Addicted: clay is my jam.

So what is  slip-casting?

Slip-casting is the art of using plaster of Paris moulds to make casts from liquid clay. And to me this sounds delicious.

I had never heard of slip casting until I first found a course at the Midlands Art Centre on it May 2018.  I was heavily pregnant and working as a trainee GP at that time. It was a hard time for me physically, and a hard time for our little family on may other fronts, but I felt determined to enrol on this 12 week course despite being due to give birth halfway through. I told myself that even the first 6 weeks would be worth the course fee of £168. And it is true. If you want to do a course that involves making stuff that looks “proper” with your hands, and you like colour and mould-making, then this course definitely gives you a lot of opportunity. The first one being to learn from amazing ceramic artist Sue Dyer about all things clay from history, to building techniques, to fixing cracks to decorative options. Secondly you have the opportunity to get the work you make kiln-fired. This is a core transitional process in ceramic-making and involves a lot of trial and error, and cracks and broken hearts. But eventually the cracks get smaller and you get to make proper stuff and it’s amazing. And then that starts you off on just how many things can I mould and transform? And that’s where I am now. Looking at everything with an eye to moulding it, firing it and decorating it to make something cool. I love this process. I have learnt so much, and have much more to learn.

My first mould was polystyrene cup. I loved the simplicity of moulding this form. It was a one piece mould and I have made three little cups so far. I felt so elated when my cups came out of their final firing, so happy at the things I had made. But then I noticed how small they were, and it taught me about how clay gradually shrinks with each firing and how porcelain has a high percentage shrink rate.

My second mould was a little plastic trifle bowl. This was more complicated and has only given me one piece so far, I used a white glaze on white porcelain, the walls were too thick and the bottom was uneven but it ay be a grower. This started me on a path of looking at everyday plastic packaging and other items with an eye to moulding them. the two experiences combined have also led me to investigate 3d scanning as a way of upscaling the original before it shrinks. I haven’t made my own index piece yet, but as I get more ideas, I know this is the way forward for me.

With each piece that I mould and cast I learn about my own aims and tastes. So I know that I care deeply about the form, I’m interested in using the form as the decoration rather than just having a superficial  decorative glaze. I like faceted surfaces and angles. And I need to play with more colour combinations. I want to use the white glaze again probably on a coloured base with a textured surface. I like big chunky pieces, so I need to scale up my originals and consider clay bodies other than porcelain which is generally used for its translucence. However, my own research into the use of porcelain by commercially productive potters has led me to realise that it is also often used arbitrarily to raise the monetary value of pieces.

Throughout its history porcelain has been a highly prized material. In Jindezhen (Jin-duh-jen), China, where it was invented, this was originally for its physical properties. However, as the years went by and Europeans became aware of it, spies were sent into China to discover how it was made. Porcelain’s initially scarcity raised its value manifold to the the point where this is now in our shared consciousness (if you believe in such a thing). Saying this, however, toilets are also made out of porcelain for completely different reasons than translucency. And so that fact takes a bit of pressure off in me in terms of making my walls thin enough to demonstrate the prized translucency. I’m more interested in how amazingly durable it its. You don’t get many Terracotta toilets, so I don’t have to use crappy old terracotta for my designs even if they don’t glow in the light.

 I had my baby half-way through my first ceramics course and I went back three weeks after. I had to finish off my pieces and I found a way of making it work. And I have tried my best to do that ever since, show up to my “pottery class” even though I’m not really a potter and even though I am regularly late, or tired or leaving my baby with family for a couple of hours. Then one day on my way to my class, I realised I was leaving my baby (with his dad) for this course, and I realised it was because I really love what I do there. And without Sue Dyer’s guidance, patience and kind attitude as a teacher, I may not have had the rewarding experience of moulding making.

And so it is, I’m tooled up and ready to go. I bought a fettling knife a while ago, a clay cutter (basically a garrotte) after that. Most recently I have purchased a respirator to avoid inhaling either the plaster dust or the dust from sanding off my ceramics.

eddy.and.june : Instagram Film Photographers

 

Why I follow eddy.and.june on Instagram

I am writing this at home, in the early hours of an ordinary Tuesday morning in Birmingham. Chinese New Year has come around and we are in the Year of the Dog. Happy New Year.

In this strange and uncertain world, there are a few things that you can be certain about: death is the obvious one, getting stuck in some form of traffic, the need for an income to secure your basic needs as well as being bombarded on a daily basis by imagery, especially photography. Worse than this, we are surrounded by a lot of average, predictable, boring photography. Worse than that we regularly see boring photography of extra-ordinary things e.g. most landscape photography is some mountain or other that you have never been to but have somehow “seen” before even though it may have been a different mountain in another completely different part of the world taken on an expensive camera using a lens that could probably pay for a small car. For some reason that kind of photography reminds of  intricate heavy metal riffs, lots of pointless un-engaging fiddling.

That’s why I follow eddy.and.june on Instagram. Their Instagram feed provides an antidote to stuffy self-important photography.  Take a look below.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Who are they?

