How can I make a vessel using the clay bed? This was the question I asked myself when realising that using local clay was an important factor in my work on contemporary culture in the UK. Having found a site I now needed to find a method to make objects.
Taking common garden tools to the site I began to dig a range of small voids in which plaster could be poured and left to set. The plaster void could then be manipulated in the studio.
Some voids were too shallow, the clay bed being solid and difficult to dig. All were so full of undercuts that casting would be impossible. To erode the undercuts in the casting process would polish out any sense of the site and the moment of making; so how can I make voids with a genuine site experience?
Previously I had removed undercuts by repeatedly forcing a plaster model into clay before casting again. This process gives the model movement and life. However it happened after the original casting and away from the site. To use this process at the site would speak much more of the terrain quality as well as making objects that can be casted. Now, how to create the voids? Using objects from the site appears the most coherent response to this. Objects from the site, speak for the site and of the site.
This is the site.
The site is beautiful. It is organic. It is urban. It is both. It is the best of both.
It is concrete, tarmac and metal.
It is water, clay, trees and grass.
It is dark, damp, dull.
It is used, disused and misused.
It is cared for. It is neglected.
It is empty. It is quiet.
It is part park, but no-one lingers. It is a thoroughfare. A desire line, with minimal desire.
It has a history.
It has a future. There is building work.
It is loud with the clack of travelling vehicles.
It is open space, covered space.
It was a place.
It is named. Its name is unknown.
It is not now a place.
It will be place again.
It’s raining. My rucksack is packed with all the necessary equipment. I do a mental check in my head: plaster, water, mixing bowl, trowel, heavy duty carrier bag, smaller carrier bags, towel for cleaning hands. Content with this list I start to confirm the making process.
- Arrive on site and locate suitable clay and objects
- Dig the clay with the trowel, place into a carrier bag.
- Use objects found on site and repeatedly press onto the clay bed.
- Combine the water and plaster in the bowl and mix until the consistency of custard is reached; I don’t want any plaster to leak out or settle prematurely.
- Pour the plaster into the cavity.
- Wait for the plaster to harden.
- Carefully remove, tidy, pack away.
With each step closer to the site a childlike excitement is bubbling more furiously until I find myself almost skipping; just to avoid the puddles of course.
Thankful that the site sits under the dual carriageway I think about how glad I will be to shelter from the rain. The site has been empty on my previous reconnaissance’s, but they were all on mild or sunny days. Who else might be seeking shelter today? A dog walker, a homeless person, a group of homeless people, a junkie, a group of junkies, a murderer? Suddenly my mind speeds forward to a scenario where I’m mixed up in an aggressive altercation, being flung down the muddy bank and swept away by the flowing river, watching as a shadowy figure finds meagre possessions in my rucksack.
Not content with this outcome my mind sets up another scenario where I successfully avoid being flung into the river by the shadowy stranger, but end up proclaiming ‘self defence!’ while Police pull a limp shadowy body from the river nearby.
This train of thought sets up a further chain of anxiety’s.
- Will the site be vacant?
- Is the river too high?
- Will there be enough exciting objects on site?
- Will there be any objects on site?
- Have I brought enough plaster?
- Will the casts be usable?
- Will the casts look appealing?
- Will I need the toilet?
- Will people stop and talk to me?
- Will people think I’m doing something illegal?
- Am I doing something illegal?
An enthralling blend of excitement and anxiety surge away, but there is nothing left to do but just arrive, decide and do. It is with relief that from the flyover I can see the site is vacant, the tide is out and a glistening surface of sloppy clay has been beautifully chiselled by the river.
Living near a river filled me with hope that I might be able to find suitable clay nearby for casting. I was lucky.
The site is near the river, surrounded by trees. There is a small path where people walk their dogs or cycle. But no-one lingers. The commanding dual carriageway hoisted above the space, slicing though some potentially great parkland, encourages people to keep on their journey. The graffiti, footprints in the river bed and litter signify the variety of ways this space is used.
This place has a name, though most people do not know it. ‘The bit near the river by…’ is probably how its location is understood, Ashton Meadows meaning almost nothing to most people. It is not a destination. It is a thoroughfare, on the edge of the city.
It’s what Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts refer to as an Edgeland.
Places are known, mentally mapped, they have names. Spaces are unknown, unnamed on the exterior of the city as well as peoples consciousness. This location is still a space to me, relatively unknown, only recently named.
Can it become a place; not just for me but for the city? Can it turn a space into a place?
I try to buy my food as local as I can. This local movement has been present for several years now and it makes sense. The carbon footprint is reduced, heritage breeds of animals become viable once again (think pigs and cows) and local businesses thrive.
With this notion I started to consider where the clay I use comes from…is it local, is it even British even? Ceramic makers like Issac Button would dig and process their own clay. Clive Bowen is an English maker and still processes his own clay as demonstrated in this video.
In a way of commenting on the local movement I think it is only right to start using my local area to make work. So what was the most simplest way of making a vessel? Clay comes from the ground and when removed or dug out a hole is created, a very simple vessel. I recently cast some holes with plaster in my garden in an attempt to discover how these forms appeared as positives.
My well dug soil meant that the positives were littered with undercuts, making casting an impossibility, though their forms were attractive.
The hunt begins to find a suitable, local location.