Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wayward walks for the British Ceramics Biennial

I was commissioned by the British Ceramics Biennial to deliver a series of Wayward Walks for visitors to the Spode Factory during the Biennial. My recent work has involved explorations of city sites via the Victorian Language of Flowers, and last year I was commissioned by the Saturday Market Project to create a lovely Urban Exploration Guide, something which I greatly enjoyed. To launch the guide SMP commissioned me to do an urban exploration walk around Shoreditch during the London Design Festival - it was a mixture of things really on the walk - a sort of walking workshop, with some poetry writing, urban exploration and plant identification.
 I was also asked this year to develop a workshop for the Arnolfini's Floating Ballast Seed Garden (above and below)- an amazing floating garden project.
 The garden is planted up with seeds excavated from Bristol Harbour that had been dumped from Ship Ballast around the time that England was a great shipping nation, visiting and trading with countries all over the world, and as a result, inadvertently bringing in wayward plants from all over the world via the ships ballast.
I developed a workshop to think about the plants on the boat, and creating a special Ballast Seed Garden language with participants. This is exactly the sort of work I hope to continue to do, engaging with amazing gardens and finding ways for other people to think differently about the plants in cities, so I was thrilled to be asked to work on this fantastic project.
For the BCB Wayward Walks, the idea was for visitors to gain an insight into the history and architecture of this amazing heritage site - and then to do something practical with clay.
The Spode factory has such a rich history, it was difficult to decide what to focus the walk on, but one thing which is really fascinating is the role that Spode played in the development of printing onto clay - so this became my focus.
My walk involved taking participants around the site, as it is today - with many buildings not currently in use - there are a lot of weeds growing around the site, so my stopping points on the route drew attention to these weeds - encouraging the walkers to see the beauty in them.
At each plant I would introduce historical information about the factory, or the development of particular printing techniques, for example bat printing, which was an 'over-glaze' printing method - and not very hard wearing - but more groundbreaking was the development (by Josiah Spode) of underglaze printing methods, like pluck and dust or the tissue printing techniques still used today at Middleport Pottery.
I would then introduce Spode floral design from wares using the techniques - as a way to showcase some of the beautiful patterns developed at the Spode Factory.
During the tour participants would collect plants found growing on the Spode Site, (above- fern growing in the remains of a bottle oven) and the last stop on the tour, we would discuss the site as it is today - discussing this wonderful moment we are in on the site - as if the site is holding its breath - the pause between the out and the in breath.
The factory closed in 2008 - but with the announcement of 1.7 million to be spent on the site, turning Spode back into a creative village once more - those plants growing on the site will probably be dislodged before long.
We then returned to the Spode China Hall, one of the largest buildings in the factory, once a thriving factory floor, and now the main event in the BCB showcase. This year the BCB has an extra feature - The Hub, where a series of workshops and activities have been programmed, with the strapline 'Get Clay Under Your Fingernails' where there are plenty of opportunities to learn new techniques and processes.
I revisited the idea of the blue and white floral designs we had been considering, and talked about creating a new Spode ware for the day - which celebrates this pause moment and looks ahead to Spode's creative future.
Using Studio White Clay - which fires to a wonderful bright white Participants then used their collected weeds to press into the clay, and then added detail with Cobalt Oxide (which adds the fantastic Spode Blue colour).
Then we talked a little bit about the Victorian Language of Flowers, and assigning meaning to plants found on the site.
Over the different sessions people seemed to really enjoy the combination of walking, history of the site, and making.
The workshop really appealed to all ages, from 3 upwards!
There were so many beautiful tiles made - each one different and each one really successful. The brilliant thing about the workshop is that everyone can make something that they are pleased with.
At the end of the sessions (which typically lasted about an hour and a half) people left feedback about how they found the activity.
I was pleased to read how much everyone had enjoyed it, as I am really keen to do more with this format.
I am really interested in developing the idea of works which explore site specific weeds and plants in cities. I hope to continue with tours and workshops like this in 2016, perhaps looking for an opportunity to develop the format within a project which explores the history and future of sites through the weeds and plants growing there - leading to a permanent artwork of some kind, an intervention or a publication.