artists and clay

As with many of the British-based artists bringing ceramic into their sculptural practice, Achaintre undertook a residency at Troy Town Art Pottery, a “radical and psychedelic” ceramic workshop in east London founded by Aaron Angell at the start of 2014.

Achaintre had previously worked with clay at evening classes and community centres, but Troy Town was “the first time I was surrounded by artists working with clay, some of them for the first time. It was fascinating to see how they translated their work into clay. They were never told what to do and therefore found entirely their own way.”

While Troy Town is open for community use, there is a prohibition on the production of functional objects. Angell demurs that running an open workshop is the only way for him to sustain a ceramic studio in London, but there is also a sense of redress at play.

For artists wanting to work in art school ceramics studios or use community pottery facilities “there’s so much resistance internally from those departments, to artists ‘misusing’ the equipment or not understanding the fundamentals,” says Angell, who, as a non-potter, found it hard to find studios in which he was allowed to experiment.

Nestled upstairs in a studio arts centre in Hackney, Troy Town has hosted 62 artist residencies over the past two years as well as community workshops, and it is to move into larger premises in April…

With all the clay-centric buzz, it’s a bit of a surprise when he starts to talk knowledgably about a programme of 15th-century secular organ music that he’s putting together for Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum. It’s a timely reminder that for all the work he’s done in enabling ceramic art, [Aaron] Angell’s own practice stretches well beyond clay: “Material is just a means to an end.” [accessed 22.04.16]

Whew, that’s OK then – he’s a proper artist. Sarcasm aside, I’m all for artists misusing equipment, or making without ceramics training – knowledge and skills can get in the way. But I couldn’t disagree more with the idea that “material is just a means to an end.” For me, it’s an art world cliché. Material is not some sort of inert, neutral matter, waiting for a human subject to come along and imbue it with meaning. Try Benjamin Buchloh’s essay, ‘Michael Asher and the Conclusion of Modernist Sculpture’ for starters.

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