Here are a few highlights from the Degree Show, the last day of term and my subsequent graduation. I was so pleased to be awarded my degree with First Class Honours. It made the graduation celebration all the more sweet this week with my lovely Mud friends and family. Thanks to all those who have helped me on this journey. It has been very special.
WhyTheFace? my graduating project is finished and ready to be seen. After 10 weeks of work, today is the final day of installing the Central St Martins Degree Show. The official Private View takes place on Tuesday 18th June, and it is open to the general public Wednesday – Saturday 19-21 June from 12-8pm and on Sunday 22 June 12-6pm. Please do pop into the show to see it. Or you can click on the Vimeo link below to see an excerpt from the stop frame clay animation, with a sequence expressing fear.
What’s it all about?
WhyTheFace? is a study of what emotions look like and feel like. A personal taxonomy inspired by Charles Darwin’s ground-breaking publication The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals in which he defined six emotions as fundamental to human evolution and universally understood, whether you live in Pinner or Papual New Guinea: Happiness, Sadness, Surprise, Fear, Anger and Disgust.
This exploration is both figurative and abstract.
An animated stop-motion portrait of William Pryor, Darwin’s Great Great Grandson, is interspersed with abstracted versions of the same emotions. Some of these gestural interpretations have been fired and are placed in the installation.
The portrait of Pryor, whose expression was changed over 200 times during the shooting of the film is left as raw clay, kept damp under a glass dome in suspended animation ready to be brought back to life. Condensation on the inside of the glass begs the question: Is he still breathing?
A cluster of fired specimens on the shelf capture other examples of the six emotions.
The work is a response to emerging scientific evidence that young toddlers are arriving in nursery with a delayed understanding of the facial expressions of emotions. This is linked to too much time spent on flat screen devices rather than in-the-flesh interactions with their care-givers.
The installation’s specimen shelf includes a ceramic ‘brain’ representing Digital Dementia, where the right side of the brain associated with mood control and empathy is underdeveloped, in comparison with the left.
Viewers are invited to enter my world. Both as a maker-space where I have created this work, but also as conceptual field.
The installation is designed to evoke a whispered message from Charles Darwin on the importance of empathy and understanding emotions. In today’s fast-paced, digitally obsessed world, the viewer is given permission to slow down and stare at the flesh of emotions. In this oneiric space they might catch a glimpse of themselves mirroring the expressions on display, emotional contagion – a shared experience of empathy.
Last Friday, my ceramic study of The Golem, took its next BIG steps.
Bin There, Done That
Having moulded the human-scale skeletal body parts during my month-long residency with Collective Matter in Bermondsey last October, I then smoke fired the work in a series of bin-firings over the following months.
The Big Reveal at London Craft Week 2019
The wonderful Collective Matter are now giving me the opportunity to exhibit this work at the Potting Shed, their collaborative space at Contemporary Sculpture Fulmer near Slough. The piece will be on show to visitors during London Craft Week on 8th May at CSF. I will also be running a workshop that day, co-creating with visitors a reclining clay Golem. This will culminate in us ‘planting’ the figure in the sculpture park’s woods, and sewing the raw clay golem with woodland wild flower seeds – clay is just as much a growing as sculpting medium, after all! To book tickets for this tour and workshop, which includes travel arrangements to and from the venue, nibbles and a glass of something sparkly, click here.
A Hanging Matter
Meanwhile, last week, my husband David and I, joined George Marsh, the sculpture park’s wonderful director, to hang my Golemic shadow puppet. Here are some pictures of how we got on. It was intense work, connecting and cinching wires so that the human scale marionette limbs could move. We deliberately put its arms and legs in tension so that the figure appears mid-stride, in suspended animation.
What will free the golem from this suspended animation? Who knows but we must be careful what we wish for ….
Faced with the startling rise of political extremism around the world I have become particularly inspired by the myth of the Golem: a powerful mythical being, made by man out of the earth, and breathed into life by magic, usually to protect a community from attack.
Over the last year, this archetypal character has resonated perfectly with my feelings of disorientation as I no longer recognise our political landscape. It has felt as though only a superhuman force will be able to sort this mess out for me. Reaching for the clay I have been experimenting with how I could make a golem, and what that would feel like.
As an archetype, the Golem represents Man’s enduring desire to ‘play god’: to create powerful beings or entities out of inanimate objects in order to protect us or fix an intractable problem. But while the myth is intrinsically hopeful in outlook it is also deeply troubling as it highlights humankind’s propensity towards ‘hubris’, an arrogant miscalculation of the unintended consequences of our creations. A warning looms: Be careful what you wish for.
I have been relishing the fact that the golem archetype is intrinsically linked to my chosen discipline of sculpting figuratively in clay, and plays to my propensity towards political activism. Having generated the work featured in this post earlier this year, I am currently returning to the shadow puppet as the focus of my month-long residency in Bermondsey with Collective Matter – the wonderful ceramic studio led by Katie Spragg and Eva Masterman. Seizing the opportunity of dedicated studio space and large kiln, I am producing a human scale golem marionette that will hopefully be exhibited in the Potting Shed gallery space curated by Collective Matter at Contemporary Sculpture Fulmer, in the coming months. Watch this space.
