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Topographies of the Obsolete: Critical Texts

Dixon, Steven, Hauge, Øystein and Shales, Ezra (2013) Topographies of the Obsolete: Critical Texts. Topographies of the Obsolete, 1 . Topographies of the Obsolete Publications, Stoke-on-Trent, UK. ISBN 978-0-9926931-0-7

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Abstract or description

This publication presents three commissioned texts which contextualise emergent research strands developed through 'Topographies of the Obsolete: Exploring the Site Specific and Associated Histories of Post-Industry'.

Topographies of the Obsolete is an artistic research project initiated by Neil Brownsword and Anne Helen Mydland at Bergen Academy of Art and Design (KHiB) in collaboration with partner universities/institutions in Denmark, Germany and the UK. Our main collaborative partner, the British Ceramics Biennial, invited KHiB to work at the original Spode factory site in Stoke-on-Trent, to develop a site specific artistic response as a core element of their 2013 exhibition programme. The project focus centres upon the landscape of post-industry, with a particular emphasis upon Stoke-on-Trent, a world renowned ceramic capital that bears evidence of fluctuations in global fortunes.
With the industrialisation of ceramics during the eighteenth century, systems of segregated labour brought about a phenomenal concentration of specialist skills and knowledge to specific regions of North Staffordshire. By1800 the Six Towns of Stoke-on-Trent paralleled China as a world centre for ceramic production. Paradoxically, recent decades have seen centuries of this cultivated expertise being relocated to the Far East. Company investment in advanced production technology has further contributed to a massive reduction of an indigenous work force and the closure/demolition of once prevalent sites of historic manufacture. In 1948 around 79,000 were employed in the North Staffordshire ceramics industry; the figure now sits at just over 6000. In the current economic climate of rapid change, outsourcing, and innovation, the loss of traditional industry and skills is a matter of widespread public interest and concern.
The original Spode factory, situated in the heart of Stoke-on-Trent, was once a keystone of the city’s industrial heritage which operated upon its original site for over 230 years. Amongst Spode’s contributions to ceramic history include the perfection of under-glaze blue printing and fine bone china. The factory’s industrial architecture dates from the 1760’s to the late 1980’s, with spaces associated with all aspects of design, manufacture, retail and administration in close geographical proximity. In 2008 Spode’s Church Street site closed, with most of its production infrastructure and contents left intact. The site and its remnants has been the point of departure for the interdisciplinary artistic research of over 40 participating artists during three residencies. Through these intense periods investigation the core of the project has evolved. Its methodology draws upon the rhetorical method of identifying ‘a landscape’ and different ‘topi’ to ensure a multi- perspective approach (1). This method is suited to the project’s diversity and to identifying the ‘rhizomic’ relationship between the individual and the overriding project.
Topographies is a framework, formulating topics and research strands which are treated as questions and approaches that are addressed through artistic practice. By honing in on the particular history and the singularity of this site, Topographies questions what is, and how ceramic and clay can be understood as both material and subject in contemporary art practice. How can we perceive the material (clay/ceramics) to be or constitute a site? Moreover, how do ceramics and clay form and construct our understanding of the site?
This publication is the first in a series which documents responses and reflections to the original Spode site from both artists and theorists connected to the project. Research outcomes from ‘Topographies of the Obsolete’ will continue to inform a programme of seminars, publications and exhibitions.

1 Nyrnes, A., Lighting from the Side, Sensuous Knowledge, Focus on Artistic Research and Development, no.03, 2006

Item Type: Book / Proceeding
Faculty: School of Creative Arts and Engineering > Art and Design
Depositing User: Neil BROWNSWORD
Date Deposited: 27 Jan 2021 09:30
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2023 13:53

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