Lasting Impressions at the Crypt Gallery

It was very interesting to remount WhyTheFace? at the Crypt Gallery during the London Design Festival in September. Recent graduates from Central Saint Martin’s 2019 BA and MA Ceramics programmes came together for Lasting Impressions, a group exhibition, showing a broad church of work. And how appropriate is that? The wonderfully atmospheric brick vaults of St Pancras parish church on Euston Road were a great backdrop for our work. Contemporary ceramics set against subterranean London Clay brick walls.

Click below for a walk through of my installation. The clay stop-frame animated film was projected on bare walls, sculpture dotted around the gallery space on stone stairs, and various metal and wooden plinths. It was great to see the film projected on such a large scale, filling the wall. The whole work took on a superhuman feel, resonating with my thesis work on the monstrous golem.

The exhibition had a nice write up in Domus, the Italian design magazine too. Click here to view. Or below are a few other images of my work at the show.

Here are some images from my fellow exhibitors work too..

WhyTheFace? at The Central St Martins Degree Show 19-23rd June

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. 

The Golem Returns

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 ….

Be Careful What You Wish For

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Primordial figure with belly of despair where viewers can whisper a magic incantation to wake the golem. Sculpture evokes marionettes that can be breathed into life, like a voodoo cult figure.

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.

 

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Golem Shadow Puppets

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Figurative gestural sculpting

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Skeletal body parts

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Golem chest

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Golem sculpture with interchangeable heads

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Mask head

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Rear View

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People’s Votive

 

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.

Janus Chalice
Roman Janus Chalice

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.

 

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!

 

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

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