramics and Its Dimensions Congress organised by Ulster University at the Potteries Museum in Stoke on Trent to coincide with the BCB.
Although nerve wracking to stand up and talk at the Congress, it was also great to be able to share some of the insights that came out of this fascinating project. The course unit’s aim was to explore what contribution ceramics could really make to the broader society, and our project, called Compelling Voices looked to help develop the case to prevent the bulldozers being taken to this Community Garden, an oasis of green in densely populated Hackney.
In the first phase of the project we staged a public engagement workshop in the garden in which we invited local visitors to join us in making a communal sculpture expressing what we love about this place. At the same time we discussed the issues facing the garden, and recorded our conversations via microphones that we hung above the sculpture. To our delight, the clay modelling really engaged visitors of all ages, and interestingly slowed the conversation down so that people were happy to discuss at length what they felt about this Community Garden. This was a light-bulb moment for me, and I realised that clay is uniquely well adapted to helping develop ideas for public consultations for projects dealing with the built environment. It was also a vindication of the theory that making with your hands, together with others, allows for more creative thinking.
In stage two, we made campaigning vessels: deliberately eye catching urns and paving stones for the garden. We inscribed them with the local opinions about why the garden should be saved. Small and large fonts allowed the work to both whisper and shout these compelling voices. We adopted a deliberately hand-made aesthetic to fit with the natural environment of the community garden. Two of these pieces are currently on displayed at the Wedgwood Museum.
While our project has not saved the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden per se, it has formed an interesting and inspiring part of a broad campaign, which has so far been successful. Hooray for clay!