Today, the recipients of the 2019 a-n Bursary were publically announced, and I’m delighted to say that I am one of them.
Over the past ten years, my practice has developed into something that has become a little hard to describe; my main practice has recently involved observing, documenting, collecting thoughts and opinions, thinking, learning, reading and then writing documents for others to use to talk about work they have done. I’m proud to say that this work has been very well received by the people I’ve worked for, and publically, and I do class it as part of my art practice. But over the last couple of years, I have been lacking the element of ‘craft’ in my work- that element of self-determined creation that sets the artist apart from the analyst, the evaluator, the report writer, the commentator.
Rather than pitching in from the sidelines, I feel the need to find a way to illustrate the discourse I’m passionate about (which includes topics like post-industrial urban redevelopment, social and spatial justice, the effects of neoliberalism and the power of collective action) and to find a way to demonstrate how artistic modes of production can be simple, generative and radical. To help decide where to begin to find my own visual language again, I thought about my habits- what is it that I do naturally and often, that brings me joy and inspires me to think about the things that fascinate me? There was only one answer- shards.
The first profession I ever remember wanting to have as a child was ‘archeologist’- on holidays I was sure I would find treasure on the beach if just I looked hard enough, and at home I remember taking a spoon down to the farmers field at the bottom of my street- to ‘Dead Man’s Hill’ (pictured below) to try to find bones, coins and civil war ammunition by digging in the crater at the top (some said Dead Man’s Hill was an ancient burial mound, some said it was just a flood platform for cattle- I preferred to think it was the former). During my degree, My friend and I would come home from art college and dig up bits of slag (waste metal from smelting) in the back of the garden, which led us to the local archives to try and locate a historic ironworks or blacksmiths. Now as an adult I like to go on walks, but when everyone else is looking into the distance at the view, you’ll find me scouring the ground for finds- particularly when there are molehills to kick around in.
I grew up in Stoke, and this particular fascination with the buried, discarded and lost is more often rewarded than in most other cities. The city itself was founded on what lay in the ground beneath- clay and coal in particular. In the height of the city’s (industrial and economic) prosperity, f thousands of men spent most of their lives under the ground, and the ceramic products that didn’t make it out of the city to the world’s markets went back onto and into the ground, in huge quantities, shaping the landscape and leaving many millions of snippets of life, art, industry, failure, aspiration, narratives, fingerprints, toil, skills and tastes for me (us, everyone,) to find with incredible ease. I’ve been casually collecting these surface shards for many years, and I have amassed a vast collection. I’m sure there are many other local people that do this too. (small number of my collection pictured below).
So I have decided to try bringing this personal fascination together with my practice- there are a number of reasons why I think this is a relevant paring- not because I want to look doe-eyed into the past of the city, but to how the shards relate to the city we are left with. There are still many scars of industry on the physical landscape, in individuals and in the social ecology of the city, scars I can’t fail to see daily. With this project I’m interested in mining for qualities, examining value and barriers- both physical and social, and from that examination- ‘transformation’- not only into something beautiful but something instructive, productive and useful. Something that could teach us how to make something new from the old and broken.
Rather than use my current collection, I’m going to start from scratch. I’m going to treat every newly discovered shard as an archeological find, mapping its location, creating a taxonomy by which to categorise each shard and produce site-specific writing based on its location, surroundings, history (as far as I can discover it) and what it relates to in the present day (both from a personal and wider perspective). To help me with this, I’ll be working with Danny Callaghan of Ceramic City Stories, and we will host drop-in open conversations about the shards once a certain number have been collected. Then I will be working with Jessica Ayre of Red Fox Blue Monkey, to set the shards into silver mounts, in order to reimagine the shards as valuable objects in their own right- like precious jewels mined from the ground, polished not by physical processes, but by the insights wrought by the process of creative and collective examination and imagination.
The project (or new arm of practice) begins in May this year, and I’ll be blogging about it both here and on the a-n website.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank a-n for funding this new adventure in my practice. I’m very excited about how it could transform my work in the future.by