Friday, 7 October 2011

The British Ceramics Biennial: 22 Hands

Blue Italian Mug by Spode.
With part of the British Ceramics Biennial being held at the old Spode Factory in Stoke, it seems only right and proper that the company's industrial and design heritage be celebrated in situ.

Spode's story - its fortunes and misfortunes - are sadly commonplace in an industry that has largely outsourced production overseas and in an increasingly difficult economic climate. After over 200 years of production, Spode went into administration in 2008, the factory closed its doors and hundreds of people lost their jobs. What happened next, however, is not commonplace, and provides a fresh and much-needed glimmer of hope to the pottery industry in North Staffordshire.

The Spode label and intellectual property rights were acquired by the Portmeirion Group, another Stoke-on-Trent ceramics company, who then set about returning the production of Spode designs to the Portmeirion factory in the city.


Spode's legacy - and its future - has been celebrated in a special exhibition within the old factory. The Spode Room displays current and popular designs and pays homage to one of the company's most famous patterns - Blue Italian.

Blue Italian was created in 1816, and features Italian country scenes in iconic blue-and-white colours. As popular today as when it was first sold, Blue Italian is also a great example of the pioneering production techniques for which the pottery industry in Stoke-on-Trent is famed. 

Film-maker Johnny Magee was commissioned by the British Ceramics Biennial to produce a short film about the production of Blue Italian. The result is a beautifully filmed and edited piece set to Johann Strauss II's famous waltz, The Blue Danube. As odd a music choice as this sounds, it works brilliantly well, as the various elements of the piece fit different parts of the manufacturing process. 

Magee has created a quirky but elegant film, which takes the popular preconception that the industry is dirty, nasty work and turns it on its head. Of course, as with any manufacturing industry, the production of pottery is dirty, smelly and noisy, but even in an age where machines have taken over from previously hand-crafted work, there is an immense amount of craftsmanship and patience required. The production of Blue Italian becomes poetic and hypnotic, and the light-handed skill of the Spode employees featured is a real joy to watch. 

See for yourself...

22 Hands by Johnny Magee, courtesy of Cangyroo on youtube.

Image courtesy of Spode. 

The British Ceramics Biennial runs from now until November 13th at the Spode Factory, Stoke and The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Hanley. For further information, visit the website, here.

Things to See: The British Ceramics Biennial

L'Architect by Craig Mitchell, Porcelain & Wire sculpture
I'm very happy to be able to report on a truly special "Things to See", taking place in my home city. The British Ceramics Biennial has returned to Stoke-on-Trent, following the success of the event two years ago.

The Biennial is an innovative and exciting celebration of the British ceramics industry. As well as giving a platform to new and emerging art and design talent, the Biennial is also showing off the very best of the current British ceramics market. Companies such as Wedgwood, Portmeirion, Spode, Steelite, Emma Bridgewater and Burleigh (to name but a few) are displaying work. Not content with restricting the Biennial to a purely artistic vision, the organisers have also included items which serve more industrial purposes, and have even included a display of ceramic ball joint replacements to show how the UK ceramics market crosses over into the world of medicine.

AWARD will be hosted at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery; an exhibition featuring ceramic work by artists and designers, one of whom will be selected for a £10,000 prize.

FRESH takes place at the now disused Spode Factory site, and will make vibrant use of the factory's space to display the work of new art and design graduates, as well as featuring items from the British ceramics industry's market leaders and sculpture and installations from contemporary artists commissioned by the Biennial.

There will also be a series of interactive events and workshops, both at the Spode site and at other museums and galleries across Stoke-on-Trent.

Over the next few days, I'll be sharing a series of posts with you about the Biennial and its venues, along with my favourite picks.

The British Ceramics Biennial runs from now until November 13th at the Spode Factory Site, Stoke, and The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Hanley.

For further information, including details of special events, opening times and all-important afternoon teas, visit the Biennial's website, here. 


Image courtesy of The British Ceramics Biennial.