Seeking Decadence

As part of a project for the Holburne Museum Bath, I am collaborating with fellow Bath Spa MA Ceramicists to create an event highlighting the increase in ‘ready to go’ packaging and a decrease in ceramic tableware. We have each chosen a ‘ready to go’ food product and are creating ceramic works to display this specific food.

For my work I have chosen jelly. Jelly was a very decadent food, served only to the rich and always set in exciting moulds. These moulds were originally ceramic products before cheaper metal moulds came along.

Initially I had been taking disposable packaging commonly associated with off the shelf eating and using vacuum forming to create new moulds. This process responds to how the original moulds were made.

However, I then went to The Georgian Museum, Bristol and found some very decadent (albeit copper) jelly moulds. These moulds reminded me that jelly was about showing off, impressing your guests; so I had to start thinking about how I could make my ceramic piece much more decadent.

It seems from the mould forms above that jelly moulds commonly have a tiers/layers of adorned columns or crenelations like crowns/castles. So I needed to achieve a certain about of tiering in my work.

I therefore started with the basic forms of preexisting disposable packaging and started to stack them in a range of compositions.

Making individual slip cast versions of these forms enabled me to stack and reconfigure the forms so that they were never repeated; a one off being more decadent that a mass produced object perhaps. The results so far, are documented in the following image.

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I begin also to squish and crush some of the parts to acknowledge the disposable nature of the original packaging. Some compositions are more successful than others; all of them appearing slightly futuristic. What is pleasing about these pieces is that they can be stacked on top of each other, permitting a range of different compositions.

However, I felt like this method was slightly too simple and a bit obvious. I started to explore about how else I can make moulds with the limited resources I have over the summer. Without being able to mould plastic my only other option was to form my mould directly from plaster.

I used a hammer and chisel and cut away parts of surplus plaster moulds, leaving raw exposed areas. Once slip cast these chiselled parts came to look like rock.

That reminded me immediately of stone carved architecture and particularly pillars – the ultimate plinth. The first four images were taken in Gerona and document how decadent pillars were made. The second four are images of pillars found on the Holburne Museum building. Generally a very decorative capital (the top part) a semi decorative plinth (the lower part) and always a fairly simple middle part. This process of making pillars has inspired me to create my ceramic jelly plinth in a similar style, with a semi plain middle and decadent plinth and capital.

As with pillars the middle sections were commonly made from a series of stones carved to appear as one, so too will my piece. It seems much more simpler to now ignore the vast range of disposable food packaging and stick with the plastic tub that holds the ‘ready to go’ jelly. From this simple form I can create height by stacking and decadence through vacuumed formed plastic and chiseling at plaster.

LINDA BROTHWELL – The Missing

An exhibition at the Holburne Museum in where figures were removed from their marble plinths. Shots of decadent candelabra’s from the Holburne collection.

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Tea Became Dinner (2004)

When I was younger our evening meal was always called Tea. We ate tea as a family when Dad got in from work and always, always before 6pm; around the time Neighbours was scheduled on BBC1 (approx 5.30pm). The Neighbours theme tune was comparable to creating a Pavlov’s Dogs situation back then. I remember anticipating spaghetti bolognaise, made from a Shepard’s pie recipe (always made with beef mince AND baked beans), served on top of pasta, or on top of rice. Growing up on a farm we had a lot of meat, veg and gravy meals, alongside fish fingers, chips and beans, and all the equivalents. Every meal was served with sliced white bread and butter; a routine I harbored until I left the Isle of Wight and went to University.

All my family ate tea, all my friends ate tea. The only time I ate dinner was on a Sunday, at lunch time. But now in my adult life, I refer to the evening meal as dinner and have done so for a long time.

So what changed? What specifically brought about the decision in me to change the name of the evening meal from tea to dinner? Is one better than the other? Does one have more social clout than the other?

I left the Isle of Wight in 2002 to study an art Foundation course in Bournemouth. Living with four others from the Island and thinking about the types of food we were eating back then, there wasn’t much difference from the food I had been eating at home. Of course I met people from far flung corners of the UK and abroad widening my experiences (at this point I still didn’t know what an avocado was), but a similar home life to that of the Isle of Wight and similar foods being eaten meant that I was definitely still eating tea at this point.

