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The wilder reaches of ceramic art: Five to see at the British Ceramics Biennial

a white porcelian flower lying in the rubble of a window

Ceramic flowers made by former Spode factory employees can be found across Stoke for the Ceramics Biennial. Photo © Richard Moss

The British Ceramics Biennial runs from September 23 until November 5 in Stoke on Trent with some beautiful examples of ceramic art and spectacular pots on show. Museum Crush chooses five things to see that explore the wilder reaches of ceramic art

Neil Brownsword’s Factory

Ceramic flowers on Neil Brownsword’s Factory floor. Photo © Richard Moss

Neil Brownsword combines pottery, anthropology, archaeology and a deep love for the artisan skills of the local Stoke ceramics industry in this ongoing exploration of the disappearing skills of ceramics manufacturing. He has found a fitting place to play out its denouement in the fringes of the China Hall – a space that will be demolished for redevelopment when the Ceramics Biennial closes. This last hurrah for this particular portion of the venerable building sees skilled former workers of the Spode Factory – including a model and mould maker, china painter, master engraver and china flower maker – return to show their skills in a kind of performative installation that reminds us of the tremendous value of craft and the material knowledge we are at risk of losing.

Joining these marginalised practices is Korean artist Oh Hyangjong who has traveled to Stoke to work with Brownsword on the Factory project in the China Hall where the pair are creating an installation that will grow and develop as the Biennial progresses.

Made in Korea

a porcelain oval mirror

Made in Korea. Korean artists respond to the ceramic traditions of Wedgwood. Photo © Richard Moss

The dialogues between the UK and Korean traditions of pottery are explored even further through a series of Korean and UK responses to the ceramic traditions of the two countries – including a piece by the architectural ceramicist and Ceramic House founder J K Aplin and artists Kyung Won Baek and Jin Kin.

Part of the Ceramic House’s Made in Korea project exploring contemporary Korean ceramics, a sound installation accompanies the works whilst a geo-locative app (featuring the work of six UK and Korean sounds artists responding to the manufacturing process) guides visitors out of the Spode Works and across the city’s key ceramic locations.

Knowledge is Power: Six Towns

a photo of ceramic slabs with imprinted numbers on them

Keith Harrison’s Knowledge is Power. Photo © Richard Moss

For those of us who like our pots and books sitting side by side on our shelves at home there is a lovely congruity in ceramic artist Keith Harrison’s Knowledge is Power. Inspired by the Stoke City Libraries’ collection of local history books Harrison has been working with local schools and community groups to fashion 800 clay replicas of the city’s lending tomes.

The intriguing literary slabs are currently sitting on shelves in a corner of the China Hall awaiting firing. They will soon be chosen for live firing in the nearby ‘interactive kiln’ according to their popularity with library borrowers with the resulting fired works becoming part of a public art piece in the soon to be refurbished Stoke-on-Trent Library.

Heart: Beat

an elevated view of a ceramic artwork in a chapel

Heart Beat is set across the Potteries Museum and Bethesda Chapel. Photo © Richard Moss

Heart Beat is part of an exchange project between the UK and India marking the 70th anniversary of India’s Independence, which saw a team of potters, artists and educators from the UK travel to a remote village in Maharastra and join with members of the local community (including Warli painters, ceramic artists and local children) to create an installation in the village.

At the Potteries Museum you can see some of the films that recorded this process, the lives of the local Indian brick-makers and the red clay they quarry (bearing a remarkable resemblance to the local clays of Staffordshire) amidst a beautiful series of paintings made by villagers in the Warli tradition.

Venture over the road and you get to explore more artworks and a sound artwork that resulted from the project in the glorious surrounds of Bethesda Chapel, a breathtaking eighteenth century Methodist Church that in its heyday seated 2,000 people and is now being restored to its former glory after years of decline.

The Clay Pit

composite of four photographs showing clay in different stages of preparation

© Richard Moss

The British Ceramics Biennial isn’t just about ogling beautiful pots, unraveling the mysteries of ceramic production or even opening up perspectives via intercontinental exchanges; you also get to have a go yourself.

In Clay Pit you will find all you need – handily stationed away from the beautiful ceramics – near the rear exit of the China Hall and, quite apart from an enticingly messy looking pit of chocolatey clay, there are pits piled high with wet clay blocks, leathery lumps, dried and fired fragments and even the tools you will need to help with your creations.

The expectation is that everyone who fancies it will get their hands very dirty as they play, explore and construct together to transform this wondrous substance into something both precious and durable. Expect clay brick making, throwing and mark making – and quite a bit of mess, too.

The British Ceramics Biennial runs from September 23 – November 5, 2017 in Stoke-on-Trent. See www.britishceramicsbiennial.com for more information.

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