Obsolescence and Renewal: Reimagining North Staffordshire’s Ceramic Heritage
Hi i'm neil brownsword. Professor, of ceramics, at staffordshire, university. Thank you all very much for taking time to join me today, to share insights, into my practice, past and. Present. For over two decades, my work has mediated. Transitions. Within stoke-on-trent. Ceramic, manufacturing. Sector. Following the impact of global economics. In the late. 1990s. It reflects, upon overlooked, histories, of labor, that draw attention, to the significance. Of people, and their practices. Affected, by these transitions. By the fluid, perspectives. Of artistic, research. To set the context, of this work. It's important to give you a very brief overview, of north staffordshire's. Industrial, history. And how globalization. In recent decades. Has impacted, upon regional, ceramic, manufacture. The six towns that constitute, stoke-on-trent. Today. Have been renowned, for their industrial, scale pottery, manufacturing. Since the 18th, century. Alongside, pioneers, of the industrial, revolution. Such as josiah, wedgewood and spode. The staff chapatris. In the late 19th, century. Comprised, of hundreds, of relatively, small factories. With more than 2 000 kilns. Firing millions of products, a year. By, 1938. Half the workforce, of stoke-on-trent. Worked in pottery, factories. With employment, peaking, in 1948. To an estimated, 79. 000 people. To this day stoke-on-trent. Continues, to be affectionately. Known as the potteries. One of the few british, cities. With a distinctive. Regional, identity. And heritage. That remains, synonymous, with a particular, industry. Yet during the last three decades. Escalating. Global, competition. Has resulted, in many north staffordshire, based companies. Struggling, to adapt, or compete, in both domestic, and export, markets. Rapid changes, in lifestyle, preferences. Together with increased global, competition, from east asia. Forced many key factories, in the 1990s. To outsource. High volume. And low to mid cost production, to these developing, economies. Where energy and labor costs were a fraction, compared to those in north staffordshire. This strategy. Coupled with the advances, of production, technology. Has proved highly detrimental. To a phenomenal. Concentration. Of skills, and knowledge in stoke-on-trent. To what was in 1991. A 22. 000 strong workforce. From the late, 1990s. These commonplace. Headlines, together with the physical, evidence, of the effects of, deindustrialization. Prompted, the beginnings. Of what has become an ongoing, process, to archive. Industrial, transitions. Occurring, across the six towns. This wasn't motivated. By nostalgia, for past glories. Or a fetish, for ruined porn, where the aestheticization. Of social, collapse. Eclipses. The context, of the related, trauma. These images were driven by a compulsion. To highlight, the ensuing, effects, of globalization. From an insider's, perspective. Whose personal, and social, ties have been intertwined, with the area's histories, of ceramic manufacture. Both my maternal, and paternal, ancestry. Were employed in the north staff departures. From an early age of familiarity. With pottery, terminology. Was brought about from my grandmother's. Lifelong. Employment, in the industry. As she experienced. Numerous, skilled and semi-skilled. Jobs. On the right is an image from 1859. A group of employees. Had served a total of 54, and a half years service. With a family descendant. Moses, brown sword on the left. Seated in the center of the group. Is francis, wedgwood, josiah, wedgewood's, grandson. As the industry, remained a dominant, employer, in the late 1980s. It was perhaps inevitable. That i would follow a similar, path. And at the age of 16, i was apprenticed, at the wedgwood, factory. Where i trained initially as a tableware, modeler. This formative. Period, remains, instrumental. To my understanding, of the wealth of human dexterity. Transmitted. From generation, to generation. Within each division, of labour. Something which i have continued, to cite throughout my creative, practice. However, my return, to the wedgewood, factory, some 15, years later. Sought a very different, agenda. Increased awareness, of the displacement. Of craft practices. In the ceramic, industry. Prompted, the documentation. Of many of these traditions. As a key element of my doctoral, research. Filmed during an intense, period of economic, restructuring. In 2003. Nearly 80 hours of raw footage, was captured over an eight-month, period. Providing, a unique insight, into the industrial, tacit, knowledge. Increasingly. Displaced, by technology, and automation. Alongside, this documentation. I would also begin to salvage, the clay detritus.
