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In;Site Festival Commission; Complete!

September 17, 2015

I’ve been having a little trouble uploading images, so I have split this blog up, into two of the pieces I made for the project, and the other pieces will be in the next one. I had an amazing two days in Birmingham (again more blog posts to follow of what else I got up to on my trip!), a city I have never visited before, to take part in Craftspace’s IN:SITE Festival in Birmingham Cathedral!

After a quick briefing and being introduced to the staff and volunteers, I started rolling out slabs for the big “Homage to the Unknown” urn. I had found out that around “80,000 people were buried in the cathedral churchyard. It was closed to new burials in 1885 because of crowding and insanitary conditions, but new interments could still take place in existing vaults and brick-lined graves.” (https://birminghamcathedral.wordpress.com/page/3/) I wanted to find a way to celebrate all those unknown people; those that have no grave marker but were still wonderful, beautiful and interesting nonetheless. I rolled slabs of clay onto different parts of the cathedral grounds to add impressions of the place, to imbue them with the spirit of the Cathedrals humble, unknown tenants. Then I constructed them into the urn, with a nod to the architecture of the church and to traditional urn and coffin shapes to influence the form.

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I did have a few problems with the slabs drying out much too fast – it was such a brilliantly sunny and hot day, that as I was constructing the piece, it started to crack and become too dry and fragile to join nicely. I was also using porcelain (Scarva Special Porcelain), which I have not used much for handbuilding and can dry out quite easily. Its a lovely clay which I enjoy working with; it is soft and pure looking, but can also be manipulated well and can take a lot of texture, which is what I was after. I managed to avoid disaster by making the two halves separately, and keeping them nice and damp in plastic bags for a while. Usually a piece this size would be made over a few days, and then once it was constructed as a whole, wrapped up and allowed to dry out slowly over a week or so, so I was pretty pleased with the outcome!

Placement of the finished pieces were an important aspect of the commission, and I chose to set this piece on the steps of one of the cathedral entrances. This was to elevate it to show the importance of the unknown people, and to place it in a more protected and sheltered area of the grounds.

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I also made a tribute to Samuel Lines, but I decided that it was too hot to make the urn shape I intended, as the clay would dry out too fast and crack apart or be too soft to hold its form if I left it covered up. So I decided to make a flat memorial instead. I still used the impressions of artists instruments, and the words from his blue plaque to make a more contemporary and fun memorial.

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The pieces are a little rougher and a bit unfinished to how I usually work, but I’m really pleased with what I captured in only one day. Ceramics is temperamental and takes time and so making pieces such as these in a day was quite a challenge! I really enjoyed engaging with the public about my work and encouraging people to also take part and make some small pieces themselves, but more about that part of the project in the next post!

I also want to say a BIG thank you to Craftspace for inviting me to make work for their festival, and to all the staff and amazing volunteers who supported me on the day, and in the lead up to the commission.

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