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Exhibitions

British Ceramics Biennial

Grant Gibson is impressed by the work on display at Stoke's five week festival of clay.

Stoke-on-Trent

7th September – 13th October

 

By Grant Gibson / 11th September 2019
Jessica Harrison, ‘Counterfeits, Imitations and Copies of Works of Art’, 2019 COURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

Jessica Harrison, ‘Counterfeits, Imitations and Copies of Works of Art’, 2019
COURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

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.

British Ceramics Biennial, 2019, in the China Hall of the original Spode factory COURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

British Ceramics Biennial, 2019, in the China Hall of the original Spode factory
COURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

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.

John Rainey, ‘Copia Romana’, 2019 OURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

Irina Razumovskaya, ‘ARCHEO’ installation, 2019 (detail)
OURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

Irina Razumovskaya, ‘ARCHEO’ installation, 2019 (detail) COURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

John Rainey, ‘Copia Romana’, 2019
COURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

‘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.

Luke Fuller’s work in ‘Fresh’ COURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

Luke Fuller’s work in ‘Fresh’
COURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

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?

Laurence Epps, ‘Accolade’, 2019 COURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

Laurence Epps, ‘Accolade’, 2019
COURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

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.

Matt Smith, ‘Oceans Rise. Empires Fall’ series, 2019 (detail) COURTESY: BCB

Matt Smith, ‘Oceans Rise. Empires Fall’ series, 2019 (detail)
COURTESY: BCB

Christie Brown, ‘When Were you Under Me’, 2019 COURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

Christie Brown, ‘When Were you Under Me’, 2019
COURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

The finished results contain tributes to the judges of Strictly Come Dancing, and a satire of Donald Trump.

Stephen Dixon, ‘The Trumposaurus’, 2019 COURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

Stephen Dixon, ‘The Trumposaurus’, 2019
COURTESY: BCB / PHOTOGRAPH: Jenny Harper

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.

Video still from ‘Terms & Conditions’ by Dunhill & O’Brien COURTESY: Dunhill & O’Brien

Video still from ‘Terms & Conditions’ by Dunhill & O’Brien
COURTESY: Dunhill & O’Brien

British Ceramics Biennial
VIDEOGRAPHY: Joseph and Michael Doran

British Ceramics Biennial – a festival celebrating and showcasing contemporary ceramics from across the world.

Article By

Grant Gibson
Grant Gibson is a former editor of Blueprint and Crafts and hosts the new podcast Material Matters.