The last two years have been difficult. I have been hard hit by the result of the Brexit Referendum and Trump’s election to the White House. Trying to find ways to channel my political frustrations and concerns into the clay.
This week I am again taking part in an Associated Clay Workers Union (ACWU) group exhibition at Southwark Cathedral in the Lancelot Link, this time on the theme of Votive. The act of offering votives into water is used in many cultures and throughout history from early Neolithic times. Hopeful ritual acts to engender change in the future, votives are often given in dedication or as a consequence of a vow. They are a ritual performance undertaken in uncertain times and in thanks for subsequent relief.
Responding to this theme, it seemed like an ideal opportunity create a piece to express my prayers for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit Deal, including an option to stay within the EU. Inspired by a Roman chalice I saw a few years ago in the Louvre, and thinking about Janus, the Roman god of transitions who is represented on the gates of Rome with two heads facing in opposite directions, I chose to make a double portrait of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. On one level two sides of the same Brexit coin.
I reworked the chalice archetype by creating a ballot box out of their heads rather than a sacrificial vessel. Both Corbyn and May appear to me to be inextricably linked in the current political trajectory towards what appears will be a No Deal Brexit. From my perspective both politicians have been two-faced Remainers. Both campaigned for Remain, but have been been responsible for a shocking shift towards a hard Brexit. Corbyn’s lack of leadership and opposition on Brexit has been deafening. To me he appears to be aiding and abetting the UK’s exit from the EU, a betrayal to his Islington Constituents, of which I am one, and Londoners who voted over-welmingly for Remain and to young people, stalwart Remainers who he proports to represent.
I have deliberately chosen to not fire Votive for a Vote on the Final Brexit Deal. The intension is to take the work to its natural conclusion and ‘gift’ it to the Thames at the end of the show, as a ritual offering, in the hope that my prayers come true.
The exhibition is being staged within the annual Totally Thames Festival programme, and after the show has come down on Sunday 30th September, at Midday – which is low tide, my fellow ACWU makers and I will be offering the unfired work to the Thames. It will take place on the Thames foreshore, Queen’s Walk, Bankside, in front of The Globe Theatre. The unfired clay sculptures will be placed on the shingles, and allowed to be sacrificially washed away and returned to mud by the capital’s tidal waters.
Come down if you can, to both the exhibition and the Gifting, and spread the word about the #Peoplesvote. It’s not a done deal. We demand the right to a vote on the final Brexit Deal, including an option to remain in the EU if we do not like the terms of the deal, or no deal. If you want to take action now, click here to sign the People’s Vote petition.
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!
So I am quite excited about how my exploration into portraiture is developing. My latest project is a single self portrait of me expressing a series of emotions, the kind of emotions you might have during a single day. I photographed the head as it progressed through these facial expressions and then animated it into a film. Click on the link above to watch it. It is an attempt to show fleeting human emotions in clay using analogue and digital sources and technologies.
At its core, the work is based on the idea that life is made up of fleeting emotions and micro moments.
How it came about:
At Easter I discovered the work of 18th Century Austrian sculptor, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. In a state of mental breakdown, Messerschmidt sculpted 64, what have become known, as ‘Character Heads’. I was blown away by them and it rather took the wind out of my sails that a portrait sculptor had been exploring this so well two and a half centuries ago. What could I add?
Down the ages, most portraiture has been a kind of PR exercise, often representing powerful people in idealised ways, and with neutral facial expressions. Although this later point is probably based on practical considerations as sitters find it very tiring to hold poses with extreme facial expressions. But how might Messerschmidt portray emotions if he were alive today? And how can clay portraiture show the messy business of being human now?
My ideas board got me to thinking about how feelings are expressed in time. In this fast paced digital world we live in I am interested in ways to slow down the viewer’s gaze, and reconnect them with the nitty gritty of human experience: our emotions and how they ebb and flow. Hence I sculpted my emotional portrait through time, and animated it.
My intention was also to try to reboot the genre and find a way to give the portrait a contemporary twist by bouncing between the digital and analogue realms.
The work that I had done last term with Jonathan Keep using the data from the Royal Academy 3D Scan of my head, led me to understand that there are real benefits from creating hybrid digital and analogue outputs (See my previous post)
I decided to use the 3D scan of my head as the starting point for the sculpture, then work from photographs of me showing various feelings as the basis of the emotional iterations. At certain points I also wanted to include some strange Matrix-like perspectives that the digital world now affords us.
At the start of the project, I planned to decorate the head using low-fired glazes, as I have become committed to working as ecologically as possible in my sculpting work. But as the project progressed, it became clear that really the final head did not need to be fired at all. In fact firing would have run counter to the philosophy of the piece. It is the plasticity of the paper clay that that has allowed me to work and iterate the piece. Turning it into a permanently solid sculpture would not have made sense.
The film was produced using 6 still images morphed on an iPhone app, and then set to a soundscape, that I composed in Garage Band.