Eddy.and.June. describe themselves as “Two People. Hella Cameras.Lots of film”. They take analog photographs of seemingly ordinary scenes, usually on 35mm film, sometimes using deposable film cameras. For me, their photographs capture something quietly comical or poetic that would have been overlooked were it not for the curious eye of either Eddy or June.

Eddy and June themselves are enigmatic and elusive figures, the never take selfies other than of their shadows or distorted reflections, they don’t seem to have a website, the don’t appear to be scrambling for an ‘Influencer’ gig. Their names alone and in combination effortlessly convey their ordinary yet distinctive style. Based on info from their feed, they are a couple with a young son who I think are based in the United States but they don’t often geotag their photos so this is a guess based on the look of the content. They’re definitely not based in Birmingham (UK).

It seems that their son, O, is also showing signs of photographic talent based the photo below. That’s an analog photograph on 35mm film taken by a 2-year-old, Eddy and June’s two year old!

Photo from the eddy.and.june feed on Instagram.
Photo from the eddy.and.june feed on Instagram.

Their feed depicts a quiet adventure of interesting and overlooked empty space across America.

They take pictures of walls with subtle colour differences caused by shadows, lights, re-plastering, painted over graffiti as well as quirky combinations of street furniture from sofas beside bins to leaking drain pipes. The film shot colours keep their glow despite being scanned digital images.

To me, I see a preoccupation with colour, humour, light, smallness and fragments of scenes.  I hated using the “q-word” to describe their subject matter, but I really admire their idiosyncratic style. It reminds me of what GK Chesterton said about delighting in the everyday:

“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder”.

Their aesthetic also reminds me of the short film by director Jem Cohen with Elliott Smith called Lucky 3:

Camera Gear

Their earliest posts document the wide array of film cameras owned by the duo including a Yashica T4 Super, a Nikon F, and a Pentax 67. Whilst they are clearly technically extremely proficient photographers who do occasionally include their medium format shots, their Instagram feed demonstrates something more than mere technical proficiency with cameras. The majority of photos are 35mm shots and play to the strength of this medium. This goes against the current trend towards larger and larger formats in photography from medium to large and  ultra-large as well as heritage techniques such wet plate photography. Even digital photography is adopting this trend, in the hunt for more pixels, the richer prosumers are increasingly being tempted into the digital medium format market by the likes of Hasselblad.

By contrast, the main advantage of resisting this trend is the freshness and immediacy of 35mm. Yes, the sensor area is smaller than other ‘fancier’ and more ‘learned’ types of photography, but the 35mm camera can capture things more quickly and is more likely to be at hand than a large format behemoth that might take 15 minutes to set up. It produces images that are less like ‘the naked eye’ than a medium format camera, but if you’re making art, this is just a part of your medium. Van Gogh didn’t just paint what he saw, neither did Mark Rothko. It must be possible as an artist, to interact with your given medium within its limitations to make something that expresses your artistic intent. That is what interests me as a consumer of art. And that is what I see in the work of Eddy and June, lightness of touch, stillness yet immediacy, rich yet subtle colours. Photos that are not weighed down by technical pre-occupations with macro details, lighting or depth or field for the sake of it. Photos that are not bokeh’ed beyond recognition or HDR’d ad nauseum.

Hopes for an eddy.and.june exhibition

If/when they exhibit their work, I hope they don’t use the standard small-to-average-sized-photographs-mounted-on-card-sequentially-on-a wall method.

I would love to see huge back-lit enlargements and projections of their photos in a space that would reflect and keep their style. Perhaps amongst objects/scenes that could be classic eddy.and.june fodder like a collection of orange plastic chairs or houseplants.

Finally, I would like to thank Eddy and June for sharing their photographs and vision on Instagram and giving us our daily dose of delight.

 

 

 

The Hard Way

It has been over a year since I started this blog and many months since I lasted posted anything. No boring details to add other than life happening and my mind evolving just like anyone else. During this time I have often wondered why I must learn everything the hard way. But I realise I am not the only one. In fact, I’m not sure if anything worth learning is ever easy. Photography is the most recent example for me. I started this blog to enable me to learn photography in a practical way. It has totally changed how I feel about taking photos and how I actually take photos. Months ago, I decided to switch to film. I have really struggled to get any decent results. The process is slow and I am only beginning to understand how to work film cameras. Below are some of my recent photos annotated with the lesson I learnt from taking them.

OVER EXPOSED
.

.

SHARP BUT MUNDANE
.

.

RAREJOY
.

A3 Project Space: I Was There

Earlier this month I wrote a brief review of an A3 project event held at VIVID and mistook the venues. In response to this Trevor Pitt, artist-curator and director of A3 invited me to see A3 project space for myself last week.

I am not sure what to write about my visit to A3 projects. I am tempted to write simply that it was brilliant and the artists are awesome and link to their sites and finish there. You will find them here:

http://a3projectspace.org/

http://www.podprojects.org/

http://www.redhawklogistica.com/ .

