My doctoral research undertaken at Sunderland (2009-16) explored cultural assumptions, aesthetics and values in relation to contemporary art creation which uses clay in an impermanent form as a means of artistic expression, its focus being personal praxical development.
The research programme sought to identify where impermanence might appropriately be located in contemporary ceramic art, utilising a practice-focused methodology. My practical experimentation and theoretical considerations identify materiality, site sensitivity, performativity, witness, agency and ’audience’ engagement as key themes for artists engaging with ceramic impermanence. The performance aesthetic is consequently argued to be the appropriate framework supportive of this important aspect of contemporary ceramics.
As the focus for ceramic expression increasingly shifts from gallery to performance space and beyond, artists are utilising clay in ways which are anything but durable – indeed, anything but craft-based: from Jim Melchert’s Changes: Performance with Drying Slip (Amsterdam 1972, re-staged Houston 2010), via Neil Brownsword’s Marl Hole (together with Alexandra Engelfriet, Pekka Paikkari, Torbjørn Kvasbø and Johnny Magee, Gorsty Quarry, North Staffordshire, October 2009), to Philip Lee’s Oxford Slip (2012) and Phoebe Cummings’ Production Line (2015). The research therefore explored why, and how, contemporary artists persistently make transient work with clay, including the adoption/adaptation of installation, performance and short-term projects in the expanded field.
Work involving clay and ceramic across the artistic spectrum embeds the use of this material as an accepted medium for expression more centrally than seemed possible as recently as twenty five years ago. More specifically, using impermanent forms of clay and ceramic aligns with experimental postmodern installation and performative work. In common with others working with transience and change, ceramic-based artists are generating work which characteristically engages with site-sensitive, time-bound and/or audience-specific expressivity for which the gallery is not necessarily the natural environment. Breaking out of a ‘white cube’ mentality demonstrates the growing maturity of a form of art which has struggled in the past with its ‘craft’ connotations, relocating it in the more compatible aesthetic environment of time-based and live art.
My site-sensitive, performative (and sometimes transgressive) exploration with clay and textile builds on earlier experimentation with unstable ceramic materials, destructive processes and exposure of work to external forces. In this I continue to probe issues of loss, memory, witness and human/environment relationships.