Sunday 10 November 2013

British Ceramics Biennial - the Spode factory

I almost missed this year's Ceramics Biennial, had it not been for Olga who posted a fascinating review of an exhibition at Salts Mill and seeing the vast, imposing industrial space where the exhibition was held, reminded me that I had not had notification about the Ceramics Biennial which is predominantly held at the Spode factory, another vast industrial space. So, I searched on google, found it and we went to Stoke-on-Trent last weekend.

British Ceramics Biennial, Stoke-on-Trent, September-November 2013. 
The Biennial is spread all around the town, but despite the fact that we were in Stoke for most of the day, we only managed to see the exhibits at the old Spode factory, and the ones at the Art Gallery and Museum. Even that was too much. So much to see, so much to think about, so much so in fact, that at first I could not decide how to organise the day's experiences. What I have decided to do is do a post on the Spode factory itself, two on the exhibits in the factory, and then a final post on what was on view at the Gallery which is an exhibition of the work of the finalists.
I felt that the Spode factory deserved a post of its own as being there, is such an overwhelming experience. A vast, cavernous space full of the echoes of 250 years of pottery making. A place that would have been busy, noisy, working to its own rhythm. A constant repetition of production and processes that is now a place of ghosts, full of the evidence of what went on for such a long time. No more people, no more noise, no more creativity and production - now an empty shell with just  the detritus of past production.

The China Hall, the entrance to the exhibition, with the café on the right and the shop on the left. Corinne Felgate's installation covered in black bin bags on the left, the red vases of the Made in China installation by Clare Twomey on the right, with a mass of the original factory clay moulds in front of it.

A closer look at those clay moulds. Such 'installations' of what remains from the Spode factory were to be found everywhere across the site

This area was full of exhibits of tableware - there will be a separate post on these 

Exhibits of pieces from the days when Spode was in full production

More moulds on trolleys

More exhibits. Two vast kilns and chimneys at the back of the space

Clay and bricks 

The area right at the end of the great hall, with individual pieces and installations 

a huge area, so much to see

studio pottery alongside discarded pieces from the past

one more view of this area, as there was so much there.

The space is so vast that there are whole sections where not much was exhibited.

Excavate, a live project, where an area of ground measuring 3x3 metres within the main factory building was in the process of being excavated

As ceramic fragments were unearthed, they were filmed and photographed. Then they were documented as drawings following traditional archaeological drawing techniques


As each drawing was completed, it was digitally printed onto a grid of blank ceramic plates, displayed as an installation, providing an on-going demonstration of the progress of the excavation

looking closer.

Repetition Over Time. In this installation the continuous feed of water into the clay gradually softened it and began to change the form, undergoing a metamorphosis, providing an echo of the building's identity.

We then moved on to the Meadows building, an area that had been closed to the public during the two previous Biennale. There, Topographies of the Obsolete: Vociferous Void, a site-specific research project, initiated by Bergen Academy of Art and Design from Norway engaged in a series of interventions by various artists. The project explored interconnected themes presenting ceramic and clay as both material and subject in contemporary art practice.

an installation of old moulds 

and more 

Another installation of all the peeling paint and plaster to be found all over the site

One of the many rooms in the Meadows


looking closer
A wasteland

This room was closed to us and we could only look through the glass 

as was this - drawing and design 

Such abandonment, it breaks your heart 

 And what about this? The ultimate surreal experience. Not just a piano, but a Bechstein.

An installation - unfortunately I did not get the name of the artist 

Photographs of the heydays of production on the walls of the corridors
as here

The Director's office, I think 


looking closer 

More transfers 

Looking out 

Topographies of the Obsolete installation

More transfers 


Looking out 


Such an enormous site 


This office was totally trashed

More moulds 

The Spode roses 

The Spode chimney 

Waiting for the transfers 



  1. Wow! You only had a day for it all - just looking at the buildings alone must have filled the mind. There are extraordinary interiors and exteriors, and I love the views through. The deliberate and the accidental installations look fascinating. I look forward to seeing the ceramics themselves.

    1. It was an amazing experience Olga, and it was the same two years ago. That vast space, the echoes of all that production that went on in the past... And Stoke itself - chimneys everywhere, and it's so run down and depressed and depressing and it breaks your heart. And in the middle of it all a thriving art gallery that was packed with people - so many contradictions, an incredible place.