Topographies of the Obsolete workshop June 2014

Topographies of the Obsolete's workshop at Spode original factory site in June.

The workshop lasted from June 15th to June 22nd and the articipants were Margrethe Kolstad Brekke,  Tina Gibbs,  Sabine Popp,  Anne Helen Mydland,  Wendy Gers,  Neil Brownsword,  Danica Maier,  Andrew Brown, Karin Blomgren,  Richard Launder,  Jane Sverdrupsen, Bjarte Bjørkum,  Olav Lars Bjørkum, Traci Kelly and Gwen Heeney.

This fourth workshop gave participants in the artistic research project the possibility to meet up and do a follow-up on works created for the exhibition "Topographies of the Obsolete: Vociferous Void", or to once more enter the derelict factory site in order to create new site-specific works connected to their individual artistic research projects and art practice in general. Also, the involved artists shared their reflections in a discussion group which focused on individual development of the works and the possibilities and future plans for the artistic research project. This was followed by Spode Conversations Seminar 2.

Spode Conversations Seminar 2


Dr Neil Ewins University of Sunderland: Globalization and the UK Ceramic Industry (c1990-2010) 

According to Frances Hannah's Ceramics: Twentieth Century Design, of 1986, the future of the UK ceramic industry would be one of operating across cultural and political boundaries. Gradually ceramic production would no longer adapt to national tastes, and manufacturing would exploit cheap labour in developing countries.

In theoretical terms, Lash and Urry's Economies of Signs and Space, of 1994, considered how the design process might evolve in a post-industrial and postmodernist environment. Lash and Urry argued that as production in the west declines, the design aesthetics become more important, and the advertising and branding significantly contributes to the product's meaning.

This paper considers the impact of globalization on the actual marketing and design of UK ceramics, and draws attention to the testimony of ceramic manufacturers and ceramic retailers working in this period of transition. By examining the UK ceramics industry and the range of commodities that it produces, this paper highlights how the impact of post-industrialism and globalization has created possibilities, yet, for just one industry it has created difficulties, not necessarily envisaged by Lash and Urry. Whilst in reality, Far Eastern ceramic imports have surged, resulting in the closure of factories, not all UK ceramic production has been adversely affected. In fact, some ceramic firms have grown in size, and some production, that was outsourced abroad, has been brought back to Staffordshire. 

As UK ceramics can have pretentions of craft and collectable dimensions, is the explanation for this complex behaviour due to the place of UK ceramic production being considered as intrinsic to the meaning and cultural significance of the products? Contrary to the multi-national tendency predicted by Frances Hannah in the 1980s, those UK manufacturers that have remained more independent have often survived. It is ironic that in an increasingly globalised world, an ability to remain agile and adapt to a more bespoke demand, has actually proved to be advantageous to the UK ceramic industry. It is argued in this paper that UK ceramics remain culturally complex because of issues of supply and demand, and ties to heritage, imagined or otherwise.

Dr. Neil Ewins is a Senior Lecturer in Design History at the University of Sunderland. His main area of research has focused on UK ceramic history in terms of market demand, trade and distribution. His MPhil research undertaken at Staffordshire University, examined Anglo-American ceramic trade and was published as "Supplying the Present Wants of Our Yankee Cousins" Staffordshire Ceramics and the American Market 1775-1880, City Museum & Art Gallery of Stoke-on-Trent, in 1997. Other publications have included a chapter on 'Comparative Studies in Anglo-American Ceramic Demand' in Ceramics in America (ed. by Robert Hunter), Chipstone Foundation, University Press of New England, Hanover and London, Autumn 2008. Neil has lectured in Toronto, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and at a variety of UK conferences. He was made an Honorary Member of the ceramic Flow Blue Collectors' Club, USA, after presenting two lectures in July 2002 at their Chicago Conference. Neil's recent PhD research was concerned with the impact of the Far East on the contemporary UK ceramic industry. Neil lectured on 'UK ceramic manufacturing strategy, marketing and design' at the 22nd Annual Parsons/Cooper-Hewitt Symposium on 'Mobility of Design', Decorative Arts and Design, New York, April 2013. In addition, he lectured on 'UK Ceramic Marketing in response to Globalization' at The Conference on Historical Analysis and Research in Marketing (CHARM) Copenhagen, June 2013. Neil has been invited to speak at the 'Design Culture:  object, discipline and practice' conference organized by the University of Southern Denmark and the University of Brighton, to be held at Design School Kolding, September 2014. A chapter on 'The Formation of American Ceramic Preferences' by Neil Ewins in Ceramic Identification in Historical Archaeology: the View from California, 1822-1940,  edited by Rebecca Allen, Julia Huddleston, Kimberly Wooten and Glenn Farris, Society for Historical Archaeology, Special Publication Series No.11, Rockville, MD, USA, is out now.

Wendy Gers.  University of Johannesburg, SA. Research Associate. Paper title tbc

Wendy Gers research is concerned with Africana tourist, art and production pottery produced in South Africa and Britain from 1930-1975 in terms of various theoretical and critical concerns that they raise. This includes an investigation into the context of production, networks of circulation and negotiating several theoretical issues including varied articulations of hybrid forms of Transnational Modernism, questions about their avant-garde status, notions of authenticity, the possibilities of their parasitic value and their ability to afford critical agency.

Pictures taken by Jane Sverdrupsen

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