Ceramic Symposium

Messums West was pleased to host another well attended Ceramics Symposium at our 13th century Tithe Barn on 6 April 2024.

This symposium, taking place during Earth Month, focusses on the themes of our ‘Of the Earth’ exhibition and draws attention to makers that are engaging with the raw materiality of clay and connection with the landscape, and thus engaging the audience with the environment and its changing status as a result of climate change. The aim of the exhibition and symposium was not one that continually warned of the fragility of our environment and the risks of climate change, we believe the severity of the climate situation is well discussed in probably more appropriate forums and that it is not in art that we are going to find the solutions and answers to the world’s climate issues. But what art can do is instil an appreciation and respect for the environment through an artist’s engagement with and love for the world around us and hopefully provoke a kinder outlook, more motivated towards action. And what closer medium to the earth is there, than clay.

Talks began with an introduction from Ceramics Season curator Natalie Baerselman le Gros and artist presentations from Claudia Barreira and Adam Buick on their practices and exhibited works in the exhibition. Barreira discussed her desire to stay true to the clay, rather than hiding the texture of the clay under glazing, and her research into locally and ethically sourced clays. Buick described the origins of his environmental awareness and a collection reflecting on the mining of metals that embedded mobile phones and computer circuit boards into his vessels. The three conducted a panel discussion that expanded on the artist’s use of clay and their relationship to the landscape, as well as environmental concerns in their practice, followed by an insightful question and answer session from the audience. Charly Blackburn presented an experimental audio visual work to accompany her ceramic pieces that drew attention to the violence of mining practices and the power of metals and minerals, through image and video and sound recordings from mining sites.

The afternoon began with a talk from Halima Cassell MBE on her practice, particularly her ‘Virtues of Unity’ installation, the centre piece in the ‘Of the Earth’ exhibition. Cassell discussed the origins of her motivation to create ‘Virtues of Unity’, being treated as a foreigner despite growing up in the UK, her work aims to speak of a unity in diversity. The day ended with a more expansive look at clay into architectural applications with a talk from Emaad Damda of Tuckey Design Studio on their Rammed Earth House. The talk connected the ceramics symposium with Messums’ wider interests in architecture and spoke of the Rammed Earth technique as a possibly infinite building material, taking use of the rubble from the previously dismantled building as a component of structural walls as well as decorative interior finishes.

The day was attended by over 100 delegates, both from the local area and as far-afield as East Anglia and Wales, and included artists, industry and museum professionals and the interested public.

Our thanks to our hospitality team at Messums West, all the speakers and exhibiting artists.

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