 

Embarrassingly, I get lost a lot in Birmingham, my home town. On my way to meet Trevor, being semi-lost gave me the first clue as to what his work is about: place.

On the day, I took two buses to get to a part of Digbeth that I have never lingered in. It lies distal to the places like the Custard Factory and other places I have photographed before. If you imagine Digbeth as an arm, then A3 project space would be located at the wrist of that arm. The confusing thing about finding A3 was that I was expecting the surrounds to be more overtly ‘Arty’. Instead A3 is snuggled on the second floor of a Victorian warehouse amidst actual working workshops. I walked into one that had old fashioned car parts and walked out again. Nobody noticed. After that, I asked A Man:

“All of this is Bowyer Street, there are three units: A, B and C. These are B and C, try round that corner.”

As he said this, I realised superficially why A3 is A3.

I went round the corner, climbed up stairs, and, within seconds of the place, I had to ask Another Man before I buzzed the yellow door.

Trevor opened the door and greeted me with a tilt of the head and a broad smile. He was as I remembered him from Digbeth First Friday, breezy and welcoming.

There were more stairs, and halfway up them, we stopped: “Can you see it?” Trevor asked.

P1050157 (2)
A3 Footprint by Ali Reed.

 

A footprint of the building stretches across walls and completes itself only if you stand and look in just the right place.

Therein lies Trevor and A3’s preoccupation: raising our awareness of the places we inhabit. The fact that we must look in ‘just the right way, from just the right place’ to see the work reflects a simultaneous interest in the mechanisms of gaze, perception and knowledge. I believe this is epistemology, on the day Trevor called it “critical practice”.

My photography fail attests to how tricky such endeavours can be. It is hard to see certain things. Once seen, it’s often harder to convey them. It could just be me, but it flickered, one second I had it, the next it was gone, then it came back like a butterfly.

As a venue, A3 is a white expansive space subdivided into studios for contemporary artists. Within it, the artists are in charge.

I was granted a peak at the works of Oliver C Jones, Cathy Wade, Lucy McLaughlan and Mahtab Hussain. Seeing works in progress alongside, books and reference materials in use by the artists was fascinating, but I didn’t feel I could take any photos so you must go for yourself.

Their studios were, as you might expect, ordered and disordered in artistic and painterly ways. Canvasses, chalks, pictures. One completely bare, one had neat but bulging bookshelves. But all reflected artists at work.

Trevor’s studio appeared uniquely homely with a golden three-piece suite, knitted benches, prints and knick-knacks. They all sit together in a chaotic harmony unified by texture and humour.

P1050182 (3)
.

 

 

P1050180 (2)
.

 

P1050175 (3)
.

Standing in the abundant light, Trevor joked that the seats were key tools in his practice: “My work starts with conversations”.

This is evident from the works he curated as part the ‘You Are Here’ series about Digbeth and Bordesley. Viaduct, Rich White’s contribution to the series is a brilliant example of conversations about place. http://www.counterwork.co.uk/index.php/work/viaduct/

 

P1050169 (2)
.

 

Trevor also introduced me to Rob Hewitt, founder of Redhawk Logistica. Rob makes the kind of art that they never taught me about at school. His methods vary from collective collages to redecorating parts of the urban landscape that he thinks “need a lick of paint”.

P1050166 (2)
Rob Hewitt: “You get more of what you focus on”.

 

I was never taught that painting a stranger’s front door could be art. I went to Anish Kapoor to think about colour. I walked outdoors with Richard Long (in my head). I remember Christo and Jean-Claude’s grand colourful wraps as my first encounter with unusual methods. But I know of few artists incorporating deeds for others outside of a gallery space. Add to this an exploration of how macroeconomics can shape community history and you have an unusual mix indeed. And this is much of what Rob and Redhawk Logistica do. They transform skip findings, make unusual signs and work with the public to delivery what they term “cultural solutions”. Their methods have an ingenuity and cheekiness about them. But check out the site and see what you think: www.redhawklogistica.com/projects.

Like Trevor, Rob’s aim is to promote dialogue with communities about their urban environments. He invites participation and questioning of why we accept certain states in our immediate environment and the consequences of this for individuals. We debated these but I think it is more important to emphasis the poetry in the work I saw on the day.

P1050159 (2)
.

Redhawk Logistica will be at A3 for a workshops and interventions entitled Guerrilla Civic from 1-2 August 2014.

P1050163 (2)
.
P1050188 (2)
.

My main conclusion from meeting Trevor and Rob at A3 Project space was that A3 presents the unique delight of being a place where you can meet artists, who, if plagiarised, could boost community spirit. Few galleries could make such a claim.

 

Digbeth First Friday: Home for Waifs & Strays

Digbeth First Friday 4th July: Home for Waifs And Strays (Live Art Initiative)

Find their work here: http://hfwas.co.uk

P1050080 (2)
.

 

P1050085
.

 

P1050087 (3)
.

 

 

 

tonight I am
.