The Hand and the Glove... ramblings about making.

Week ending 22.06.07 -Sensing the Container

Since my brother’s wedding, I have continued to work with the flat cone 01 mould that had dried out well whilst I was away. Martin worked with me, demonstrating how to smear the surface of the mould with soft clay then build up another couple of layers until it is the correct thickness. We added a coil around the inside of the base to strengthen and stop it from distorting. When the piece was taken from the mould it needed relatively little fettling and appears crisp. However, I was a bit disappointed that the lower, internal rim is higher than I had anticipated, so I threw an insert with a smaller diameter to form a false base.

Later I had a meeting with Martin to discuss the preparation for starting the thesis. I had prepared a draft Contents page that Martin has now asked me to flesh out to abstract length. Since then I have spent some time working on the Introduction and the beginning of the first section dealing with the perception of the ceramic container. I have tried to make it engaging and straightforward, but writing doesn’t come easy to me, so it’s not the easiest part of this project. Having said that it does focus the mind on what the practical work is designed to articulate. I’ll include some of the first draft below, if anyone actually reads it with interest please let me know!

Sensing the Container:

I have made thousands of mugs, cups and saucers, bowls of different sizes- ceramic containers of all sorts of shapes and sizes. Function and aesthetics were the main concerns in their gestation. The mug for instance, is a humble, everyday pot but one of the most difficult for a potter to successfully make. Being practiced and attuned to subtle differences will determine its success. Fingers should fit the handle comfortably, there should be a sense of balance when lifting it, it should hold the preferred amount of liquid and the mug is almost unique as it is often in intimate contact with one of our most sensitive organs- the lips.
So we use sight and touch to perceive the mug, sight, touch and smell to perceive the contents. Hearing plays a part in the experience when the tea is poured [and my youngest daughter hates anyone to slurp his or her tea].
We analyse and respond to all that sensory information just to have a cup of tea and we are barely conscious of the complex processes involved. If we stop awhile to look again, what do we see? Firstly, the fabric- decorated red earthenware if I made it, yours may be stoneware or porcelain. Each of these materials has a particular quality that will affect your experience. Then there is the form- it could look like a small bucket, a barrel or a can. It has an interior and an exterior surface, is that one surface or two? A barrel shaped mug will make you think of two surfaces, an open form will be more ambiguous. The rim is the dividing line, but pour a cappuccino and the rim doesn’t restrain the contents, it foams outwards to the ‘exterior’. So where is the dividing line between the inside and outside space?
I like to drink Darjeeling tea, it is a golden translucent liquid and if the interior surface of my mug is pale I can still see its form. If I was to fill the cup with water, I can have the best of both worlds, something to drink and I can still apprehend the interior.
The empty mug is actually full; air is made of matter and energy in the same way as tea, but our perception of it is liminal. However, looking at my empty mug isn’t a lot different than my experience of looking at it when filled with water.
The container actively frames and shapes the matter around it.

That’s as far as I’ve got for the time being, I’m hoping to add to it over the weekend before my next meeting with Martin on Tuesday.

Going back to the mould- it is made of 2 sections, the outer cone and the inner, which is removable. This allows me to make variations of the inner cone, enabling me to produce a series of related forms. I made a second inner cone, deeper than the first and dried it overnight. Since then I have made 2 variations from it, in the first the cones are joined, whereas the second has a gap between the inner and outer cone. I plan to raise it of the surface so that when it is filled with light all three rims will be defined.

We have 2 Swedish post-graduate students on an exchange from Kontsfach in the department. They haven’t been around much, but I spoke to them for the first time last week and they described how they collaborate on installation projects that deal with material, space and object. I asked them if they would make a presentation to the research students so at lunchtime with cakes provided by Heike they showed some photographs of their recent graduation installation in Sweden. It was comprised of a series of ‘rooms’, some bright, white and airy, others very dark with scorched wooden walls and polished concrete floors. The objects ranged from a group of white porcelain teabowls to glazed earthenware ‘mirrors’ and free blown glass container suspended from the ceiling slowly leaking water onto the floor. They describe their work as a desire to connect the viewer with a calm contemplative environment, something that is in short supply for most people in the busy modern world.