Residual. From each process. As this ephemera. Made tangible, many of the hidden human actions. That accrued, within each skill specialism. As systems, of product uniformity. And standardization. Became the norm within. Industrialization. Any trace of human touch, that remained in manufacture. Was considered, an imperfection. Yet these byproducts. Bore within their fabric, the physical, imprints of the hand. Providing, a direct, connection, to the repetitive. Skills, passed down through time. Clay turnings. Rejected, wears. And other inadvertent. Discard. Were later fired to preserve the momentary, imprints, of the hand. Materials. Rescued, via this process. Constituted. The work salvage, series. A spatial, assemblage. Flanked with juxtaposing. Film loops. That documented. Demonstrations. Of high craft. Against the dereliction. And demolition, of once prevalent, sites of manufacture. The work was not a glorification. Of an industry's, distant, past. Where lead poisoning. Silicosis. And the debilitating. Effects of poverty, were endemic. It set out to elucidate. The diverse. Knowledge and nuances, of, dexterity. Embedded, in aspects, of ceramic, production. And draws attention, to its increased, displacement. Exploring, the physical, site production. As the raw material, itself. Was instrumental. To topographies, of the obsolete. A research, project i initiated, in partnership, with the 2013. British ceramics, biennial. And bergen academy, of art design. It involved, a science-specific. Artistic, response, to the former spode, factory. Which fell into administration. In 2008. And was being repurposed. By a numerous, cultural, ed regeneration. Initiatives. Yet within the regeneration. Agenda, of place. There is often, an undue, and unseemly. Haste. For local government, and cultural. Organizations. To circumvent. Associations. With a messy fallout, of industrial. Change. In favor for a more managed, or sanitized. Account of recent history. Tackling, the complexities. Of stoke on transpost, industrial, ceramic, situation. Has often led to an obvious, charge of wallowing, in decline. Or being complicit. And a retrospective. Idealization. Of the industrial, past. Yet the core rationale, for topographies. Was to challenge this politicize. Amnesia. And seek out greater, critical, discourse. To the realities. Of these transitions. And their impact upon people place and traditional, knowledge. Throughout the period of co-leading, the project. A total of 97. Artists, and cultural, commentators. From 13, countries. Explored, a variety, of perspectives. And practices. That have engaged, directly. With the site's post-production.
Infrastructure. To explore a range of research, strands. Which have examined. The contemporary, ruin. The globalized, landscape, of ceramics, and the artist, as archaeologist. Though working with such a loaded, site. Participants. Were inevitably. Confronted. With the ethical dimensions. Of dealing with its post-production. Spaces. And materials. Frequent, questions, surrounded, the role of the artist, working in a non-art, space. Such as. Do artists destroy the archaeology. Of a site. Or do they contribute, another layer of production. Is the artist, instrumental. To the renewal, of such places. Or merely an apocalypse. Tourist. Cashing, in on social. Misfortune. Although many paradoxes. Remain. The primary, impact of the project. Was that the funding, raised from the norwegian, artistic, research, program. Sourced local, labor, to restore, and make safe, previously. Inaccessible. Areas of the site, for ongoing, cultural, use. Funding, also enabled me to hire and collaborate, with a small group of expatriate. Painters. In the performative. Installation. National, treasure. Companies, that survived, the impact of global competition. Have in recent, decades. Capitalized. Upon factory, tourism. To increase, profit. In these situations. The reality, of mass automation. And outsource, production. Is often obscured, by marketing, strategies. That heighten the hand. Crafted. Today many high-end, ceramic, skills. That were once the flagship, of renowned manufacturers. Are often regarded, as outmoded. Or economically. Unviable. To accommodate, today's, rapid shifts in consumer, buying trends. To elevate, the status, of these threatened, practices. The primary, objective, of national, treasure, has been to restage, the performance. Of these, at a variety, of loaded, locations. The work involved, collaborating. With senior, generation. Uh china painters. Whose profession, has gradually. Been displaced, by the changing tide of fashion. And by ceramic, print technologies, for mass production. Pictured here is anthony, chalimer. Who has worked as a china painter, since the age of 15.. Serving, as a series of provocations. The painters, were set to work in a post-industrial. Context. Amongst the wreckage, and disorder, of the former spode factory.
