Compelling Voices at the BCB and Ceramics Congress

 

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!

 

Emotions in Paper 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?

Ideas Board
My Ideas Board

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 ….

 

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What do you think my next steps should be with this head?

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What’s the point of portraiture in an age of 3D Printing? An exploration of a hybrid between the digital and the hand made.

 

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.

 

 

 

Ceramic Review and Exhibition Extended til 4th March

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

The Bigger Picture: ShareHaUs

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?

 and

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

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Two Private Views, a film and another show

So two exhibition Private Views showing my work happened this week, within two days of each other: my Votive Feet were unveiled at The London Bridge Clay Project at Southwark Cathedral on Sunday night with a talk about the whole project by the wonderful Diane Eagles, and the next evening Craftsmanship Alone is Not Enough at the The Lethaby Gallery at Central St Martins, celebrating 100 years of ceramics being taught at CSM. For the latter one, I was chuffed to have my A1 Life plate from a 1st Year project included in a wall display called China Painting for Ladies, showcasing 39 plates by various artists, tutors and students past and present. These plates will be auctioned off to raise money for the Royal Crown Derby Charitable Trust and to contribute to material costs for present students. Click here if you want to bid for mine!

A couple of days after our ACWU event, my fellow exhibitors, Alison Cooke and Amy Leung were interviewed by London Live, about the exhibition. Click here to view it, and share it on social media if you are so inclined! Alison and Amy did us proud!

By the way the The London Bridge Clay Project will be in Southwark Cathedral until 5th February, so do pop in. There are postcards of my Votive Feet for sale in the gift shop.

Meanwhile, back to Craftmanship Alone is Not Enough, my plate is the one that looks like Archway A1 Gyratory signage. Stands out from the crowd? My thanks to the iconic UK road signage graphics by Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir which have been described as the corporate identity of Great Britain. My plate design was one of a series exploring key moments in my life lived for some reason more of less exclusively somewhere along the A1 road. Strangely, this has turned into a commemorative plate, as the Archway gyratory has been completely overhauled in the last 6 months, and is no longer a roundabout!

And on Monday night, my work was also being exhibited in a third London gallery around the corner from college at Pangolin London in Kings Place. My EaTin dishes were still in the Pangolin windows, having been there since November, although that exhibition came down the next day. But who cares! On Monday evening my work was in three galleries! I am hoping it is the shape of things to come!

Oh gods, I think we have shot ourselves in the foot with Brexit!

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Oh gods, I think we have shot ourselves in the foot with Brexit!

The London Bridge Clay Project, Southwark Cathedral, London

January 9th – 5 Feb 2017

The London Bridge Clay Project exhibition opens next week. It will be the first real public art exhibition that I have taken part in, not related to Central St Martins. Thanks to my comrades at the wonderful ceramic collective ACWU (The Associated Clay Workers Union) for including me in the project, we are now just days away from unveiling the work to the public. And thanks also to the wonderful people at Southwark Cathedral for inviting us to show in their Link, visitor entrance hall,  a stone’s throw away from the site where the clay was dug up from under the London Bridge station. It is a free exhibition of work inspired by the lives and history of the London Bridge area.

The clay we used dates from 54 million years ago when dinosaurs walked the earth, and has not seen the light of day, until now. Its provenance is fascinating and awe-inspiring, but is not ideal for making ceramic work with, as it tends to crack when fired.  My piece, “Oh gods, I think we have shot ourselves in the foot with Brexit” is no exception, but I feel that the inherent fragility and dis-function is appropriate to the subject matter.

My fellow exhibitors in the collective are: Stephanie Buttle, Alison Cooke, Bea Denton, Diane Eagles, Duncan Hooson, Amy Leung, and, Matt Raw.

 

 

You may remember my blog post last summer about this project, in which I talked about using a Roman foot-shaped oil lamp, that was dug up by archaeologists during the preparatory ground works for the renovation of London Bridge Station, as the starting point for my inspiration. The project has moved on since then, and become more current and urgent. A post-referendum cry to the gods for help.

The morning after the EU referendum, I woke up shattered by the Brexit result. The only way I could deal with my shock and anger was to channel it into my work.

I made the third foot also using the London Bridge clay, and I see it as an extension to my thinking about votive offerings made to the gods to ask for healing. The final piece going on display in Southwark, is made up of the three feet, and expresses my view that we have committed an act of self-harm by voting to leave the EU. If the Leave voters and Theresa May get their way, I fully anticipate that it will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, hence my severing of the toes representing Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Romans were the consummate Europeans. These three elements come together as an architypal offering to the gods for healing in this divided country.

