Interventions at the Original Spode Factory, Stoke

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.

Mold Spore

David Booth, intervention with knife handles

The text above was written in response to Dave’s intervention, placed to resemble a gallery label. It reads:

cast out

in the mould store

casts out

a mold spore

a fractured stack

a static fractal

ceramic handles

fluidity on the factory floor

Estimated Reading

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

repeat                           repeat

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.

Transfer

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.

Teapot Lids

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

Sun Ae collected locks and biscuit ware from around the factory site to create a museum display, using original Spode labels.

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.

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