Separated. Behind glass as they applied their skills. The viewer is confronted, with a situation. That evokes, both admiration, and discomfort. As artisans, are objectified. As cased. Exhibits. Whilst in residence. Artisans, were instructed, to paint on the backs. Of damaged, and discarded, plates. Found on site at the spode factory. With imagery the 8th 18th, century, ceramics. Romanticization. Of british, ruins. Though portraying, picture, sdk. Was not the objective. Here. The spaces, within the foot of the plates. Where a painter would traditionally, sign their workmanship. Were instead graced with images. Documenting. The post-industrial. Fallout, of stoke-on-trent. Working within their own time structures. Each artisan, would occupy the space intermittently. Dissolving, the hierarchical. Relationship. Between an employer. And employee. Vacant, but illuminated. Workspaces. Together, with the residues, of labor. Extended, metaphor, surrounding. The presence, of absence, within the work. Ironically. With this outsourcing. Of people, and their skill as a raw material. The ethical, dimensions. Of this process, remain, paramount. Artisans. Were hired above their indicated. Rates of pay. And their roles were fully credited, within the work. An opportunity. To perform, national, treasure in south korea. A country that gives status, to individuals. With exceptional. Artistic, ability. To preserve, cultural, heritage. Provided, a prestigious. Platform. To raise greater, awareness, of stoke-on-trent's. Endangered, craft practices. In 2003. Unesco. Implemented, a convention, to safeguard, and tangible, cultural, heritage. 178. Countries, have now endorsed, this convention. Effectively. Making intangible, heritage, part of their cultural, policy. But the uk is still not one of them. As technology, has substituted. Many of the people embodied, skills. There remains few apprenticeships. To secure, the effective, transfer, of this knowledge for future generations. The importance, of documenting. Several of these endangered. Practices. Became the focus, of reapprentice. A project that set out to artistically. Reactivate. The specialist, knowledge. Of a group of former, industrial, employees. To gain, insights. Into the transmission. And acquisition, of these practices. I apprenticed, myself, to three former ceramic, industry, artisans. In, 2015. Who are amongst the last of a generation, of master, practitioners. In their respective. Fields. The project, aimed to illuminate, the procedural, knowledge, of each craftsperson's. Skill base. Such as the nuances, of preparation. Material, and haptic, knowledge, pace and timing. And repetitive. Movement. Which were all made tangible. Through both film and object. Each skill specialism. Was deconstructed. To arrest sequences, of touch that exposed, aspects, of craft, intelligence. And ingenuity. That all, too frequently.
Remain, Overlooked. Questioning, aspects, of work, which the artisans, often took for granted. Facilitated. Detailed, insights, into know-how. Yielding, a wealth of oral history. Which otherwise, would have lain dormant. However, finding, value in the active memory. And knowledge of those affected, by industrial, change. Has often led to the charge of nostalgia. In a pejorative. Sense. And eulogizing. Of a past. That's out of sync with an ever-changing. World. Yet i would argue that these first-hand, recollections. Remain, essential. Human narratives. That can enrich, our scope and understanding. Of industrial, history. Whilst it's correct to guard against false memory. It's equally important. That in the process. We don't obliterate, the kind of subjective, reflection. That can reveal, greater, insights. About the past. In, 2015. The victorian. Albert museum, facilitated. An opportunity. To develop, a live performance, of reapprentice. In their rafael, cartoons. Gallery. Which holds raphael's. Original, tapestry, designs, that were made to cover the low walls of the sistine, chapel. Against the backdrop. Of masterpieces. Of renaissance. Art. This space provided, a perfect, context. For the performance, of marginalized. Factory craft skills. Re-choreographed. To emphasize. The sophistications. Of both material, and haptic, knowledge. This reassembly. Of collective, skill. Form the basis, of factory. Performed, at ichian world ceramic, center in south korea. For the exhibition. Two artisans, from stokon, trent. China flower maker rita floyd. And mold maker james, adams. Were invited, to korea, to present their former practices. Bringing, contrasting. Modes of ceramic, manufacture. Live into the gallery, space. China flower making. Is one of the few methods of mass production. That relies, completely, upon the dexterity. Of the hand. With changing, fashion. This industry and stoke-on-trent. Has all but disappeared. With rita floyd being one of a handful, of still practicing, artisans. Who retain this knowledge.