I know that by the time I ended my degree I was eating dinner. During the first year of my degree I started to cook the evening meal with a friend. This period not only improved my cooking skills, but the shared experience widened my horizons of the foods I could cook at home; namely food from other cultures- mostly Italian, Chinese and Indian.

The most significant change happened during my second year. As usual a group of us from halls found a shared house together, somewhere removed of the parental reach found in university managed accommodation. At this point I ate humous for the first time and I started using herbs and creating meals from scratch(ish), not just using jars of sauces. We continued to share the cooking regularly and the competitive pressure mounted to create more exciting, boundary pushing meals than the previous cook.

I was invited out for food and I hosted friends, people who I didn’t live with. Time pressures meant that we wold eat later into the evening 7-8.30pm –  quite a significant change from the traditional 5.30pm slot. Alcohol, namely wine, would be taken alongside the meal and there may occasionally be a starter or dessert, but rarely both.

It is important to mention here that I studied in a very small country town, one without a cinema even and the lack of entertainment forced us students to create our own – and a part of this was cooking and eating.

I started to visit the Island less often and Island friends would tell me that I’d changed. And I was changing. I’d allowed myself to broaden my experiences which subsequently  informed my decisions in a whole new manor of ways. The language I used altered, cultivated from my course no doubt, but also through social connections. My accent softened.

The education I was receiving and my social situation was dramatically altering my outlook on life, my values and even my taste. I may have been in debt at this point but my cultural capital was in a metaphorical Swiss bank account. Looking back, I recognise this as a time when I thought that my future could have a brighter outlook than I’d previously been encouraged to consider.

Despite the fact that my awareness of my growing cultural capital may have enabled me to simply change the noun I used for the evening meal, which other factors distinguished dinner from tea?

  • Time of the meal
  • Range of foods
  • Courses
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Cooking from scratch(ish)
  • Social pressure/competition
  • Hosting

In a bid to find out what this discovery means to me I have started to produce 2D works based on this name change.

 

Tea Vs Dinner – https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/aug/03/tea-with-grayson-perry-supper-dinner

Contemporary takeaway – a modular game

On saturday, with a severe amount of apathy some friends and I ordered takeaway. Guiltily choosing Wagamama over some of the more local, independent restaurants.

Having dined in at Wagamama a couple of times, I was fully aware of the different ceramic vessels used for their menu, bowls, plates, cups etc. However, I was very surprised to see that they had mirrored these shapes within their takeaway range.

My chicken Raman dish was served using three separate units – a bowl, a lid and half-moon dish containing the sauce itself.

 

Other dishes had small, yogurt pot size containers in which a dipping sauce or dressing was served. These could be secured into the middle of any sized bowl – demonstrating the brilliance of uniformity.

 

This modular approach kept an amount of entertainment value throughout the meal, passing individual or combined containers to each other to share. I feel like this approach may be significant in how I think about the Holborne Ready Foods project – using modular parts to add value to the entertainment of dining.

This element of stacking and un-stacking reminds me of Lego, Duplo, or Brio train sets. Perhaps this play with modular pieces brings to life some of the games/entertainment once enjoyed when young?

 

Developing the Ceramic Tablecloth

Hella Jongerius, a Dutch designer, has united ceramic tableware and tablecloths in a piece where she knitted the two together (pictured in the following video 0.48 secs or here).

 

This gives me great encouragement for combining my own tablecloth and ceramics. When clearing out my studio space I assembled my vacuumed formed cast of preexisting molds together. The results permitted an insight as to how a whole table of objects may appear.

This reminds me of Ryan Ganders work Tell My Mother not to Worry , 2012 where made his daughters den of sheets into a permanent marble sculpture (as this Google image search aptly depicts).

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Using fabric (in place of a tablecloth/napkin) depicts how we can make assumptions about the original object even when hidden or enveloped. As the napkin remains the one common element with all aspects of dining, creating bowls, plates etc from ceramic napkins could be a potential avenue for this project.

Update: 1st June 2016

A research trip to a Cash and Carry provided the opportunity to look at a wide variety of disposable food containers. Despite rejecting the process of slip casting these containers in Making the Disposable Indisposable, I am interested in attempting to capture the form in clay somehow.

