A visit to the British Ceramics Biennial

by Philip Gowman on 4 December, 2017

in Ceramics, Event reports and reviews, Exhibition reviews and comment, Gallery

Lee Kang-hyo's opening performance

Lee Kang-hyo’s opening performance (image courtesy British Ceramics Biennial)

The first work to greet you as you entered the Spode China Works – the primary venue of the British Ceramics Biennial in Stoke-on-Trent – is the monumental work created in situ by Lee Kang-hyo. At the opening of the exhibition Lee did one of the performances for which he has become known: the decoration of a large pot to the sound of samulnori percussion music. The rough, elemental work is full of energy.

Also in the main venue was the work of Kay Aplin – a deconstructed end view of a Korean pavilion: representations of roof tiles in richly coloured glazed porcelain:

Opposite was the work of Kim Jin and Baek Kyung-won entitled Shadow Workers, paying tribute to the work of female potters in a style familiar to lovers of Wedgwood Jasperware. Reflected in the mirrored acrylic that provided the background of the porcelain figures you could see the rooftiles of Aplin’s Pavilion. Both the Korean potters had a residency at Aplin’s Ceramic House earlier in the year.

In a large space at one end of the works was the collaboration between Neil Brownsword and Oh Hyang-jong. The documentation in this area space was a little lacking so it was difficult to determine what was going on, but on one side of the room there was a veritable forest of giant onggi vases, presumably the work of Oh while nearer the window were piles of untreated clay in various forms:

In the centre of the room was the recognisable work of Kim Juree: a detailed model of the Falcon Pottery in unfired clay, gradually subsiding and dissolving into a puddle of mud – sadly and all too accurately representing the derelict condition of the buildings today.

Projected onto the bare brick wall of the interior was a time-lapse video of Kim’s work melting in the Victoria and Albert Museum the previous month:

Kim Juree: Evanescent Landscape: Falcon Pottery Stoke-on-Trent (2017) - with a projection of her Hwigyeong work dissolving in the background

Kim Juree: Evanescent Landscape: Falcon Pottery Stoke-on-Trent (2017) – with a projection of her Hwigyeong work dissolving in the background

Kim Juree’s work was also on show in the museum atttached to the Wedgwood works in Barlastan. Here her work was of workers’ cottages (associated with Stoke’s Middleport Pottery) gradually collapsing.

Slightly less tangible collaborative work was also available: British and Korean sound artists had worked together to create an audio tour: you had to download an app onto you iPhone, and then walk around a couple of locations in the centre of Hanley. Your inbuilt GPS would trigger different ceramic-related sound recordings. Ryu Han-kil’s Texture Shifting could be heard outside the City Central Library, Choi Sehee’s Friction at Bethesda Chapel and Kim Young-eun’s Some Sounds from Kitchenware at AirSpace Gallery. British sound artists Jez riley French, Joseph Young and Jason Singh contributed works audible at the Spode Works, Emma Bridgewater and the Potteries Museum respectively.

Hanley's Bethesda Chapel - site of Sehee Choi's sound piece entitled Friction

Hanley’s Bethesda Chapel – site of Sehee Choi’s sound piece entitled Friction

I kept Lucky Seven Minicabs busy during my day trip from London by rail. Without a car you are at a serious disadvantage if you want to tour the highlights of the potteries. But the trip was well worthwhile as an experience of some of Britain’s heritage and of course to see the collaborations of the individual artists concerned.

The British Ceramics Biennial was at various locations in the Stoke-on-Trent area, 23 Sept – 5 Nov 2017.

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