As part of a collaborative Rednile residency with ceramic artist, Sun Ae Kim, and sculptor, David Booth, I started to compose a narrative to accompany Dave’s site-specific sculptural response and Sun Ae’s traditional ceramic techniques. The results of this combination of practices led to ad hoc interventions around the Spode site in the final week of the British Ceramics Biennial Festival.
We positioned the installations as provocative and historically-mindful marginalia at the exhibition, which featured contemporary ceramic art and industry expositions, requesting visitors to think more about the redundancy of remnants in the factory beyond the exhibition space.
in the mould store
a mold spore
a fractured stack
a static fractal
fluidity on the factory floor
These images are of the intervention, ‘Estimated Reading’, made of found kiln readings in the Technician’s Office on the Spode Site. There were complete readings of all the kilns on site until 2007, the year of the factory’s closure. In February 2007, the printer wasn’t loaded with paper and so no readings were recorded. For this month, an estimated reading was produced, based on the averages of the previous months. The table is laid with the January to March 2007, with February’s reading stopping short of the edge. Over the gap, I laid glass ‘kiln shelves’.
The text of the installed poem reads:
reword the reading of a line
record the temperature of reading
reword the reading of a line
a line on a path, crazing
like glaze in the too cool kiln
rework your lines to fit the space
reread your reading to fill the
time that is missing
from a month in the red
replace what’s red
because we must take it as read
that we are here
to read between the lines.
While we were rooting around, we found box after box of lithographic transfers – the thin prints of the patterns that are applied to the ware during the industrial process. Apparently, there are over £70,000’s worth of transfers in the Spode Factory, assets rendered practically worthless because of the changes to Spode’s range as offered through the Portmeirion Group. In the building’s transfer of use, a stash of transfers have been left behind, mobile and flexible traces of Spode’s image.
We found prints of bees, Christmas trees, beagles, Lord Nelson and heaps of the traditional floral decals found on Spode plates. We got a taste for the incongruent, and sometimes bizarre, designs in the Spode portfolio. Clocks, teddy bears and Jamie Oliver all turned up; box after box.
We experimented with applying the decals to the building itself, trying to make a path out of the torn transfers. We wanted to visitors to think that once the factory floor was completely carpeted with floral Spode designs, but, like the rest of the building, had been worn away. Because of time restrictions and health and safety concerns, we couldn’t complete this intervention. But to test our idea, we used a Christmas platter design with a large crowd scene to build a transfer queue, leading to a disused door in the factory.
Poetry Tester Pots
We found a complete box of Spode tester pots. Each was a simple beaker shape, with the firing conditions and composition of the clay written on the underside. Some pots were slick, bulky, shining and others were as thin and slumped as crumpled paper. Some were biscuit fired and made a rasping sound when carried together, while the glazed pots chimed like bells.
All over the factory floor, we found signs for the different handling areas for the production line. What appeared to us as cryptic arrangements of nonsense words appeared in every room and over the large lamps of inspection tables. Vitrified 1%, jollied dish, crown fancy hexagonal votive, fancy (child) oak sugar cover, crown fancy minihandle tray fenton.
And at the bottom of every sign, the words “All the above shapes are in these pens”.
I typed out the found names of lost ware from the signs and placed each as a strip into a tester pot, along with other found phrases, inviting visitors and my collaborators to work through the words in the pots to piece together tester poems.
Using found multiples, Dave experimented with creating sprawling sculptures along the pathways of the China Hall and in the Meadow, a large production hall in other part of the site.
Lock and Key
Our night in the Wedgwood Institute left us thinking about keys and linked, lost pieces. Here, Sun Ae focussed on arranging items as ‘lock and key’ partners, superposing transfers over biscuit ware, which elides over the intermediate processes of glazing and firing.
We spent the week trying to get things to fit together, contextually, physically, conceptually.
Sometimes we had to admit that too much was amiss, too much was missing.