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Reactivating the Post-Industrial Landscape of North Staffordshire and its Associated Histories through Contemporary Art Practice

BROWNSWORD, Neil (2014) Reactivating the Post-Industrial Landscape of North Staffordshire and its Associated Histories through Contemporary Art Practice. In: Ceramics Now: Art, Design & Digital Materiality, Taiwan Ceramics Biennale, 3-4 May 2014, Yingge Ceramics Museum, No. 200, Wenhua Road, Yingge District, New Taipei City, Taiwan 239. (Unpublished)

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Abstract or description

The Taiwan Ceramics Biennale, Yingge Ceramics Museum in New Taipei City, Taiwan offers a rich and expansive overview of key trends in contemporary international ceramics. Terra Nova: Critical Currents/Contemporary Ceramics (2014) included works and installations of 65 international artists, designers, architects and makers from over 30 countries curated by Wendy Gers, and arranged in four main themes: Glocal identities, Shattered, upcycled & recycled ceramics, 3d printed & CNC ceramics, Digital materialities.

The Biennale was accompanied by a two-day international symposium with presentations by international artists, designers, and makers to debate or demonstrate issues pertinent to ceramics. Brownsword was invited to present a paper in session 3 of the symposium under the theme of ‘Post-Colonial and Industrial Conditions’, where he discussed the artistic research project Topographies of the Obsolete, and detailed his ongoing research concerning re-activating ceramic intangible heritage in North Staffordshire.

Other speakers included Michael Moore, Francesco Ardini, Kukuli Ve larde, Ximena Ducci Budge.

This presentation centres upon an on-going artistic mediation of a particular locality in the UK - North Staffordshire, and how the recent effects of globalisation have impacted upon its heritage of ceramic manufacture. Founded on traditions dating back at least to the 14th Century, and industries born before the first industrial revolution, North Staffordshire led the world in ceramic production and innovation. The ‘Potteries’ - the name given to the six towns that collectively constitute Stoke-on-Trent, remain one of the few regions in Britain still to be associated with an industry that for centuries has shaped both the economic life and the areas physical landscape.

With industrialisation, systems of segregated labour brought about a phenomenal concentration of specialist skills and knowledge to the area. By 1800 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. To indicate the extent of this accelerating dissolution, in 1948 around 79,000 were employed in the North Staffordshire ceramics industry, now there are 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. This presentation is structured into three interconnected areas of focus that will examine how site and material remnants/infrastructure specific to a heritage industry can pose multi- faceted scope for creative interpretation.

Part One: Locality, Landscape and Family Ties
Part one will introduce Brownswords artistic practice as a sustained mediation on the decline of British ceramic manufacture in Stoke-on-Trent. Here the metaphoric exploration of value and provenance in the present context of global outsourcing are conveyed through appropriated remnants of industrial archaeology directly gleaned from the locale. Fragments of obsolete manufacturing technologies unearthed from the shraff lined sub-strata’s of Stoke are incorporated within the fabric of assemblages and installations to acknowledge and connect with the skilled endeavours of the past. Further attempts to reverberate the daily routine of a rapidly disappearing culture of indigenous labour are negotiated through film footage of derelict sites of production juxtaposed against a backdrop of transmogrified artefacts recovered and from redundant factories.

Part Two: Returning to Roots
Part two will elucidate Brownsword’s recurring interest surrounding notions of creative dislocation through the artistic re-activation of a landscape morphed by the histories of ceramic production. Apart from its indigenous skilled labour, the origins of North Staffordshire’s success were largely due to its mineral wealth - long flame coal (ideal for firing), and excellent red burning clays for potting. The geographic abundance of the latter formed the focus the Marl Hole Project - a five day collaboration where Brownsword invited four international artists to respond to the material in its unprocessed state in an opencast clay quarry. By eliminating the common tools of the trade, the project sought to interrogate the articulation of clay through a range of ephemeral interventions which fused the interactions of making and performance with site specificity that cited the very origins of pre-industrial production.

Part Three: Topographies of the Obsolete
Part three will discuss Brownsword’s recent collaborations with the British Ceramics Biennial, where he co-led the site specific artistic research project Topographies of the Obsolete with staff and students from Bergen Academy of Art and Design, Norway. Located at the former Spode factory in Stoke-on-Trent the project ‘questions what is, and how ceramic and clay can be understood as both material and subject in contemporary art practice’.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Lecture)
Faculty: School of Creative Arts and Engineering > Art and Design
Event Title: Ceramics Now: Art, Design & Digital Materiality, Taiwan Ceramics Biennale
Event Location: Yingge Ceramics Museum, No. 200, Wenhua Road, Yingge District, New Taipei City, Taiwan 239
Event Dates: 3-4 May 2014
Depositing User: Neil BROWNSWORD
Date Deposited: 03 Jun 2019 10:49
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2023 03:49

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