British Ceramics Biennial
Grant Gibson is impressed by the work on display at Stoke's five week festival of clay.
7th September – 13th October
Is it really a decade since the British Ceramics Biennial (BCB) launched? I have to confess I was mildly critical of that first edition back in 2009. It seemed to me that the curators were trying to curate Stoke-on-Trent itself – a diffuse city, tricky to navigate without a car – rather than create a coherent show.
Things changed two years later, however, when BCB moved the vast majority of its activity into the magnificent former Spode factory. No matter how often I visit, its sheer scale takes the breath away. It’s also a wonderful place to show work and remains the beating heart of the event, housing an array of different exhibitions and installations, as well as an area where visitors can have a go with clay themselves.
Things to look out for include:
‘AWARD’ brings together new work created by ten ceramic artists who are exploring the material’s possibilities. Check out pieces from the likes of Jessica Harrison, John Rainey and Irina Razumovskaya.
‘Fresh’ is a showcase for 21 recent ceramic graduates from both further and higher education. A personal favourite is Luke Fuller who won the top award at 2018’s New Designers exhibition with work that was inspired by the Welsh steel town of Port Talbot. He has subsequently gone on to the RCA and has been picked up by Sarah Myerscough Gallery.
Lawrence Epps is a regular contributor to the BCB. ‘Accolade’, his new installation tucked into a corner of the old factory, is an intriguing exploration of the art market and perceptions of value. A fistful of the warped and twisted ceramic trophies on a rotating display contain a thousand pounds worth of gold bullion. But which of the vessels conceal the gold? And if you purchased one would you be prepared to smash it to find out?
This year there are also a couple of exhibitions outside of the central hub that are worth a visit:
‘Cultural Icons’ at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery sees a group of contemporary ceramists – including Christie Brown, Stephen Dixon and Matt Smith – create pieces that have been inspired by Staffordshire flatbacks, mantelpiece figurines that were popular in the nineteenth century.
The finished results contain tributes to the judges of Strictly Come Dancing, and a satire of Donald Trump.
Meanwhile the adjacent AirSpace Gallery plays host to a new installation from artists Dunhill and O’Brien that attempts to explain the importance of tacit knowledge through clay. It’s fascinating stuff.
British Ceramics Biennial – a festival celebrating and showcasing contemporary ceramics from across the world.