Kingsbridge Guides: Clay as Climate
Working with clay and patterns of climate change with the Kingsbridge Guides
“Thinking about how the planet is changing makes me feel really scared”
“I feel really sad but also really excited to figure out what we can do”
Exploring patterns of climate change, ecological disasters, weather patterns, flow diagrams and the work of artists Roanna Wells and Universal Everything to create abstract patterns that flow around clay vessels to be used as cups and vases within Chrysalis. Sessions took place over several weeks during April and May, during the Guides usual meetings, and pots were finished and fired afterwards at the Mansion Community Pottery in Totnes.
Starting with an introduction to the Chrysalis project so far, including the community design development and the hands on workshops, spanning any of the groups memories of earlier involvement in the project as they were part of the consultation stage, finishing with the choice of final design of the vehicle, and its construction by various community groups across South Devon. Initially it was thought that the Guides group would take on the design and decoration of the cab of the vehicle, above the seats at the front of the van, so there was a discussion of how this could fit into the overall design, and which other groups were completing the other aspects of the design and build.
The group were then asked what they already knew about several of the guiding themes within the project, including climate change and ecological disaster, and, through looking at satellite photos of weather patterns, a discussion was facilitated of their feelings about such topics, and what they felt going forwards, their despair, their motivations, their sense of sadness, injustice, agency.
Moving on to the work of the artists Roanna Wells and Universal Everything to collectively gather a sense of how these themes could be expressed creatively, the group watched a short film of an installation by Universal Everything at Millennium Galleries in Sheffield, and also looked at photos of the work of Roanna Wells. Both artists explore themes of flow and interconnection in an abstract, immersive manner, using colour and movement.
There was then time for the group to respond creatively to the discussion and also to the work of the artists, using a variety of media, including paints, crayons, pencil crayons and pencils.
Finally, the group came together to see the work collectively and to discuss where they saw a strong sense of flow within the works, where they could see movement across the paper, and to celebrate the work that they had all created.
The nature of the construction of the van meant that a decision was made for the Guides to change the area of Chrysalis that they were working on, and for them to create a series of clay vessels, rather than to install a mural in the cab space of the van.
Having previously explored some of the themes of the Chrysalis project- biodiversity loss, human interconnection with nature, climate change, weather unpredictability- freely and with a variety of materials and colours, the group moved on to refining their work, using only pencils to experiment with creating a sense of flow across their paper using their marks- how to make work that encourages the viewer and user to explore the piece, and also that enables anyone with additional needs or sight impairment, as well as children to interact with the work through touch. One of the few pieces of Chrysalis that would be experienced through the eyes, hands and lips, the clay vessels provided a wonderful opportunity to open up the project to the senses.
After exploring the marks on paper, the group moved on to working on flat pieces of clay to experiment with a different material and set of limits and possibilities. The final vessels would be slab built, with a similar initial series of steps, thus allowing the group to become acquainted with the processes involved before the final making session. The final ‘drawings in clay’ were placed together in the middle of the room at the end of the day, allowing for a group reflection on their ways of working and translations of their pencil drawings onto clay.
Making the Vessels
The group looked at all of the drawings again, picking out the one that they wanted to transfer onto the clay.
The clay was carefully rolled out, and the mark making began- swirls, dots, indentations.... Imaginations went wild!
Once finished, the slabs were rolled into cylinders, joined, and bases and handles were added before all of the joins were smoothed and made strong.
Finally, each member of the group added their name or initial to the pots using letter stamps.
Firing the Vessels
The pots were fired at the Mansion Community Pottery with the help of the amazing volunteer kiln master Lilli, who programmed the kiln.
Smoothed and finished in the 24-48 hours following the making session with the Guides, all joins in the pots were checked, rims smoothed, bases flattened and generally prepared for their first firing.
After being delivered to the bisque firing by Mair, the pots were fired up to 1000.C to ensure a process called Quartz inversion had taken place, transforming the clay vessels into ceramics, and removing all of the water.
Out of the kiln, they were fettled, removing as many sharp pieces of the fired pots as possible, smoothing any snapped or broken edges, and given a brief dusting to remove any kiln or firing debris.
Brushed with Cobalt Oxide, into all of the drawings, writing and marks on the pots to emphasise the work of the Guides, and then wiped back, trying to keep all of the pots as dry as possible, but remove any excess oxide.
Once clean, the pots were dipped into a clear lead free glaze, before having their bases wiped, drips smoothed and pinholes filled in.
A swoosh of ‘Chrysalis 2019’ was added inoxide to the bases.
Finally, the pots were placed in the kiln, where Lilli programmed it to fully fire the pots up to 1280.C.
The short films that we watched:
To find out more about how other community groups and individuals across South Devon have been part of the making of Chrysalis, have a look at the Chrysalis Instagram account.