 

By slumping clay slabs over these containers, their forms could be make into ceramics. Paper or card containers would burn off in the kiln, removing the necessity to remove the container before firing. This has been problematic in the past and several of my forms have lost their shape. The other issue is that the clay form may sag once the paper formed has burned away, distorting the shape further. However, this is process worthy of attempting.

 

 

 

(S)Platters

During a trip to the TATE Britain this weekend over the course of some refreshment a jug of milk was spilled (shown above). This spill reminded me of some of the dishes (food and ceramic) on the menu of The Man Behind the Curtain.

Realising that I could use casting slip, I set about creating some organic spills on plaster bats. When leather hard, these spills could be manipulated into different shapes. Manipulated in a specific way, these spills could act as platters for the ready to go jelly plinths being produced for the Holburne Museum. Draped over preexisting molds, these (s)platters would comment on the past and present of food display.

This eventually lead me to develop another alternative method of creating plinths. By composing a range of plaster forms – cast from preexisting packaging – I could drop thin slabs of porcelain onto these compositions and create an organic, freestanding plinth (having removed the plaster packaging models when leather hard). This was inspired by the process of Luke Shalan.

For some of these forms I cut out circular bat like slabs, replicating signs found when making plates. The slab is then obstructed by the plaster packaging models, combining ready to go eating and entertainment dining.

Update 24 May 2016

Reflection on action:

during firing the individual (s)platters were placed on top/overlapping each other. This composition was extremely pleasing. It not only enhances the organic qualities of the spills (something I found very difficult to replicate)  alongside a curatorial element that makes the pieces feel more resolved.

The quantities of 0%, 5% and 10% black copper oxide resemble organic stones or pebbles, which further remind me of the stoneware plates and bowls of high-end restaurants NOMA and Casa Mia.

So, how to develop this approach? It was suggested that I look at the slip trailing work of Clive Bowen and his son Dylan Bowen. I was familiar with the work of Bowen senior, who’s making approach though gestural at times is fairly controlled; further outlined in this video.

The slip trailing of Dylan Bowen (found here) resembles some of the vigorous splatter marks found in the food served in The Man Behind the Curtain. This approach to making (s)platters would unite the conceptual ideas as well as having links in traditional ceramic making. The overlapping/combined colour effect above could be achieved by layering different coloured slips.

In an attempt to combine the (s)platter with the slip cast plinth forms I had already created I started to use varied plaster forms on which to pour the slip.

During my first attempt I poured the slip onto plaster bats used for plate making. I wanted to capture the spill in 3D. I suspected that the slip would shrink over this form, preventing it from releasing easily. My suspicions were  true and despite capturing some great spills, the slip refused to release from the plaster bats. I then returned to using flat bats and even a bowl form which enabled me to shape the spill into a curved vessel. This process is worth exploring further.

Man Only Dines #2

For each of us there will be a restaurant, cafe or takeaway that we went to for the first time without parental consent or instruction. At the age of thirteen, McDonald’s was the venue in which I chose to commemorate this independent decision making.

The act of using chopsticks symbolises my current passion for oriental cuisine and embodies the knowledge and experiences I have acquired over the past nineteen years. The act of bookending my dining decisions hopes to highlight the conflict between my teenage preferences and the adult choices I make today.

The Man Behind the Curtain – Leeds

Making reference to the line in the Wizard of Oz, ‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’ this Leeds restaurant is using its ceramics as well as its food to make an impact with its customers. Using that line in particular, it appears that this restaurant is much more about what’s happening out front and not about the chef, behind the curtain. More about this restaurant can be found in this Guardian article.

Where ceramics is disappearing from convenience restaurants all over the country, fine-dining entertainment restaurants are embracing well designed/handcrafted ceramic tableware. Interestingly, each piece of ceramics is matched to a specific dish, therefore establishing an inextricable link between the food and the ceramics.

In The Man Behind The Curtain, the ceramics takes clear inspiration from the food. Wild, gestural splats are mirrored by plates and dishes (a loose label) which appear to have been frozen in time.

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Where I had previously noticed that ceramics remained in use when tablecloths were present, The Man Behind the Curtain – a clear example of high end entertainment dining  – has replaced the drama and elegance of the tablecloth with ceramics.

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So what objects if any connect our eating experiences? From this discovery it seems that the last remaining link, an object which still unites every restaurant, takeaway and cafe up and down the country is the napkin. (As seen above).