Throughout The factory performance. Rita, provided, an intimate, space for the audience, to witness. The rhythmic, intricacies. Of touch, evident within her craft. Yet passive, spectatorship. Is immediately. Disrupted. By a simple, instruction, for rita, to discard, whatever, she makes. In korea, i also had the opportunity. To work with intangible. Asset quan su. Renowned for the continuation. Of many traditional, forms of korean. Ceramics. Through the collaboration. Kwanzu. Produced a series, of partially, formed moon jars. Laden with the raw immediacy, of touch. James, adams. Took these casually, assembled, components. Into a lesser, revered, mode of production. Mold making. Instrumental. To the histories, of ceramic, manufacturing. North staffordshire. Which paradoxically. Introduced, the eradication. Of human, touch through modes of standardization. The subtle collision, of these very distinct, traditions. Attempted, to renegotiate. A sense of value to people and practices. Displaced, through global economics. On an international. Platform. Artifacts. Involved in the mechanics, of ceramic, production. Salvaged, from various, redundant, factories, in north staffordshire. Were also presented, as a series of formal, taxonomies. To reattribute. A sense of value to objects, left behind, following, industrial, change. What was interesting, about these objects. Was that they were marked by a point in time. As prior to the factory's, closure. They were defaced, and deconstructed. To prevent, subsequent. Reproduction. Historically. When a factory would become insolvent. Design, assets, such as copper plates and molds. Would be absorbed, by takeover, companies. And continued. Into hybrid, forms of production. With reference, to this historic, process. And to expand, ideas, surrounding, the cultural, transfer, of aesthetics. Practices, and technologies. Objects, were remolded, by korean, master mold maker, cine and cho. And cast with clay. And subsequently. Decorated, by porcelain, carver. Youngjungcho. And painter, won john lee. The collision, of korea's, rich ceramic, heritage. With these fragmentary. Chunks of post-industrial. Discard. Created, an interesting, tension, point between, cultural, notions, of value and perfection. Inherited. Through procedural. Knowledge. For centuries. China, korea and japan, have influenced, each other's ceramic, histories. And their subsequent, trade with the west. Greatly influenced, the development, of european, ceramic, traditions. That were to gain prominence, in the 18th, century. By reactivating. Obsolescence. Through, non-commercialized. Production. Factory. Reiterated. This process. Of psychical, exchange, between, east and west. Through an elucidation. Of embodied, knowledge. That prompted, questions, surrounding, the hierarchy. Of cultural, value, and its uneven, distribution. To people. Practices, and places. A further, iteration, of factory. Was staged, in the site-orientated. Residency. Place and practices. Which i curated, for the british ceramics, biennial. In, 2017.. It was interesting, to reclaim, the former spode, factory. Once more as a site of ceramic production. As the area we reactivated. Had recently, been sold off for eventual, demolition. And redevelopment. As plus the molds revolutionized. The industrialization. Of ceramics, in britain in the 18th, century. And continue, to be the tools for mass production. I decided, to use the fabric, of the condemned, building. As a mold, itself. The factory's, former lift shaft, was filled with three thousand, liters, of a true rear mile slip. The very material, on which the origins, of the industry, were founded. And over the course of the biennial. The porosity, of the building, cast a memory of that space. Prior to the exhibition. The heritage, crafts association. Published, the radcliffe, red list of endangered, crafts. The first research of its kind to be conducted, in the uk. It highlights, important, aspects, of the uk's, collective, intangible. Heritage. To assess the current viability. Of traditional, crafts. And to identify. Those which are most at risk of disappearing. Endangered. Practices, from flint knapping.
To Sussex, drug making, are listed. But the industrial, crafts. Particularly, those in relation to north staffordshire's, ceramic, production. Continue, to be unaccounted. For. This is something i'm currently, collaborating. On, with the heritage, crafts association. To readdress, this imbalance. Yet safeguarding. This intangible. Cultural, inheritance. Doesn't necessarily. Mean relegating. These practices. To the dogma of past. Traditions. One of the aims of a research, residency. At the victorian, albert museum. Was to explore, ways in which traditional, knowledge, can be transmitted. To new modes of thinking. Expression. And. Representation. Historic, repositories. That record and convey, know-how. From factory production. Such as pattern and shape books. Became a primary, influence. Using, examples, held at the v a and at the wedgwood museum. I was drawn to the palapsas. Quality. Of these manuals. Where fragmentary. Traces, of, visual, and textual, instruction. Are recorded, with casual. Fluidity. From these points of reference. I started, to examine, north staffordshire's, early, industrialization. And the artistic. And technological. Innovations. That evolved, through this period of cultural, borrowing, and assimilation. The need to work directly, with objects, from this timeline. Beyond, curatorial. Handling restrictions. Led to late 