Watt’s Up? explores the relationship between ceramics and light by presenting some thirty works of art from all over the world, all created in recent years. Oddly enough, this relationship seems to inspire artists more than designers, trained to create objects such as lamps. Perhaps that’s because light transcends objects and gives us a whole new take on the world. Light affects our vision by modifying our perception of space and movement. In addition, there is a symbolic, poetic and mysterious element to it. As the French author Jean Giono once put it, very clever mysteries hide in the light. If light and ceramics go hand in hand, it’s mainly courtesy of porcelain’s unique properties of translucency, which can give light – produced by a candle or a tungsten filament – a soft, poetic aura and elicit a feeling of wonder. Ceramics offers a broad palette of sensations to play with. Faience is heavy, glossy and sensual in its interaction with light. Pottery absorbs lux units and asserts its own material plasticity to counter the intangible nature of light. Porcelain is lightweight and translucent, and the matte aspect of unglazed biscuit forms a striking contrast with the gloss of the glaze. Watt’s Up? is an unprecedented investigation of the latest innovations and know-how, both sensorial and intellectual in scope. As the topic was complex and broke new ground, it took nearly two years of research to bring these thirty or so works together. These works are by fifteen artists exhibiting for the first time in France. They are the result of technical prowess – manual and technical – as well as fresh creative thinking. None of them represent any particular school of thought, creative trend or artistic movement. Each work is an explosion of creativity, born of the artist’s reflections and inspiring a sense of wonder. This exhibition sheds new light on the art of ceramics.
You take your inspiration from nature. You are not just making a superficial observation, but you conduct a research of the things hidden to the naked eye. Tell us more about the universe you have discovered through your explorations.
I am fascinated by the natural world in its widest sense and at all levels. An interest in the nature of time - the past, present and future has led me to investigate multiverse theory and hidden dimensions - concealed worlds. From there I began to examine nature on a microscopic and nano scale. I became fascinated by the concept of the unseen and rendering it seen.
One of the subjects I investigated was that of diatoms, especially fossil diatoms. Invisible to the naked eye, beautiful and structurally complex I discovered them to bevery significanting the field of paleoclimatology - they are an important indicator of climate change.
I like to select various aspects of the natural world and then examine them on both a macroscopic and microscopic level, considering them in terms of their relationship to time and how they relate to other parts of the universe.
Intricate but also delicate, your work seems to be obtained through a very meticulous process. What materials and techniques do you use and how much time does it take to complete a new piece?
Porcelain is the clay I favor - I particularly like ‘Southern Ice White’ which was developed by the Australian ceramicist Les Blakebrough. In general, the works are handbuilt; occasionally I use slip in a free but controlled way, sometimes combining it with fine glass fibre. I like to push the material beyond its perceived boundaries. The characteristics of porcelain mean that it requires careful handling throughout the making process and control and accuracy with firing and cooling.
I often incorporate extraneous materials once the piece is fired such as metal, monofilament, fibre or horsehair. These elements add richness to the work.
A new piece can take up to two weeks to make, depending on its complexity and it can take a further week or two to construct and apply other elements. I work intuitively when I am making, drawing on my research and bringing all the experiences together.
Both science and art are a way of looking at the surrounding environment. What do you think is their meeting point? What kind of form of knowledge is art?
I often find myself working with scientists on projects and I think the two disciplines have many aspects in common. They both help us to understand the world around us. They both rely on investigation and imagination – the ‘what if?’ principle.
Intrigued by the tenuous connection between past, present and future and the shadowy, illusive meaning of time, Annie Woodford makes work that is both haunting and enigmatic. Shifting boundaries between science and metaphysics and an enduring interest in parallel universe theory instill the pieces with a heightened intensity, whilst an obsession with hidden worlds has prompted her investigations into microscopy and the nano universe - making the unseen seen.
Captivated by the natural world and our mysterious, infinite universe - whether seen at macroscopic or microscopic levels - she finds them the source of endless fascination and wonder. Mankind’s place within that universe and the dichotomy between our wish for progress and our proclivity for self-destruction, has become a central theme.
A passion for frozen environments and the message they embrace, not only from the past but also for the future of our planet has resulted in research trips to the Arctic and Iceland and a detailed study of the coldest place on Earth – Antarctica.
The work exhibits qualities that reflect the natural world, elements that highlight its beauty and transience. Fragile, frangible, complex and esoteric, delicately balanced between risk and control, her pieces float and oscillate between absence and presence, hovering silently in a place between.
‘Nature is an infinite sphere of which the center is everywhere and the circumference nowhere’ Blaise Pascal, mathematician, poet, philosopher.
“When working with bone china for the first time I was struck by its pure whiteness, ability to take on fine detail and its astonishing translucence. This light responsive property, that enables bone china to switch between translucent and opaque states - gradually or instantaneously - as light changes around it, continues to be a major source of fascination.
Providing a subconscious inspiration for many pieces is my interest in the patterns, textures, shapes and forms found in nature - often and in particular, the ‘tiny worlds’ seen under a microscope or through a macro lens. In addition to these themes, I continue to develop a small strand of works that focus on ‘iconic’ objects from my own childhood.
Bone china has many testing characteristics for a maker - an in-flexible ‘body’ prone to crumbling when worked, an inability to be wheel-thrown and a propensity to collapse or bend when firing. Add to these a very keen ‘clay memory’, a trait that causes repaired splits and stresses to reappear again once fired and you inevitably face high loss rates in production. For this reason most ceramicists avoid using bone china. However, through time I have come to understand the nature of the clay and I now relish the constant challenges it presents. Still, a tension exists between the clay’s constraints and my intent as an artist to counter or exploit them in order to reveal its inherent beauty and demonstrate its perhaps unexpected versatility.
To capitalize on the allure of bone china I adopt ‘high-risk’ techniques - often unconventional, certainly against traditional good practice - which push the clay to its very limits. Intuition allied with experience is relied on to make a successful piece. New technologies like water-jet cutting brought together with long-established ceramic processes make possible the creation of works significantly greater in height and volume whilst crucially keeping the ceramic thin enough to retain delicacy and translucence. I routinely combine traditional and modern approaches whilst attempting to push back the boundaries and to redefine the perception of bone china as something more than simply the sole preserve of fine tableware.” Chris Wight