London 2012 clay: above and below ground

September 18, 2012

2012 has been quite amazing summer in London, and for me, it’s not only the Olympics that have been inspiring! The V&A Museum Residency Programme has been in full swing. We hosted the Rio Occupation Residency, have just welcomed Costume Design for Film Resident Hayley Nebauer, and have been lucky enough to host world class ceramicist Michelle Erickson for three months.

Michelle researches historical ceramic processes to create cutting-edge contemporary artworks. She researches the making technique and process, working backwards by trial and error. Her contemporary work makes use of these techniques to create historical narratives about political, social, and environmental issues – both past and present.

During Michelle’s residency we have been working with film maker Juriaan Booji to make three short films that chart the process of historical and lost ceramic skills.  Michelle is a stunningly skilled maker and ceramics is a  complex craft. I have been mesmerized watching Michelle make, from throwing a puzzle-jug on the wheel to preparing and working with fine clays to create agate wares.

While filming, Michelle made new discoveries in her research by comparing a C18th agate teapot from the collection to a shell mould that she had made previously.  The natural shell had clearly been used to create the mould.  Michelle and the V&A curators found this discovery of great interest as little is known about the process of making these objects.

During her residency, Michelle has been making with London clay – that is, clay given to her by builders at a large construction site in east London. The clay had been dug up from deep excavations.  Michelle is developing ideas around incorporating moulds from ‘Nike’s 2012 Olympic Track & Field Innovation’ running shoes into her contemporary work, while looking to historical dragons from around the world in the V&A’s collections. The development and methodology of designing high-performance athletic wear mirrors that of ceramic production; relatively inaccessible materials and components not usually found together create a highly accessible product.

Michelle’s here for just one more week, after which she’ll return to the USA.   She’ll be holding Open Studios on Wednesday 19 and Saturday 22 September for visitors to find out more about her research and the work she has been doing this summer in London.  Michelle will also give a lecture on Wednesday 19 September as part of London Design Festival.  The films, including a new one about her London clay work, will be available to watch on the V&A Channel in November.

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