The BCB is renowned for its diverse programme of projects, exhibitions, residencies and commissions. We preview what the 2021 festival has in store
Stoke Makes Plates, photographer Jenny Harper
ON A PLATE
One of the most exciting projects to explore this year is Stoke Makes Plates; a community-oriented series of activities leading to a large-scale installation of 250 plates. Members of the local area – from care home residents and people in addiction recovery, to commissioned artists and the city’s ceramic manufacturers – have been creating designs using materials associated with Stoke’s high street. The high street is at the heart of this project, which is connected to the Stoke High Street Heritage Action Zone programme delivered by Historic England. Their aim is to unlock the potential of high streets across the country and breathe new life into them for future generations. Stoke Makes Plates supports this through the engagement of the community with the heritage and attractions that Stoke’s existing high street has to offer and by strengthening the sense of local identity through hands-on activities, workshops and ultimately the exhibition.
Stoke Makes Plates, photographer Jenny Harper
Due to the national coronavirus restrictions, most workshops have taken place online, but this hasn’t stopped the creativity flowing. Participants received the materials and equipment they needed to design and make their plate at home, which is then fired at BCB’s studio and decorated with digital transfers using their design. Committed to representing and celebrating diversity, the Stoke Makes Plates team have been working alongside a broad range of organisations and groups. Members of the North Midlands LGBT Older People’s Group have been exploring the heritage of Spode ceramics and looking at how surface patterns can respond to their own experiences. Women have been invited to attend the ReStoke and Kwanzaa Collective’s Mother group, to investigate the idea that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and asks the question: ‘How can the high street help to create and support this?’. Also involved are the North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare Early Intervention Team, support group ABLE, local schools and BCB’s Clay at Home, which is open to all members of the public. All of the resulting creations from the community and the artists’ work will be displayed as part of the Stoke Makes Plates exhibition. Overall, it is set to be a celebratory and emotive display of appreciation and optimism for the city.
A core aspect of the BCB is how it integrates both historical traditions with contemporary art practice. Transforming tradition, by revisiting and re-interpreting it through the perspective of the present day, is something that the festival champions. This year, the programme features a number of ceramic artists who do just that. Fresh Talent Resident Alice Walton is set to visit the Wedgwood factory in Barlaston. Here she will explore its mould archive and traditional palette of Jasper colours with the aim to reimagine some of its most classic designs and combine them with her fluid contemporary forms. Laura Plant is also a Fresh Talent Resident Artist who is referencing the creativity and ambition of the city past and present. She is specifically exploring the Spode site and the industrious presence that the China Hall embodies. Also working in response to Spode’s heritage is Paul Scott. His exhibition Gardens of Lyra in The Spode Museum Trust & Heritage Centre celebrates a new Cumbrian Blue(s) tea ware set, made by Spode for Fortnum & Mason. With its graphic origins deep in the museum archive, the new design draws on early Chinoiserie patterns, alongside elements from the classic Copeland/Spode’s ‘Tower’.
Portrait of Alice Walton, photo by Sophie Alder
Investigating a more violent history behind ceramics is Jaqueline Bishop, who has been commissioned by SETSPACE to create History at the Dinner Table. As a young girl growing up in Jamaica, her grandmother had a large mahogany cabinet where she kept her bone china crockery. The delicate plates were painted with fairytale-style images and were reserved only for special occasions. However, these dishes hid a sinister history of slavery and colonialism by European countries. Bishop is changing the traditional narrative by producing her own dishes (alongside Emma Price) that highlight this legacy of slavery. And finally, it wouldn’t be the BCB without work from internationally renowned artist Neil Brownsword. Having exhibited at the festival multiple years in a row, he is back, this time at The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery with his exhibition Alchemy and Metamorphosis. Curating a timeline of objects and archaeology from the Potteries Museum and other regional collections, his work in this display reveals the technologies and cultural influences that led to the growth of a world-renowned centre of ceramic production.
Work by Jacqueline Bishop, courtesy of the artist
Ho Lai, Sinking 2020
PAVING THE WAY
While the BCB raises awareness of ceramics history and heritage, it is also dedicated to paving the way for the future of the industry, nurturing emerging talent and the artists of today. Fresh is a recurring exhibition at the BCB and a prime example of this initiative. Every two years it provides the opportunity for early career artists to exhibit their work. Another staple of the BCB is AWARD, which is back with ten newly selected ceramic artists creating work specially for the competition. This year’s shortlist features some of the UK’s most innovative contemporary pieces and reflects a range of approaches. From vessels to mosaics, sculpture to installations, AWARD provides a taste of current activity in ceramic art. The ten shortlisted are: Cleo Mussi, Jin Eui Kim, Stephen Dixon, Christie Brown, Alison Cooke, Connor Coulston, Mawuena Kattah, Helen Beard, Tamsin van Essen and Ho Lai (pictured).
Stephen Dixon, details from ‘The Ship of Dreams and Nightmares’, 2021
In keeping with the future-focused themes, many of this year’s cohort are using ceramics to explore and make sense of geopolitical, environmental and socio-political issues. The exhibition will take place in The Goods Yard and the winning artist will receive £5,000. Alongside them will be an installation by 2019 winners Vicky Lindo and Bill Brookes. Not only returning to judge this year’s competition, the pair are also showcasing a new collection that explores the menstrual cycle.
With such a varied spectrum of top-class ceramic artists and topical themes, The Goods Yard, a new venue for this year’s BCB, will be a treasure trove that demonstrates the inexhaustible possibilities of clay.
British Ceramics Biennial, 11 September – 17 October 2021; britishceramicsbiennial.com
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