British Ceramics Biennial 2017
We’ve been back in Stoke-on-Trent for a week now. We couldn’t wait to dive straight into the amazing cultural scene upon our return. Luckily, we didn’t miss the British Ceramics Biennial, which has just completed the last of its six week run. It is held at venues all over the city. Offering free admission, it is a huge draw to people from far and wide. As the World Capital of Ceramics, there is nowhere better than Stoke-on-Trent to see the past, present and future of ceramics in one place.
The main festival site is the China Hall at the former Spode Factory site. This vast, historic space is perfect for the occasion. Inside, there are loads and loads of ceramic-based exhibitions, starting with one called Ceramic City. This showcases local firms and some of the groundbreaking work they are doing. Revolutionary new tiles and sinks that avoid splashback to prevent the spread of diseases are two of the many innovative designs.
Groundbreaking ceramic design
It is interesting that due to its unrenovated state, things like leaky roofs aredealt with by placing Ancient Greek inspired jugs on the floor. Award winners’ works ranged from those seemingly inspired by John Carpenter’s The Thing, to a ceramic rose container made from items found in the Spode factory. Oh, and this simply stunning collection of ceramic monsters.
A striking walkway leads to Fresh, which shows the works of talented ceramic students from across the world. Some of the works are pretty innovative. Ceramics and its Dimensions even uses 3D printers and laser printing. It shows how new technologies can work with ceramics production in the future. There is another interesting piece where basic machinery attached to a piano created paint splatters on a plate to create a musical design of sorts.
Many works will inspire debate
Knowledge is Power is a piece by Keith Harrison. You can see a companion piece at the City Central Library in Hanley. It is a collection of clay books in a large cage, though rather underwhelming in all honesty. Around the corner are a bunch of commissioned artworks. One of the most notable is a floor space taken up by what seemed to be large dollops of clays of various colours. Not sure about its technical skill, but it is definitely interesting to look at.
Possibly the highlight is the display about the iconic Brown Betty teapot. It can be seen everywhere from The Tiger Who Came To Tea to famous works of art, and was made in the millions once upon a time. The exhibition tells its story from uncertain origins to become one of Staffordshire’s best selling items of ceramics, with groundbreaking design elements.
Artist Ian McIntyre has worked with the local company that still make the Brown Betty, to create a new design fit for the 21st century. The new design includes the ability to be stacked in restaurants, and for a tea leaf container to be inserted.
Korean artists get in on the act
This year, the festival has collaborated with Korea too. This part of the site is rather drab, but it gives a very industrial feel to the works. They range from tall wonky chimneys made from clay, to a sinking version of the Falcon Pottery Works in Hanley. You may recognise the work of this artist from a previous exhibition at the AirSpace Gallery. There is also a floor made from wet clay that looks like quicksand!
Don’t miss the chance to have some hands-on fun in the Clay Pit, where you can do what you liked with a bunch of clay. A room at the back contains a whistling art piece by Thea Stallwood to give an untimely rebellion against the banning of whistling in places in the past.
Don’t forget to visit Hanley!
Other highlights of the British Ceramics Biennial can be found in Hanley, the city centre. At Bethesda Chapel and the Potteries Museum there is a joint exhibition called Heart:Beat, which is an exchange project between the UK and India. Once in the run-down yet majestic chapel, you can watch a video first showing the artworks being produced in rural India. It is a long, and quiet video with no talking, so head upstairs to look at the artworks from above.
In every conceivable space are ceramic roses, which have become a symbol of the city’s art scene in recent years. The project worked with artists from a culture known as Warli, and produced some fantastic work. The main focus in the chapel is a fascinating shape made from bricks surrounding a tribal piece of art. Downstairs are more artworks such as decorated bricks.
The Potteries Museum hosts the other part of the exhibition, on their lower level. There is a lot to see here actually, and it even extends into the room behind and down the ramp. A circle of painted white birds dominates the centre of the room, with a display of brightly covered tools also catching the eye.
AirSpace Gallery always inspires
Another BCB exhibition awaits across the road at the AirSpace Gallery. Entitled Fount, it relates to the idea of creating a new public fountain for Fountain Square. It is a visually striking exhibition from the moment you enter. You have to be careful where you stand, since the floor is a sea of paint poured from a device in the window. It looks very surreal, like being stuck in a cartoon.
There is a cute archway covered in what appears to be silver headless Mr Blobby statues. There was some attempts at ‘fountains’, including one with dog heads that said ‘Costa Del Hanley’ on it. Other local pottery venues such as World of Wedgwood, Emma Bridgewater Factory, Middleport Pottery and the Gladstone Pottery Museum also have events relating to the British Ceramics Biennial. All of the events we have discussed are totally free. You may have missed the 2017 festival, but hopefully we’ve inspired you to put the 2019 festival in your diary!
Did you visit the British Ceramics Biennial this year? Will you be there in two years’ time?