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Factory: Re-Apprenticed. Performed at - Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

BROWNSWORD, Neil (2016) Factory: Re-Apprenticed. Performed at - Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. [Artefact]

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Abstract or description

Dissemination context:
Neil Brownsword was invited to develop a live performance of Re-apprenticed, as part of the Clay Live program - a collaboration between the Craft Potters Association, the Oxford Ceramics Gallery and The Ashmolean Museum to increase awareness of contemporary ceramics. The Ashmolean were interested in Brownsword reconnecting aspects of its historic collections of Staffordshire ceramics to the complexities of manual dexterity embodied within such objects. Performances were informed and subverted by the observations and insights Brownsword gained during his apprenticeship to a modeller, copper plate engraver/printer, a china flower maker and a china painter working throughout the Ashmolean’s galleries.

Factory: Re-Apprenticed included, four performances of endangered industrial craft practices, re-choreographed under Brownswords instructions; a public lecture discussing the project and workshop delivered by Brownsword. 532 visitors attended the event (see email).

Item Type: Artefact
Additional Information: Re-Apprenticed examines the complexities of craft and material knowledge retained by a senior generation of ex-artisans from North Staffordshire’s ceramic industry. Deemed outmoded or economically unviable for contemporary ceramic manufacture, there currently exists no apprenticeship system to secure the effective transfer of these skills for the future. The endangered practices of the engraver, flower maker and china painter were the focus of Re-apprenticed, whereby Brownsword archived the transmission and acquisition of knowledge via a direct apprenticeship to these artisans. Through methodologies that intersect experimental archaeology, ethnography and artistic practice, Brownsword’s artistic mediation of what was an intergenerational practice, offered unique insights into ‘hidden’ actions that accrue to meet the demands of each craft. Nuances of embodied knowledge, procedural memory and material preparation, were deconstructed into a range of object and filmic works. Deftness of touch, tool use, pace, timing and repetitive action were made tangible, enabling rare access to each craftsperson’s internalized set of rules and operations. By restaging former artisanal practices, Brownsword also opened up important oral testimony to offer insights into recent transitions in the ceramic industry. These have influenced the critical perspectives of prominent scholars, such as Prof. Ezra Shales writing about marginalised industrial skill in his publication, The Shape of Craft (2018). http://www.reaktionbooks.co.uk/display.asp?ISB=9781780238227 Details from Ashmolean flyer: Factory: Re-Apprenticed. In ‘The Natural History of Staffordshire’, Dr Robert Plot, the first keeper of the Ashmolean Museum provides an early account of the county’s pre-industrial pottery manufacturing during the late 17th century. Plot documents potter’s practices together with the regions natural clays, once fundamental to its rise as a world renowned centre of ceramics. Yet in recent decades the factories and communities of labour that historically developed around these natural resources, have been subject to significant downturn. Global economics have resulted in many factories closing or outsourcing to low-cost production overseas. Plot’s pre-industrial mapping of North Staffordshire in the 1680’s, has been echoed by Neil Brownsword artist and Professor of Ceramics at Bucks New University, whose research continues to survey the regions post-industrial landscape. In his most recent project Re-Apprenticed, Brownsword continues to archive the ceramic practices of former industry artisans that remain in danger of being lost. Brownsword’s artistic intervention and subversion of these practices through his performative installation Factory, attempts to raise questions surrounding the value of such knowledge. The Ashmolean’s hosting of Factory reconnects its esteemed collection back to the complexities of human endeavor, and offers rare insight into numerous threatened skills in action. Atrium Paul Holdway is a master engraver who worked at the former Spode factory for forty three years until its closure in 2008. Copper plate engraving for ceramic print remains a process which is very rarely called for nowadays in the industry, and Holdway's knowledge of its history and practice is unsurpassed. He has researched and successfully reproduced methods developed by early 18th century pioneers of ceramic print for mass production, such as 'glue bat printing' and 'pluck and dust'. For his performance Paul will tissue transfer print from a series of copper plates, some of which are original apprentice practice plates loaned from the Spode Museum Trust. The complex network of dots and lines within these remain testimony to the mastery of tools and repetition necessary in achieving the required standards of dexterity. Atrium Rita Floyd has worked for forty five years as a china flower maker, at factories that included Adderly Floral and Royal Doulton. With changing fashion and impacts of globalisation this industry in Stoke-on-Trent has all but disappeared, and Rita remains amongst the last of a generation who retains this skill. For her performance the delicacy of touch evident within various stages of flower construction is disrupted by Brownsword’s instruction to discard, resulting in a deposit of waste forms that serve as a poignant metaphor for the need to reassess the value of such knowledge. Education Studio Jonathon Gravil is a former Wedgwood model maker who trained Brownsword during his apprenticeship in 1987. In 2003 Brownsword filmed the last weeks of Gravil’s work at the factory prior to his redundancy, where he reproduced an early piece of creamware using a method of hand modelling - plaster sledging, that is now replaced by advanced technology. For his performance Gravil will sledge a series of profiles deconstructed from of an example of 18th century Wedgwood creamware. Brownsword’s film from 2003 looped within the space reconnects Gravil’s practice from thirteen years ago to the present. Even with such distance these skills remain deeply engrained. Gallery 35 Since the age of 15 Anthony Challiner has worked as a china painter at numerous factories that include the likes of Royal Doulton and Spode. He is amongst the last of a generation of china painters in Stoke-on-Trent, whose profession has gradually been displaced by the changing tide of fashion, and by ceramic print technologies for mass production. Alongside the ceramic collections of Gallery 35, Challiner will continue the tradition of portraying picturesque decay, evident in many examples of 18th century English ceramics. Yet the ruins that grace the back of discarded plates salvaged from Challiner’s former place of work, are not the typical romantic scenes from the Grand Tour, but those which document aspects of North Staffordshire’s recent deindustrialization. Lecture Theatre. Talk: 12.30-1.30pm Drop in Workshop: 2.00-3.45pm Professor Neil Brownsword will present an illustrated talk providing an insight into his artistic practice. A drop-in workshop will enable visitors to experience ‘hands on’ some of the practices he has acquired and adapted from his own employment in the ceramic industry.
Faculty: School of Creative Arts and Engineering > Art and Design
Event Title: Re-Apprenticed: Factory
Event Location: Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford
Event Dates: 3 December 2016
Depositing User: Neil BROWNSWORD
Date Deposited: 05 Jun 2019 13:58
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2019 13:58
URI: http://eprints.staffs.ac.uk/id/eprint/5305

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