Commission for the British Ceramics Biennial 2019. On from the 6th September - 17th November 2019 at Middleport Pottery.
At Middleport Pottery the artists have led an explorative project, creating a series of temporary structures, interventions and soundscapes across the site. The iconic interior of the bottle kiln, the hidden corners and traces of former factory buildings become active, contemplative spaces where visitors experience the layered qualities of this extraordinary site of living heritage.
The artists, Guillaume Dujat (Sound Artist), Helen Felcey (Artist Curator), Kieran Hanson (Film-maker) and Joe Hartley [Standard Practice] (Product Designer) have come together as an interdisciplinary team to shape and create Resonating Spaces. Over three months, the group have been working with members of Burslem Jubilee Project, as co-producers and participants in the exploration and expression of collective outcomes.
The inner chamber, Middleport’s sole remaining bottle kiln, provides the atmospheric setting for unfamiliar sonic and intriguing compositions, marking the rhythms of the factory and capturing moments of clay in transformational states. Visitors are invited to play their part, adding dry clay into the mix, contributing to this curious soundscape.
On entering the outer area of the kiln, you will find a container full of wrapped, unfired items. You are invited to take an item and carry it round into the inner chamber of the kiln. Removing the item from its wrapping, here you can place your item into the vessel. Listen to a cacophony of sounds as the clay rehydrates and the material state shifts from one to another.
On the hour, within the bottle kiln, a ten-minute sound composition will be triggered, exploring the sounds that have been recorded around Middleport factory site.
Within this quiet corner of Middleport factory, we encounter a new composition of immersive sound. This is a space for discovering the natural resonance and harmonics of clay. The lean-to was historically the point on site where the raw pottery materials were lifted from the canal boat into the factory. When transportation moved from canal to road, this once buzzing area became somewhat dormant. Decades on, the quiet presence and traces of the former factory processes remain. The machinery, marks of production and material residue, now revealed, have provided space for new production.
A series of clay slabs are arrayed within the space. Each slab has a specific series of natural frequencies, which are defined by the clay body, the surface treatment and firing. The sound composition is shaped entirely by the resonant tones of each clay slab, emitted by sending vibrations through the material.
Lengths of hazel have been re-introduced to the canal wharf. Historically, these materials were used extensivelt for the making of crates, transporting fragile wares on their journey along the canal and out into the world. Here, they are utilised in building temporary structures, which look over the water.
Enclosing the side, the hazel units create a social space for sitting and making by the canal, where the material and human exchange continues to take place.
To the left of the enclosure, a structure has been built over the settling tanks, to protect the working part of the factory. The tanks are continually filtering the clay from the water as it leaves the Middleport site.
There will be workshops on the canal wharf every Wednesday and Saturday. These will include brick-making activities and component assembly for structures on site.
Throughout the festival, hazel and clay components will be freely available for visitors to explore and create structures daily.
The site of the former Frit Kiln at Middleport Pottery will be the focal point for a brick-making project which establishes a material exchange between Stoke on Trent and St Austell, Cornwall.
For a large part of Middleport’s history, China Clay was brought from St Austell via boat. To re-establish this historic link, White Gold Project (St Austell, Cornwall) and British Ceramics Biennial (Stoke on Trent) have initiated a new material between exchange with Middleport Pottery. White china clay from St Austell and red etruria marl clay from Stoke on Trent, have been shared for use in community brickmaking projects across the sites.
The former frit kiln will begin to show the production of bricks throughout the festival, bringing visibility to past and present exchanges.
Brick-making workshops will take-place on the canal wharf every Wednesday and Saturday throughout the festival.
The annual White Gold Festival of Clay takes place September 21st, 2019 in clay town St Austell, coinciding with the British Ceramics Biennial festival.
At Middleport Lodge, film-maker Kieran Hanson creates a filmic response to the industrial and creative practices at Middleport Pottery, tracing the project as it passes back and forth between times and cultures.
‘We have learnt to listen to the voice of pottery, as never imagined before. We have wondered how this place has been kept safe for over 130 years, alive, with all its stories and histories. As we make together on site, we sense our pasts, our present and futures.’
- Burslem Jubilee Member