Launched in 2009 with a festival celebrating contemporary ceramics from across the world, the British Ceramics Biennial is a biannual festival in Stoke-on-Trent, home to iconic brands such as Wedgwood. Seen by many as a city in decline, Stoke is in fact the vibrant home of the UK’s ceramics industry and source of much contemporary and exciting work, as evidenced by this the fifth iteration of the festival. Leading London-based designer and ceramicist Ian McIntyre curated Brown Betty: An Everyday Archetype, an exhibition that included Lee Miller’s photograph (above) among many examples of the ways in which the iconic teapot, originally made from red clay discovered in Stoke-on-Trent in 1695 but much copied, has seeped into British and global culture.
McIntyre has also reimagined the Brown Betty to create the perfect teapot – complete with a non-drip spout, a lid that won’t fall off mid-pour and an inner casing to hold tea leaves – in a limited edition of 500 available for sale at the intentionally accessible price of just £28 (about $37 USD).
Josiah Spode l acquired the Spode Works site in 1776 at the height of the industrial revolution and Spode wares were made there until just nine years ago. At its peak, Spode was one of the largest potteries in Staffordshire, employing approximately a thousand people. Today it is one of the main venues for the festival. The Ceramic City installation, part of which is pictured above, reflects “the current surge in interest in ceramics and with it the resurgence of the city’s ceramics industry” showing various parts of the process and new innovations.
Neil Brownsword curated an installation entitled Place and Practices, which seeks to capture the memories of Spode Works. Housed in a section of the building that is due to be demolished after the festival, Neil is showcasing specific craft skills and parts of the process not usually visible to people outside of the factory environment.
Keith Harrison was commissioned by Stoke-on-Trent Libraries and Archives in association with BCB to create a major new work, Knowledge is Power. Inspired by the special Six Towns Collection of local history books which provide a record of the towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent – Hanley, Burslem, Tunstall, Longton, Fenton and Stoke-on-Trent itself. Over the course of the festival, clay ‘books’ will be fired in kilns representing each town.
Matthew Raw’s Come Away In is part of a body work exploring ceramic tiles and the urban environment. “My work focuses on people and place,” he says. “I respond to real life accounts and look for forms and materials to communicate my thoughts.”
Touch Me Use Me by Eva Masterman utilizes found furniture, ceramics, motors, wire, steel, pipe, graphite to create an installation that is so evocative of the making process of ceramics, it seems to capture a moment in time.
Royal College of Art graduate Sam Bakewell won the British Ceramic Biennial AWARD in 2015. Imagination Dead Imagine, his Biennial piece, was a purpose built clay structure housing 12 years of occasional object making, from spontaneous tests to a small hand carved piece which took seven years to complete. For the 2017 festival, he made Reader, an installation that sought to show the material of clay at its most elemental and tactile.
The Craft Potters Association showcase includes examples of contemporary functional ceramics, such as this jug by Mary Cheng. All the work is for sale throughout the festival.
Heart: Beat is an installation across two venues – the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and the Bethesda Chapel. It’s the result of a 2-week residency in Maharastra in rural India inspired by the traditional Warli practice of the area, an example of which is seen above.
The Bethesda Chapel is an incredible space in its own right – known as the “Cathedral of the Potteries”, it is one of the largest and most ornate surviving Methodist town chapels in the UK. For the duration of the festival, it is filled with ceramics.
Sketch, also created for Heart: Beat installation is by the V&A’s inaugural Ceramics Artist in Residence, Professor Stephen Dixon, as part of a collective response to the idea of establishing an art center as a site for the preservation and development of Warli cultural creative practice.