Resurrecting the Obsolete: Reactivating the Post-Industrial Landscape of North Staffordshire and its Associated Histories through Contemporary Art Practice
This presentation centres upon an on-going artistic mediation of a particular locality - 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 exami ne 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 my own 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 reflect a 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 I and four international artists were invited 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: Resurrecting the Obsolete
Part three will reflect upon the results of a site specific workshop between staff and students from Bergen National Academy of Art and Design in conjunction with the British Ceramics Biennial, at the former Spode factory, in Stoke-on-Trent (scheduled for September 2012). The Spode factory, a keystone of Stoke-on-Trent's industrial heritage that operated upon its original site for over 230 years, closed in 2008 with most of its production infrastructure and contents left intact. The site, which has a significant and historic presence in the city, provides unlimited scope for creative interpretation through its socio-economic histories, industrial architecture, and production and material remnants. The range of expressions from performative, to installation and object based work will be discussed as part of an on-going mechanism for culturally led regeneration of the City.