DesignLab: Ceramics with Keith Harrison

In December the schools team worked with current artist in residence Keith Harrison  on a DesignLab project with students from Langley Academy. DesignLab is a programme of projects that explore new ways of engaging students with art & design. It brings schools together with museum educators & curators, practising artists & designers and the museum’s collections to work on projects and engage in CPD activities.

Ceramics Studio

This short project introduced the students to Keith Harrison’s professional practise through a studio visit, live performances and demos by the artist. Students were then challenged to model this contemporary and cross disciplinary practise throughout the project. Keith Harrison is interested in exploring the opportunities that clay offers in its different states; as a liquid, plastic and solid and, ultimately, the potential for the direct physical transformation of clay from a raw state utilising industrial and domestic electrical systems in a series of time-based public experiments.


The students were asked to devise their own live experiment using a kit of clay and other components. In the lead up to this live experiment, the students got the opportunity to experiment with clay as a medium and explore firing the clay without using a kiln. On day one this was done by carefully forming a substance called, Egyptian paste, which is made up of clay and glass, around electrical heating elements that were heated in a domestic electrical heater.  Students were encouraged to consider what happens to the material when they transform it with heat and also think about change and transformation as a larger theme.

Keith and Students working

On the final day of the project the students returned to the Museum to start work on their final experiment, the students who were working in groups had each selected an iconic building which they wanted to form in clay and change in some way through heat. Using nichrome wire and car batteries, they worked together to hook up their final forms to the electrical equipment and then predicted the results of the experiment. The question was posed ‘Is this Science or Art?’ to which there were mixed responses.

Students ready to experiment

Throughout these sessions, students focussed on the process of making and firing and how this can be altered or explored to become an art work. To support the project, students also explored the collections at the V&A to research other practitioners that have experimented with materiality and process in clay.

DesignLab aims to inspire a new generation of creative practitioners as well as broaden young people’s understanding of the designed world around them, how it is made and its impact on society and the environment. To find out more about other DesignLab projects run by the schools team, please visit our Flickr account.

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