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

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).

ryan gander

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.

 

 

 

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).

Ceramic use and Tablecloths

I have been caught up on notion of how ceramic tableware is used when tablecloths are present; particularly as there is a distinct lack of both ceramic and tablecloth in convenience restaurants.

The History of the Tablecloth website makes some very clear points about the tablecloths continuing importance in dining culture. Key points to take from this are :

  1. Recording of first tablecloth mentioned in c.103 AD.
  2. Used for catching spills- some tables were too ornate to be disguised by fabric.
  3. Tablecloths were used by all from Middle Ages onwards.
  4. White tablecloths were a sign of status- having enough staff to keep them clean and bright.
  5. The rich would have bespoke tablecloths to fit their grand tables.
  6. …although multi clothes were used to cover very large tables.
  7. Linen was expensive, often obtaining the stature of a family heirloom.
  8. In later centuries the tablecloth was decorated with luxury fabrics like lace and embroidery.

Having looked also at this ceramic piece from the Holburne collection for another project I am working on, I was interested to find out that the tablecloth would be removed before dessert.

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Was this for cleanliness? Or an opportunity to show off your table and your linen? Does the length of the tablecloth have a historical/social significance?

As ceramics disappears from all manors of eating establishments, it is interesting that ceramic tableware and tablecloths remain united in fine dining establishments and at home. Could this link be made even more inextricable or combined even?

In a bit to understand this further I have begun to create a ceramic tablecloth – an object that could harness the decadence and practicalities of ceramics and tablecloth combined.

In order to achieve this successfully the signifiers for a tablecloth are:

  1. Folds/gatherings
  2. Creases (sometimes)
  3. Hem
  4. Draping over the surface edge

This maquette for a larger tablecloth has provided a clear insight into the practical difficulties in achieving a clay version of fabric.

 

  • Thickness
  • Draping/cracking
  • Crispness/ironed effect
  • Drying/firing

What’s also interesting is that the wet clay will record any human interaction. The idea of creating a raw tablecloth, using it for a dining experience and making this record permanent through firing may provide evidence into the social motions and movements of our tableware as we eat.

Are there patterns to our dining culture? Is lunch different to dinner and so on?

Update – 5 May 2016

Using a porcelain slab I wondered whether it would be possible to create a tablecloth and plate combined, uniting both functions in one.

Getting over the slump

I’ve been a bit stuck the past couple of days, unable to see truth or purpose in any of the work I have been making. In order to move on from this I’d like to summarise what I know about eating culture and what I have been able to observe and determine from my research?

  1. Convenience food is dominating lunch times.
  2. Convenience restaurants are suited to ‘on the go’ lifestyle; quick service and public (bench) seating.
  3. Convenience food is fast.
  4. Convenience food is eaten off premises.
  5. Convenience food is eaten on premises in disposable packaging.
  6. Convenience packaging is single use.
  7. Convenience food is mass produced.
  8. Convenience packaging is mass produced.

 

  1. Ceramics remains prevalent at home and full-service dining.
  2. Ceramics is being replaced in all other places aside from those mentioned above.
  3. Ceramics is often used with a table cloth.
  4. Ceramics is often used with slow food.
  5. Ceramics is often made for Michelin restaurants.

 

  1. The knife is disappearing from English eating habits.
  2. Paraphernalia is used to match the culture (chopsticks, spoon, hands, bread) when dining out.

 

  1. I love eating out.
  2. I love cooking.
  3. I use paraphernalia to match the cultural roots of the food (chopsticks etc) even at home.
  4. I set out a full place setting but often the knife goes unused.
  5. I cook dishes from different cultures and chefs.
  6. I’m currently interested in Yotam Ottolenghi – his food is great and his cultural capital is vast. (Gay Jew from Jerusalem, string of London restaurants, recipe books, writes for the Guardian)
  7. Cooking food from chefs I perceive to have integrity adds to my cultural capital.
  8. I tell people about recipes they should attempt.
  9. I cook nothing from Anthony Worrall-Thompson or Gary Rhodes.
  10. I have a guilty pleasure for McDonalds and KFC but cant face eating it publicly.
  11. I buy my food from Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and local independent retailers.
  12. I feel comfortable telling people I buy from the aforementioned retailers. 
  13. I’d love to be vegetarian.
  14. I can’t digest vast quantities of dairy without embarrassing myself.

 

I dont eat:

  1. Dairy from cows – cheese, milk, ice cream, butter.
  2. Cucumber.
  3. Black pudding.
  4. Olives.
  5. Cold cured meats like salami.
  6. Pork.

Potential ideas from this reflection on action

  • Ceramic food in disposable packaging – slip coating disposable packaging didn’t work as mentioned in the previous post. If the packaging cant be ceramic, maybe the food can. 
  • Portraits of people from what they don’t eat; highlighting the middle class obsession with dietary disorders and the  moral high ground of food origins. (Veganism, buying local, responsible products)
  • Highlighting the connection between the remaining constant link of ceramics and tablecloths. 

Chopsticks and Signifiers

When I began making my own press-mold porcelain chopsticks (from previous article), I thought a pair of two same length sticks would be enough to quantify as chopsticks.

The pair of porcelain sticks perform exactly like chopsticks (as seen below), they can lift food from one place to another. But they are difficult to recognise as chopsticks when not in action.

So what signifiers does a chopstick possess that informs the viewer of its authenticity?

This video, following the making method of wooden chopsticks provided some key insights.

In this video the man makes two chopsticks cut from a tree on his own land. Important stages in this process include:

1) two lengths of the same material

2) two lengths the same size

3) tapered ends

4) decoration (somewhat minimal)

So if I am to produce objects that can be recognised as chopsticks I must achieve all four signs.

Potential, and ultimately minimal, decoration could be achieved with a simple enamel glaze in the traditional porcelain style of blue and white.

Similarly I am attempting methods to refine the tapering process in order to achieve desirable objects. Potentially these objects could bring opportunities for ceramics to be used in conjunction with convenience meals.