Words and images: Lauren Taylor
The first session back after the Easter break saw a lecture delivered by Steve Dixon, Professor of Contemporary Crafts here at Manchester School of Art, who investigates contemporary narratives in ceramics. In the lecture, he explained how he uses his practice as a means of social expression, and how his main focus isn’t to create purely decorative or functional objects; he is far more concerned about making a statement. He uses the vehicle of recognisable, serviceable ceramics to allow his audience to gain a sense of familiarity, while encouraging a sense of understanding of the accompanying message.
Steve uses numerous ways to create a visual language to make his point, be it through choice of materials, specific forms or imagery, or where he decides to display his work. He often works alongside outlets or galleries to gain authentic inspiration and research, places such as the Imperial War Museum North, The British Ceramic Biennial in Stoke on Trent or the V&A Museum, where he was the first artist to be invited to do a residency in the ceramic studio.
His workshop followed the lecture, and aimed to get the students thinking about research driven work. The first task was to choose an object from the collection that he had brought in. At first glance the collection appeared fairly random, yet as the workshop progressed, and the students found more out about each object through their own personal knowledge and Internet research, they uncovered more links than they had first imagined, be it through the time they were made in, where Steve had collected them from, or even purely the materials in which they were made.
Next, in groups, students were asked to create a narrative that tied all their objects together, creating a theme that would be the starting point for an exhibition or archive, researching and identifying an appropriate gallery where the collection would be exhibited.
To flesh out the collection, and as a final task, the students designed an object that would be their own personal contribution to the collection, they had to think about whether they wanted to create a product that could be sold from the exhibition or a piece purely for displaying alongside the found objects.
“I wanted to get the students thinking about what they were designing and more importantly why. Did they want to recreate the historical, antique aesthetic of the other objects? Or did they want to bring their own personal, contemporary style to create contrast with them?” -Steve Dixon.
The workshop was a great way for students to begin thinking about an end point to their designs, discovering ways to portray a narrative visually through objects, and having to consider where they imagine their work being displayed at appropriate venues. This links in with their brief at The Whitworth, and ideas that Steve presented during the day has displayed to them that the context of where and how your work is viewed can influence the overall appearance dramatically.