The British Ceramics Biennial is launching it’s 2015 programme in Stoke-on-Trent this evening. In 2011 I volunteered at the Biennial, and was posted at the original Spode factory site. The site had been closed in 2008, yet the hard work that had gone into preparing the site for use in the Biennial, housing ceramics from national and international artists, students and renowned practitioners, had turned the building into one of the best uses of vacant space for a gallery that I have ever seen.
I took a few photos whilst there, and was inspired to write this small creative non-fiction piece about a clay-God (based on a performance piece by Philip Lee during the festival’s run) breathing new life into the city of Stoke-on-Trent and giving new hopes to it’s inhabitants.
The work also features photos of work from Lawrence Epps, the FRESH graduates show, and sundaymorning@ekwc, a Netherlands based “international workplace where artists, designers and architects explore the technical and artistic possibilities of ceramics.” All photos were taken by, however, the key picture of Philip Lee walking naked through the factory was taken by Alis Clement.
British Ceramics Biennial 2015 runs until 8 November 2015, and is open to the public on Tuesday to Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday 12pm-5pm.
‘The voice of the individual can slowly be eroded and lost within the voice of the corporation.’
– Lawrence Epps.
It had been closed in 2008. Employees now without employment, the gates closed. Perceptions of a town forgotten and sold out, leaving the former employees, the Stoke-dwellers, with only memories of their proud occupations, passed from generation to generation. Dark forces enveloped the city, some raging against the night, shaking their fists at the sky, others perhaps, with sorrow and wistful pride, going doggedly about their business from day to day.
But at midnight, a few years later, they returned back. The factory was still, the floors slightly warm from the day’s sun which had streamed through the bleak windows. Askew signs hung from the ceiling, left there on the last day, never removed.
Then, without warning, the strip lights flickered overhead, sending a rat scuttling away across the corridor, running away from the multiplying spores on the whitewashed wall, blossoming and forming into soft fungi, patterning and emerging.
From the concrete floor in the banding area, a shape constructed from the earth underneath writhed and pulsated, forming into a mound.
The mound cracked and split, and shattered into tens of pieces, forming and groaning into unpredictable form, and slowly forming into the figure of a clay God, dripping with slip. Naked He walked, through the factory, dripping creation and resurrection onto the warm floor.
The Clay-God walked erect, through the cool air, and the Stoke-dwellers suddenly shifted in their sleep. He hibernated and whispered in their cerebellums, that He had returned, mooting a call to action, as more and more clay forms gathered and glowed in their many colours, and He would promise a festival of colours and delights from the traditions and the modern. That night, they all dreamt such beautiful visions.
And slowly the Stoke-Dwellers rose out of their cocooned slumber, and one by one made their journey to their Mecca. Some distraught over the loss of what was, yet fired by their imaginations about what might be. A Garden of Eden, in Stoke-in-Trent. The Clay God had now vanished into a shroud, standing in the middle of a festival devoted to the fine art, and those who gathered in their throngs rejoiced and reflected, as his power resonated and radiated through the city.
Word of mouth was shouted about eagerly. The festival had come. On one day, the Duchy arrived, and was happy at the Stoke-Dwellers enthusiasms and perseverance, and pledged a fee to a local factory, in the hope that it would inspire others to invest again in the marvellous city. And slowly, the voices of the individual formed again into a happy whole, and were heard over the voices of the corporations, urging those in power to eschew the supermarket money. And the Clay-God hovers over the city re-emergent, and blesses it with its slip, dripping back onto the earth, from which the re-emergence of the town will take place with promises of more festivals and bright futures yet to come.
Words and photos © James Kennedy
Apart from photo of Philip Lee © Alis Clement