Ongoing Projects

TOPOGRAPHIES OF THE OBSOLETE

Topographies of the Obsolete: Exploring the Site Specific and Associated Histories of Post-Industry

Topographies of the Obsolete is an Artistic Research project (KU Prosjekt) initiated by Professors Neil Brownsword and Anne Helen Mydland at Bergen Academy of Art and Design (KHiB) in collaboration with partner universities/institutions in Denmark, Germany and the UK. Our main collaborative partner is the British Ceramics Biennial, who invited KHiB to work at the originalSpode Worksfactory in Stoke-on-Trent, to develop a site specific artistic response as a core element of their 2013 exhibition program. More than 40 international artists and theoreticians are participating. Three residencies in Stoke have accumulated individual artistic projects from which the overriding project has developed.

Strands of discourse

The Socio-Economic Post Industrial Landscape as site
The Globalized Landscape of Ceramics
The Human Topography of Post-Industry
The Topography of Objects/Archives and the Artist/Archaeologist
The Topography of the Contemporary Ruin

The project is on-going until 2015, and is funded by The Norwegian Artistic Research Program, Bergen Academy of Art and Design (KHiB), and partner institutions; The Royal Danish Academy of Art, Copenhagen; Muthesius Kunsthochsule, Kiel; Bucks New University; Nottingham Trent University; Sheffield Hallam New University and Newcastle University.

Research outcomes from the project will continue to inform a programme of seminars, publications and exhibitions.

DUST; Place and Skill

[Dust] is not about rubbish, nor about the discarded; it is not about surplus, left over from something else: it is not about Waste. … It is about circularity, the impossibility of things disappearing, or going away, or being gone. (Carolyn Steedman, 2001, italics in original) [1]

The project Dust; Place and Skill explores how dust can help establish an understanding of today’s post-industrial landscape and craft practices. My material starting point is clay. I treat it as a fundamental material, focusing on its phases of dissolution into dust. I understand dust literally, as an entropic material, but also poetically, as a transitional stage—something degenerating but with the possibility of becoming something else. In Norwegian, støv denotes tiny particles or powdery substances, but in English, dust has a wider application that includes larger refuse, as suggested by the word dustbin. This project expands the concept further to ‘man-made dust, production and re-production—the dust of culture. I am interested in the material’s cultural content, not as refuse, but as an active, inclusive material; dust as the basis for a place’s composition, resources and identity.

Dust is a product of nature but also a byproduct of refining natural materials in industry and agriculture. It necessitates specialized material-related knowledge and skill. During industrialization, it generated jobs that were performed around the clock. Charles Dickens novel Our Mutual Friend (1864-5) speaks of dustmen, rag-pickers and nightmen. [2] They collected the detritus of people and industry, sorting, recycling and disposing of it according to a well-functioning system. Cinder dust was sold to brick-makers; old bricks and oyster shells were sold to builders who constructed houses and roads, and so on. I understand skill as a concept encompassing more than handiwork and tacit knowledge, so an important part of my artistic practice has been to participate in the physical work of particular places. This has not been simply in order to create my own works, but to participate in a larger community, such as a factory.

The Spode factory in Stoke-on-Trent was once built for, and with, a material. It housed employees who, through their work processes with this material, were divided into distinct areas, buildings and floors with sections and work stations. Every work station represented specialized knowledge about the material of bone china. Spode’s own porcelain, made with bone ash, feldspathic material and kaolin powder. I initially thought that all the dust here was white. Now, inside this massive complex of abandoned industry, I find nothing that is completely white. It is no longer possible to work with bone china at the Spode factory without at the same time coping with the dust from the walls, ceilings, floors and pigeons. And the dust from the people who used to work here.

I examine dust as an artistic and cultural-historical material through methods of collection, storage and processing, but also through the labour process. I have no permanent work station here; I circulate along with the dust and the objects throughout the rooms. I gather dust outside and inside the factory buildings. I sweep, scrape, brush, vacuum, crush, sift and sort the dust. Like Dickens’s dustmen, I see dust as a raw material that has the potential to become something else. It is not just a sign of decay, inertia and death, but an active process and a valuable substance. Dust is the new bone china. The factory has become its own basic material, a mine and mill rolled into one, and it is extracting and grinding itself.

Is it possible that the crafts share some of the cyclical character of dust? After all, the crafts do not disappear; they just take on different shapes in different locations. Yet a trace remains of what the dust once signified.

Dust can be understood as the antithesis of a thing—but also the form from which all things come and eventually return. Dust; Place and Skill is about the cyclical movement between solid being and dissolution.

Translator: Arlyne Moi

1. C. Steedman, Dust, The Archive and the Cultural History, Rutgers University Press, 2002, pp. 157-159.