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Externalising the Archive, British Ceramics Biennial, 2019

BROWNSWORD, Neil (2019) Externalising the Archive, British Ceramics Biennial, 2019. [Show/Exhibition]

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Abstract or description

'Neil Brownsword leads a multidisciplinary team of artists in creating this ambitious, large-scale and closely researched installation on the Spode Works site, with an adjunct digital laboratory space within the Spode Museum Trust Heritage Centre. Focussing on the former Spode factory’s plaster moulds, of which there are approximately 70,000 still located on the site, Brownsword reveals the intricacies of these complex heritage assets for public scrutiny. This multi-faceted project brings together a diverse range of artistic interventions and digital mediations made in response to the former Spode factory’s archives and production histories. Brownsword explores the sites mould collections through a series of installations that intersect the external spaces of the factory. Brownsword re-evaluates the human ingenuity and dexterity held within these tools of mass production in an attempt to draw greater awareness to their future preservation. Brownsword has also initiated the digital scanning of Spode’s remaining mould stores to offer a virtual reality experience for visitors to navigate their way into buildings and spaces that remain currently inaccessible.

The work created under the International artistic research project - Topographies of the Obsolete (University of Bergen) comprised of a major object installation on the site of the former Jubilee Kiln; an immersive film installation and live digitisation of heritage; an interactive 3D mapping of the Spode site's mould stores. The project has been kindly supported by ACAVA Studios, Spode Museum Trust, m² Gallery, EMRYS, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Staffordshire University, University of Bergen.

Externalising the Archive
Topographies of the Obsolete 2019
Description

Externalising the Archive is a multimedia installation which reconnects aspects of industrial craft knowledge to an endangered collection of historic moulds housed at the former Copeland Spode Works in Stoke-on-Trent (1). This was one of the few ceramic manufactories in Britain to have operated continuously for over 230 years on its original site. World renowned for its perfection of Bone China and underglaze blue printing techniques, the legacy of this factory was assigned to the Spode Museum Trust in 1987. Yet prior to the factory’s closure in 2008 the vast majority of its production moulds were not accessioned, due to their perceived value and sheer space required to house such material. An ongoing survey undertaken by Stoke-on-Trent City Council has to date recorded in excess of 70,000 moulds that still remain within eleven buildings. As the site is currently in the process of regeneration, Externalising the Archive attempts to reappraise the cultural value of this archive, as only a small percentage of this material has been recommended for retention (2).

Brownsword’s installation juxtaposes archival footage illuminating the complex dexterities involved within mass-production, (3) against an architectonic assemblage of production moulds from recent history. The majority of moulds from this period are regarded by some to have ‘little historic value’ - but why should these be differentiated from earlier periods of manufacture? Do they not equally constitute an important piece of the factory’s history? To pose questions upon how we determine future views of the past through what is considered worthy of archiving, Brownsword presented a significant volume of contemporary moulds in an external environment, where they were exposed to the elements and potential theft. The fact that the intellectual property of the moulds resides with another factory prohibiting reproduction, together with the repurposing of buildings where this material is stored means their fate leans towards impending disposal. (4) This deliberate provocation was often met with contempt as somewhat ironically, the public voice was one which expressed a need for the protecting these heritage assets.

As ‘by-products’ of ceramic manufacture moulds are rarely valued or preserved for posterity; the ‘finished’ ceramic artefact has always taken precedence over those objects associated with labour. Yet they illuminate the evolution of important technological change in design and industry that revolutionised mass-production. As embodiments of ‘workmanship’ – they can offer valuable insights into the complexities of dexterity, material knowledge and tool use behind the objects revered in cultural institutions. To elucidate both systems of knowledge involved in their fabrication and the mechanics of how the moulds operate, Brownsword cast the moulds using bone china and silicone rubber, constituting a new layer of production. Yet his subversion of traditional methods obscured the design data within them, yielding fragmentary and deformed intricacies available for public scrutiny.

In the ceramic industry, many design prototypes undergo a sequence of trial phases and if deemed inviable/too expensive to produce, do not proceed into production. So, within Spode’s mould chambers there possibly exists a unique decorative design archive from various periods of history that have been stored, and never been seen since their rejection. Given the complex nature and mass-scale of this issue, a further aspect of Externalising the Archive explored the use of photogrammetry and 3D scanning to support the creation of digital surrogates as a means of preserving their physical information. Working in conjunction with Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Archaeology Service, an initial feasibility study (5) was extended to a series of events which engaged the public with the ‘live digitisation’ of a selection of moulds typologies and shapes (6). Yet the largely hidden design data/mechanics encased within the negative voids of these objects were not the only attribute deemed worthy of digital preservation. Despite their archaeology being disturbed in recent years, the mould stores themselves represent unique environments specific to North Staffordshire’s industrial heritage. As health and safety restrictions render these spaces largely inaccessible, four mould stores were scanned enabling visitors to navigate their way into buildings and spaces through both touch screen technology and virtual reality. The long-term ambition of this ongoing project is to develop an interactive digital resource which disseminates aspects of tangible and intangible heritage associated with British ceramic design and manufacture. It aims to enhance the interpretation of the Spode mould archive and be of benefit to a range of researchers, artists, designers, historians and general public interested in design, industry and social history.

1 Externalising the Archive involved partnerships with Staffordshire University, Spode Museum Trust, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, University of Brighton, ACAVA studios and the British Ceramics Biennial.
2 Sutherland, Z., Quantification and Assessment of Moulds at the Former Spode Pottery Factory Church Street, Stoke-on-Trent, NGR SJ 87726 45330 Produced for Stoke-on-Trent City Council. Report No. 401 Feb 2017. P2.
3 The Ceramic Century project initiated in 2000, produced film documentation of many of model, mould- making and the various casting systems associated with the various departments of the former Spode factory whilst it was operational. Footage was supplied courtesy of the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.
4 Sutherland, Z., Quantification and Assessment of Moulds at the Former Spode Pottery Factory, Church Street Stoke-on-Trent, NGR SJ 87726 45330 Produced for Stoke-on-Trent City Council. Report No. 401 Feb 2017. P2.
5 The feasibility study was undertaken over 3 days in July 2018 with digital experts from UCL and University of Brighton, to determine the most appropriate strategy for the documentation of the Spode moulds.
6 An adjunct laboratory space set up within the Spode Museum Trust Heritage Centre.

Item Type: Show/Exhibition
Faculty: School of Creative Arts and Engineering > Art and Design
Event Title: British Ceramics Biennial
Event Location: The Spode Museum Trust Heritage Centre, Elenora St, Stoke-on-Trent, ST4 1QQ
Event Dates: 7 September - 3 October 2019
Depositing User: Neil BROWNSWORD
Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2021 15:17
Last Modified: 26 Jan 2021 04:30
Related URLs:
URI: http://eprints.staffs.ac.uk/id/eprint/6770

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