I’ve got to be honest, being invited along to spend a Friday evening in a disused factory would not normally sound like the most appealing start to my weekend. But this was not any disused factory, this was the original Spode factory – the birthplace of English fine bone china, and this was not any ordinary Friday evening event, this was the launch night of the British Ceramics Biennial (BCB) – a six week festival showcasing a celebration of ceramics right in the heart of the World Capital of Ceramics between 28 September to 10 November 2013.
Our evening began however, not at the original Spode factory, but at another BCB venue, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in the City Centre, to see the preview of BCB’s Award 2013. Award 2013 showcases a broad range of work currently being produced by some of the UK’s finest ceramicists. This year, 22 artists have been selected from over 170 applications in a bid to be awarded the £10,000 winners prize, and I don’t envy whoever has the impossible task of picking a winner from this magnificently unique collection of pieces.
Having been wowed by the genius on display in the Award 2013 exhibition, we made the short journey down through the University Quarter to the original Spode factory in Stoke, which, from the moment we stepped foot into the factory grounds, displayed a magical energetic rebirth as we were transported into a magenta-lit ceramicists dream. Inside the original Spode factory in the vast China Hall space, the magic continued with breathtakingly creative displays and installations and innovative ideas.
Throughout the six-week festival, the original Spode factory hosts a number of exhibitions, installation and projects.
Fresh 2013 looks at the work of new graduates breaking through as they make the transition from learning to earning.
The Pavilions are four temporary structures that create unique spaces within which the public can engage with the artist’ response to their experience of the ceramic industry.
Explore 2013 has challenged four artists and one group of nine artists to make responses to the Spode site and Stoke-on-Trent itself. These range from an archaeological dig, through ceramic slip graffiti and the re-utilising of discarded moulds, to a poet’s lyric narrative.
BCB Design: Tableware is a strand of the festival that looks at limited edition and bespoke table-ware, created specifically to cater for a special dining experience. Case studies provide illustration of trends and trials that are currently underway and indicate one direction of travel for the ceramic industry, the creation and the capture of niche markets.
A particular highlight to me was the thought-provoking Made in China by Clare Twomey which comprises eighty red porcelain vases each 1.5m tall produced in Jingdezhen in China. Seventy nine have been decorated at the Chinese factory using transfers, one has been decorated at Royal Crown Derby using 18-carat gold. The latter took longer to complete than the 21 days it took to complete and deliver the seventy-nine. This placement unpicks “some of the issues faced by globalisation and outsourcing of production, and questioning the way in which value is assigned. The work also examines what else is lost, over and above jobs and knowledge, and where there might be the possibility of complementarity as opposed to opposition.”
One of the great things about BCB is that it is not a festival that is dominated by the “Please do not touch” sign. There are lots of opportunities throughout the six weeks for visitors to have a go, get messy, have fun, and get creative through various workshops and the BCB Family Weekenders.
The free festival is also really easy to get around with the main venues being in three locations – the original Spode factory in Stoke, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and Airspace Gallery in the City Centre, and Burslem for the Burslem Weekend in mid-October. The main Stoke-on-Trent railway station is 5 minutes’ walk from the original Spode factory site, and regular buses link it with the City Centre.
There simply was not enough time to take in all of the offerings on Friday evening and so it will be with great pleasure that I will have to return to this historic pottery site once again to see it all. And I urge you to join me – you will not be disappointed!
For more information about the British Ceramics Biennial visit http://www.visitstoke.co.uk/bcb.aspx