So my next steps:
I am thinking about allowing the head to dry out and crumble. Perhaps outside so that the weather can gradually erode it away. Perhaps in a vat of water, so that it can slowly dissolve. Or left to gently decay under this bell jar ….
What do you think my next steps should be with this head?
Last week, I got the opportunity to take my research into 3D Scanning and printing portraits to the next level, when I took part in a 3 day workshop at college with expert 3D printer and artist, Jonathan Keep.
Jonathan has developed and made a name for himself by sharing his design for a self-build ceramic printer that prints by extruding normal wet clay. It is automated coiling, done via a large syringe of clay, pushed out using an electric compressor and controlled digitally. Talking about his practice, the fascinating thing is how Jonathan creates his work from its very code that he then prints out. Like manipulating the dna of the designs, he works from first principles and enjoys the impact of, for example sound, waves as a randomising algorithm on how the form is generated.
Meanwhile, I took the opportunity to print the scan of my head, that I had had done at the Royal Academy in the Veronica Scanner last September. I was able to print in buff clay as well as porcelain and I achieved my aim to to produce hybrid work, part 3 D Printed part hand made. The heads stand about 12cm high, and took about 35mins to print out. It was fascinating to watch as the printer whirled continuously but struggled to print out the chin, nose, top of the heads, anywhere that was unsupported and gravity exerted the full force on the damp clay. Jonathan stepped in and place his paintbrush under the chin to provide extra support, and we used a hair dryer to dry the clay as quickly as possible, so that it could strengthen the clay before it imploded.
The end results were interesting. Everyone loved the stratified layering of the clay. It made the pieces look like they might be part of the rock face of a canyon. But I was quietly delighted that the machines were not really able to produce a facsimile of the scans.
On the second day, after the clay had slightly hardened, I decided to intervene by hand in the heads and introduce a hand-made element. On the porcelain head, I took my traditional ceramic tools and got stuck in modelling more detail to the facial expressions, and trying to right the chin and nose that had got elongated as gravity distorted the print. The heads had looked like Bruce Forsyth might have been my uncle. Working by hand was fun but nerve wracking. The clay was still quite soft, and as I manipulated the clay, the neck began to sag somewhat. I did not feel like I could do too much in case the head collapsed completely, but the contrast between the facial detail compared with the slightly blurred layering of the printed clay was interesting.
On the second head, printed in darker buff clay, I borrowed Jonathan’s medical syringe filled with clay, and amplified the ‘errors’ that had occurred during the printing by adding extra worms of clay, to areas of the print that had come out slightly wrong. So the top of the head, shoulders, and eyebrow and along the front all have a slightly bonkers appendages.
I also had a go at creating a form in Tinkercad, to test my basic CAD skills and to see how they behaved when 3D printed. Not bad for someone knocking on 50!
For me, I would call this technique automated coiling. It is achieved pretty quickly, but as all ceramicists know, clay does not really appreciate being hurried, and coping with gravity on wet clay is one of the principal challenges of ceramics. Using a 3D printer was no exception, but the haste and impossibility of pausing the act of coiling, and in my view makes it a major drawback as a technique for portraiture.
Below is the celadon glazed portrait that I had printed ‘professionally’ by Shapeways in the Netherlands using SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) and thanks to the digital manipulation of a wonderful digital Kurt at Conceptual Vision Studio who touched up the original file from the Veronica Scanner at the RA to make it water tight. None the less, this was the biggest print that could be achieved, and when compared to the detail on the original scan, I was disappointed by the lack of details achieved. Kurt tried to made concave details for the pupils, but the glazing blurred this, and the head looks like that of a blind person with white eyes.
A lovely four page spread appeared about the London Bridge Clay Project in the latest Ceramic Review magazine, talking in depth about the genesis of the project. This coincided with more good news, Southwark Cathedral have asked us to extend the exhibition for a second time. So the show will be on display there until 4 March. No excuses if you have missed it so far!
Click here to read the article: ceramic-review-piece
At the end of last term, we were set an interdisciplinary academic unit called The Bigger Picture, in which I was teamed up with four students from other programmes: 2 Graphic Designers, 1 Architect and a Product Designer. In commemoration of 500 years of Thomas More’s Utopia, we were asked to come up with a response to two questions, one set by the course, and a second formulated by ourselves in response to a series of 6 keynote speeches by external experts from diverse backgrounds:
How can my individual area of design practice help to realise a different tomorrow?
How can Flexible Space be used to bring Positive Change to a Community?
Over a 4 week period we were required to prepare a group presentation our ideas, live, including an engaging interactive element. Plus write an individual essay. For our interactive element, we gave each of our 50-stong audience a small ball of clay, and asked them to hold it behind their backs and then gave them 60 seconds to model an elephant without looking, just by touch. The result was a highly energized audience and a herd of delightfully wonky mini elephants. It was an exercise in the importance and pleasure of making things by hand.
Rather than me paraphrase my essay click here to have a read. bigger-picture-group-6-team-5-joanna-pearl