Ceramics appears to be in retreat there in the UK as much, if not more, than even here. There is of course the demise of Stoke on Trent as world centre for tableware manufacture, ceding this to the Far East. Studio ceramics has, until very recent times, enjoyed a profile that filtered down from high-end touring shows around a major gallery circuit and its occasional outing in the Jerwood Prize- Britain’s annual craft award that rotates media each year, through to a vigorous programme in primary and secondary schools where artist in residence schemes were not only a great way for new graduates to get a career start as resident but which introduced many young students to clay subsequently feeding some into the tertiary system as intending ceramic artists. The Jerwood continues but touring shows are now rare and school residencies are, due to government cut-backs, largely gone so no flow-on into the tertiary sector for craft media in general, not only ceramics.
Well they are reinvigorating things on several fronts. The Crafts Council has started a national three-year programme highlighting clay/ceramics in schools called Firing-up. Aimed to raise awareness of clay in culture, support schools in using the medium creatively and confidently, showcase work by young people and demonstrate links that show working in ceramics, in its widest sense, as a viable career. Supported by private foundations and ceramics industry, more info on this is available on www.craftscouncil.org.uk/learn/programmes/firing-up It is planned to establish Firing-up clusters in each English region where there is a strong academic and technical resource in ceramics.
Then there is the BCB or British Ceramic Biennial now in its second manifestation. AWARD, a showcase and exhibition for 28 artists, designers and potters at the creative edge of contemporary practice anchors a series of events in Stoke on Trent’s Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. Then at the now empty Spode factory the vast space that used to produce a large slice of tableware now houses FRESH which showcases the work of 40 recent UK graduates and also links with the Firing-up programmes from schools while Re-Fresh exhibits examples of ground-breaking ceramic research. Then there are major residency exhibits from some leading UK artists and this year Philip Eglin and Julian Stair are featued working at Spode with materials from the old factory site. Finally the work of ten international artists including Tony Cragg, Hella Jongerius, Betty Woodman, are brought from working residencies at the European Ceramic Work Centre – Europe’s major resource for ceramic development for artists who wish to work with clay cross-fertilised with ceramic artists and the best technicians imaginable. The biennial runs September 30 through to November 13 at Stoke on Trent. Go to www.britishceramicsbiennial.com for more.
Food for thought here perhaps, particulary when you pick up the carefully planned and multi-detailed publicity thrust…after all no point in doing all that if no-one goes. A three day visit is recommended if you are somewhere in the north of England at the right time.