James Rigler was Ceramics Resident
October 2013 – March 2014
Supported by William and Valerie Brake
James is an artist who works with clay and other everyday materials, to create sculptures and installations that question the architecture and meaning of the places around us. A graduate of the University of Brighton and the Royal College of Art, his work is often influenced by his time spent as a model-maker and mould-maker in the architectural ceramic industry. James has exhibited internationally, and recent projects have included the Jerwood Makers Open 2012 and the British Ceramic Biennial 2013. A visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art, he is based in Glasgow, and represented by Marsden Woo Gallery, London.
Architecture is a game of signs. Material, scale, form, decoration: it’s all sending a message about the importance of a building and what happens within it. Not all buildings are created equal, after all, and their skins help to reveal the values of the society that built them. The hierarchy of a place’s architecture reflects the hierarchy of its people, just as an object’s placement in either museum cabinet or kitchen cupboard might indicate the worth (or worthlessness) of its owner.
It’s only when we begin to examine them that we become aware of the strangeness of our surroundings, the qualities that make a place distinct, the underlying structures gluing our cities together. Grand buildings are borne of power, whether spiritual, physical or economic, but changing architectural styles conceal these common factors.Our built environment is so familiar that its elements can become easy to overlook, almost invisible. We forget to notice the signs we’re reading. So who makes these distinctions, marking out extraordinary buildings from ordinary ones? What values are they trying to convey? By unpicking the language of our built environment, we can begin to challenge false claims to significance, or seek ways to celebrate those ordinary places that mean the world to us.
Clay’s a democratic material. Anyone can make with it. It’s the stuff of palaces and plates, the Trojan horse of building materials - something that smuggles the ordinary into extraordinary places, defiantly humble in its connotations. As a material with no form of its own, it’s peculiarly able to shape-shift, to adopt the signs and signifiers of other things. The history of clay in architecture is an ancient one, and our built environment is still a realm of bricks, blocks and tiles. It is this strand of ceramic history that informs the sculptures I make.
One of the often-overlooked collections at the V&A is that of the building itself - a collection of structures in different styles and materials that have accrued on the site over the past 150 years. Built in a piecemeal fashion, the building is a complex tangle of public, private and hidden spaces. Its rich history continues to evolve, with 2013 marking the start of construction work on the Exhibition Road extension, and overlaying it all is the web of stories and histories of the people that have made and used the spaces.
During my residency, I focused on the history and structure of the museum site, and explored the spaces that might be otherwise hidden from view. From this process of investigation I developed new ceramic sculptures to share my findings.