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Topographies of the Obsolete: Exploring the Site Specific and Associated Histories of Post-Industry 2012- 2020

BROWNSWORD, Neil (2012) Topographies of the Obsolete: Exploring the Site Specific and Associated Histories of Post-Industry 2012- 2020. Topographies of the Obsolete, Stoke-on-Trent. (Unpublished)

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Abstract or description

Topographies of the Obsolete: Exploring the Site Specific and Associated Histories of Post-Industry 2012 - 2020

A collection of practice-based artefacts, curated exhibitions, conferences and publications that address different aspects of a single project and are collectively greater than the sum of their parts.

Topographies of the Obsolete (TOTO) is a multi-faceted international artistic research project initiated and co-curated by Brownsword in collaboration with Bergen Academy of Art (University of Bergen), eight European HEI partners, and the British Ceramics Biennial. It extends through collective interdisciplinary enquiry, Brownsword’s long-standing interrogation of ceramic deindustrialisation in North Staffordshire, and its impact upon people, place and heritage. The project evolved out of six site-specific residencies primarily centred upon the former Spode ceramics factory, Stoke-on-Trent. Emerging through two phases (2012-2015; 2015-2020), TOTO has engaged ninety-seven artists, scholars, and students from thirteen countries. It has expanded insights into North Staffordshire’s post-industrial situation through its curatorial framework, that have been disseminated via a broad range of multi-media artistic responses, publications, exhibitions, symposia and other events internationally. A variety of institutions have funded the project to a total of £349,525, including the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme (2013-15 & 2015-17), whose peer review system rated it as ‘exemplary... strengthening artistic research and its scope beyond potential communities of practitioners/researchers’ (2015).

TOTO is positioned within recent discourse that critically interrogates the transformation of places, communities and sites of abandoned industry following deindustrialisation (Edensor, 2005; Mah, 2012). The lure of ruination and ‘materiality of dereliction’ has endured in contemporary art to examine cultural and political concerns (Dillon, 2011, 2014) which TOTO extends, but is distinguished by its ongoing analysis of a particular locality and industry. Focusing initially on the singularity and associated histories of the former Spode factory, it questions how ‘ceramics’ can be interrogated beyond its traditional medium specificity, via paradigms of site-specific artistic research (Kwon, 2002) to mediate the complexities of industrial change.

Through action/reflection strategies (Schön, 1983) and rhetorical method (Nyrnes, 2006), interconnected research strands evolved to examine the socio-economic impact of globalisation upon community and place, the contemporary ruin/ruination, and the artist as post-industrial archivist/archaeologist. TOTO offers new insights into the role of the artist in a ‘non-art’ space, and how artists create/interfere/expand understandings of place, archival practice and materiality. Its transdisciplinary methodology offers a model for interrogating the post-industrial site through expanded notions of curation and artistic research (adopted by HEAD, Genève 2018). It has furthered understanding as what can constitute ‘ceramics’ in contemporary art practice through its appropriation of post-industrial site as ‘raw material’, and through analysis of its associated historic, geological, anthropological, socio-economic, and global contexts.

For REF 2021
Three publications elucidate TOTO’s multi-faceted research dimensions, to frame questions, contexts and methods developed via experiential artistic research, that provide an alternative historiography of a post-industrial legacy. Three installations by Brownsword, re-mediate Spode’s tangible/intangible heritage via expanded notions of site as raw material and archival practice. TOTO has: contributed to Stoke-on-Trent’s cultural regeneration initiatives, strengthening the city as an international centre of ceramic excellence; transformed participants’ practices, and influenced local government’s strategy as regards the protection of heritage at risk.

Further details of the project timeline are attached. For an elucidation of the project outcomes see publications available as a free download:

Item Type: Other
Additional Information: See: 1. attached PROJECT DETAILS - for more detailed information 2. for extensive documentation of the project and its research dimensions 3. Publication download:
Faculty: Previous Faculty of Arts and Creative Technologies > Art and Design
Depositing User: Neil BROWNSWORD
Date Deposited: 03 Jun 2019 10:39
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2023 13:56

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