Thursday, October 12, 2017

British Ceramics Biennial 2017

The British Ceramics Biennial is in town again, well in the town of Stoke anyway, which is one of the six towns that make up the City of Stoke on Trent.  Stoke is where Stoke Minster and the Civic Offices are and also nearby is a huge site which used to be the home of Spode China works.  There has been a factory on this site since 1771. The factory ceased to manufacture ceramics a few years after we first came to live in the area but I do remember visiting the factory, the Museum and the Blue China Restaurant.   Now the huge open and empty factory unit, known as the China Halls, is used for many community events and projects and every other year for the Ceramics Biennial.

I remember when we visited in 2015 we entered from the back of the complex this time we entered from doors on the front which are approached through the Spode Rose Garden.

This year too there are more venues than just the China Hall at Spode.  Last week we visited displays at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and the Bethesda Chapel both in Hanley.  There are also displays at the nearby AirSpace Gallery and Emma Bridgewater Factory and also at Middleport Pottery, The World of Wedgwood and The Gladstone Pottery Museum.

Inside the China Halls is an amazing space and there were so many things to see and to participate in.

There were so many wonderful displays to look at including work from ten of the best ceramic artists from across the country and also some of the best of new UK based graduate artists.

There were too many individual works, installations and displays to write about here so I've decided to concentrate on just three things that caught my attention.

 Below is a work by Juree Kim who has, with Neil Brownsword, been artist in residence at the V&A Museum for the last year, exploring the issues surrounding architectural heritage and urban regeneration.  She has visited several regional sites of historic ceramic production that remain 'invisible' due to disuse and decay. 

Juree Kim has made scale reproductions of these buildings in raw clay which were 'activated' in a performance on the opening evening of the Biennial.  In the ceremony water was added to the base of the structure which started the gradual decay and collapse of the building and highlights the issues surrounding the value of built heritage and its preservation and the decline of the pottery industry as a whole.

 The clay structure above is of the Falcon Works, Old Town Road, Hanley.  One of the volunteers we spoke to said that each time she came in to start her duties she went to check how the structure had changed and how much it disintegrated every day.

Knowledge is Power: Six Towns is an installation by leading ceramic artist Keith Harrison who has worked with the Stoke-on-Trent Libraries and Archives, schools and community groups to make a complete set of replica clay books which have been inspired by local history books

The books are fired each day, triggered by an interactive switching mechanism.   One of the volunteers in this area told us that the day before we visited some of ceramic books had exploded - which is why they safe are behind the bars.

I also found Ian McIntyre's 'Brown Betty: The Everyday Archetype' quite fascinating. The Brown Betty teapot has been around for over 300 years and has been re-engineered for the 21st century.

 The combination of Rockingham glaze and Staffordshire's Etruria red clay are fundamental to the success of the Brown Betty Teapot.  In 1693 brothers John and David Elers refined the use of the clay and based their teapots on those imported from China by the Dutch East India Company.

Artist Ian McIntyre has re-imagined the making of the teapots
and exclusive limited edition pots are on sale as part of the exhibition.

More highlights from the festival including works by Lena Peters, Holly Johns and Hannah Tounend

 Refreshments by B-Arts, Bread in Common.

 Entertainment from The Claybody Theatre

We are hoping to go back and take another look at the exhibitions before the festival closes on 5th November.


  1. What an amazing exhibition. You took us on a wonderful tour which I am thankful for, seeing things I wouldn't normally be able to.

    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed the visit, there were some fascinating things to see:)

  2. This is just my cup of tea, Brown Betty of course! It reminds me of the house of wax I saw in London, gradually melting each day. Oh that I was closer to be able to look around. 😊

    1. I think you would really enjoy the visit and the exhibits, there is also a clay pit where you can make your own piece too:)

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks, John it was fascinating:)

  4. What a wonderful exhibition - it looks the sort of place where you could spend a whole day - no wonder you hope to return :)

    I find the decline of the pottery industry in England so very sad but it is good to see an old factory is being put to such good use. Love those Brown Betty teapots :)

    1. We will pop in possibly next week for another look around and a coffee at Bread in Common. The teapots are great aren't they? Most people used to have one through my childhood. Lots of smaller china factories were lost in the 80s and early 90s, as were the coal and steel industries, but the big names like Spode, Doulton, Aynsley and Wedgwood seemed to disappear or have problems early this century. Portmeirion and Bridgewater seem to be strong also the catering wares companies like Steelite, Dudson and Churchill:)