Do come down and take a look, once you have recovered from your New Year’s hang over! It’s free, Southwark Cathedral is wonderful (and warm), and just next to Borough Market too, so perfect for a spot of lunch!The show is on for 4 weeks, but Diane Eagles of ACWU will be speaking about the genesis of the project and how we persuaded Network Rail to donate the clay to us, on Sunday 15th January 3pm in the Visitor Centre at Southwark Cathedral. Places are limited do please click here to book your seat.

The London Bridge Clay Project, is supported by the The Craft Pottery Charitable Trust. With many thanks to Network Rail and Costain. All photos Monica Wells/Network Rail

 

EaTin, See What I Did There?

 

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Another day, another exhibition! My most recent project at college, a 4-week whirlwind, exploring slip casting in eco once-fired clay designed to manufacture with reduced carbon emissions, is now on display at the Pangolin London gallery at Kings Place til 13th January.

EaTin: not Take-away, are a series of colourful and playful stacking oven-to-table dishes for convivial home-cooked meals.

Appropriated from foil take-away containers, EaTin are behavioural change dishes, or conversation starters, aiming to address the increasing reliance on ready-made meals and encourage a return to home-cooking and shared meals.

The printed texts challenge users and highlight issues; “S’up?” playfully links the action ‘to sup’ with the street slang for asking how someone is. Sharing family meals has been shown to improve teenage mental health as problems are aired and issues discussed round the dinner table. Other slogans included: Today’s Special, Made @ Home, Made by Us.

Stoke on Trent based, Endeka generously sponsored our project with ample supplies of their special EcoTherm Clay, that is able to be Raw Glazed, and so once fired, reducing the carbon emissions significantly in the production process. Most often used to manufacture hard-wearing dishes used in the catering industry, my response was to design a series of stacking oven-to-table dishes in varying colours. But I wanted to make a point too.  Hence the family-size, takeaway container shape and witty slogans aimed to get people thinking about the benefits of sharing a meal together. The project got me making miniature silk screens to direct print the slogans on the leather-hard cast dishes, mold making to capture the detail of the foil corners and edges, colouring the slip body and raw glazing on damp clay. Lots of firsts!

Click and collect my work

I seem to be crossing another Rubicon. My ceramics are now available to buy via Made In Arts London, (MiAL) a not-for-profit enterprise, promoting and selling art and design by UAL students and recent graduates. That includes me! I was so excited when my work was chosen by the selection panel to be included in the MiAL curated collection.

So if you have friends who enjoy spotting and collecting emerging artists and design talent please share this post with them. Or you fancy buying one of my pieces, ‘an early work’ then please click here and take a look at my new shop window. They are all one-off ceramic sculptures. The prices include the MiAL commission and delivery. Learning to sell my work will be one of the most important skills I hope to graduate from Central St Martins with … so please watch this space, and let me know what you think.

Stoking the flames

Last week was extraordinary. A 3 day whistle-stop tour of the manufactories of Stoke-on-Trent, the heartland of British Ceramics. We got a unique perspective on the history, the heritage that still stands the test of time, current best practice and the future of our industry. Starting with Emma Bridgewater, who was amazingly generous in her candor, sharing her experience of setting up a hand-made ceramics empire in the dying industrial embers of Stoke-on-Trent over 30 years ago. Go Emma! To a tour of Endeka Ceramics, which has been producing clay for the industry on its present site since the industrial revolution. Endeka are kindly sponsoring our next project by providing the Second Year CSM students with their eco once-fired clay and glaze, to get us to think about reducing our carbon footprint in our production methods. This was followed by the impressive Wedgwood factory, museum, shop and design studio, plus Johnson’s Tiles – ceramic making on a gargantuan scale, and last but not least Armitage Shanks / Ideal Standard who are steadily robotising their factories and producing 100’s of thousands of ‘pans’ and sinks each week.

 

The numbers of people involved in Stoke’s production is dwindling. For the big boys,  robotisation is the only way to survive. Ideal Standard and Johnson’s tiles employ around 35 people to run their factory floors in any given shift, with the factory running 24 hrs a day 362 days of the year. While Emma Bridgewater’s USP is based on the handmade, and employs around 300 workers who run 3 shifts a day, manipulating the plaster casts and hand decorating the ware with hand-carved sponges to her English cottage-inspired style.

We got home exhausted but bubbling with ideas for Manufactoring and Materiality. Watch this space …. Looks like my project will be a rye challenge to Take-Away food culture, and reflect on the importance of sharing home cooked meal – all in ceramics of course.