18th, nearly 19th, century, ceramics. Akin to those held at the vna. Being purchased, via online, auction, websites. Nuances. Of casting, assembling. Modeling, and painting. Unique to ceramic, production. Were sampled, and reconfigured. Through both analog, and digital, means. Through this low-fi, form of exploration. Imperfections. Of the digital, were embraced, as a method to transform. Instead of. Replicate. The slippage, that occurs, through the process, of the copy. Either through limitations. Of tools, materials. Or skill. Which are prominent, characteristics. In that period of staffordshire's. Remain production, continuous. Point of fascination. At the end of the residency. One of the digitally, manipulated. Patterns. That derive, from a historic, copy of an east asian prototype. Was engraved, into a copper plate by former spode, master engraver, paul holdway. Thus returning, the immediacy. Of the digital. Back to the slow-paced. Tactile, material, interactions. Of. Handwork. In a live performance, at the vna. Holdway, offered a rare, opportunity. To experience, the nuances, of an industrial, craft, sold and practiced. Where the intimate, space of tool, action and mata. Were amplified, through a live feed microscopic. Camera. Skilled, practices, that have evolved, through hundreds, of years of ceramic, industrialization. Represent, so much more than just the mastery, and control, of materials. And processes. They have shaped the complex, social, bonds, networks. And pride. Forged by collective, skill. Which is integral. To the identity, of places, like stoke-on-trent. Transmitting. Endangered, knowledge, through new contexts, and ways of thinking. In collaboration. With the senior generation, of artisans. Is just a small contribution. To ensure that these industrial, crafts, continue, to be practiced. And hopefully, safeguarded. As an essential, part of our cultural, inheritance. To conclude, the presentation. I wanted to discuss, a multi-faceted. Project. Externalizing. The archive. That was showcased, as part of the 2019. British ceramics, biennial. At the former spode. Site. Spode, was one of the few ceramic, manufacturers. In britain. To have operated. Continuously. For 230. Years on its original, site of production. Within, 11 of its buildings. There remains, over 70, 000 molds, that date from circa, 1850. To 2008. When the company, ceased trading. As the site is currently, in the process, of regeneration. And its buildings, repurposed. Only a small percentage, of this material, has been recommended, for retention. With the remainder, facing the risk of disposal. As byproducts. Of ceramic, manufacture. Malta, rarely, valued, or preserved for posterity. The finnish ceramic, artifact. Has always taken, priority. Over those objects, associated. With labor. Yet as tools that revolutionize. Mass production. They can illuminate, the evolution, of important, technological. And stylistic. Changes. And design, an industry. That remain, relatively. Under-researched. And having been previously, trained as a model and mole maker. There potentially, exists, trials, and prototypes. Within this untapped, archive. Which may never have seen the light of day since their inception. To confront, the visiting, public, with the scale of this disposal.
Issue. Working, moulds from recent production. That are regarded, by some as not historically. Significant. Were installed, in the external, environment, on the former spodesites. Jubilee, kiln. As a deliberate, provocation. The majority, of the passing, public's, immediate, response. Was that of wanting, to protect the moulds from the effects, of the elements. Thus bestowing, a sense of value. To them. The irony, is that only eight hundred. Out of the seventy, thousand. Are currently year mark for retention. The function of this work was to raise questions. Regarding, what we do with such material. As no one can reproduce. From the molds. As their intellectual. Property, belongs to another factory. So do we just let this material, go to landfill. Or are there more innovative. Ways to preserve. And repurpose. Their sculptural, aesthetics. For instance, using their potential, as architectural. Modules. Alongside. The installation. A digital laboratory, was set up in the spo museum, trust. Where staff from staffordshire, university. Were hired to 3d, scan a core sample of molds. From circa 1850. Onwards. Together with their physical, mold store environments. The project, aims to seek out further funding. To support, the digitization. Of a much larger selection, of typologies. Materials, and technologies. Which can be archived, for future, cultural, benefit, and posterity. My ambition, is to collide, the potential, of digital, technologies. With the intimate, material, and haptic, knowledge of living heritage. I want to challenge, notions, of embalmed, or static, heritage. And contribute, a new layer of production. To north staffordshire's, industrial, history. As our industrial, capacity. And technological. Innovation. Moves at breakneck, speed. To facilitate. More and more efficient, production. The value of haptic, knowledge. That once fashion material, objects, in particular, ways. Should not be subject, to the dictates, of authorized, heritage, discourse. And simply relegated. To the living museum, sector. As i hope i've demonstrated. Exploring. And expanded. And plural, notion of heritage. Can open up rich and fertile.
Territory. To unravel, new modes of thinking, and creativity. In a digital, age. Thank, you.