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News New international ceramic prize celebrates links between Potteries and Cornwall

Professor Neil Brownsword is winner of Whitegold International Ceramics Prize

Neil Brownsword, Professor of Ceramics and winner of the Whitegold prize
Image: Neil Brownsword, Professor of Ceramics and winner of the Whitegold prize

Through this project, I will draw upon a range of historic tools associated with ceramic production and clay extraction, to reanimate actions and forgotten processes.

Neil Brownsword, Professor of Ceramics

A Staffordshire University professor has been awarded a new international ceramic prize which will result in a new installation in Cornwall next year.

Professor Neil Brownsword is one of two recipients of the first Whitegold International Ceramic Prize for a proposal which aims to explore the intimate connections that exist between the histories of St Austell and Stoke-on-Trent.

For more than two centuries, the industrial histories of the two places have been intertwined through the traditions of china clay production and ceramics. Both regions bear within their landscape the physical effects of industry, and recent economic and social transitions due to global competition and the outsourcing of skilled labour.

Through film, installation and public interaction, Professor Brownsword aims to reconnect audiences to the physicality of raw materials, their geological origins and wider cultural contexts, together with systems of labour, tools and technologies that helped to define the success of these industrial regions.

He said: “I’m fascinated by these two industries; their parallel connection to clay as a material, and the ‘alchemic’ processes that turns this inert matter into objects which enhance our daily lives. Through this project, I will draw upon a range of historic tools associated with ceramic production and clay extraction, to reanimate actions and forgotten processes. As the digital continues to revolutionise production, the ‘knowledge of the hand’ is becoming increasingly lost. I’m hoping to reassign a sense of value to these more traditional systems of knowledge back into contemporary consciousness.”

“Communities were established around these industries – livelihoods were built on the extraction and transformation of raw materials. As they have downsized in recent decades, there exists a sense of detachment from these histories. I want to explore new ways to reactivate connections that have shaped the identity of place, through artistic process and participation.”

Brownsword will create a multi-media installation that draws on these physical environments and the obscure aesthetics of the production processes. An interactive element of the project will encourage people to creatively explore clay in its raw states and celebrate these histories in new and unexpected ways.

The second recipient Tana West is an artist whose work has been featured in the British Ceramic Biennial held in Stoke-on-Trent.

West aims to construct a large circular panorama inspired by clay country. Her inspiration came from the panoramic wallpaper that hung in the White Hart Hotel in St Austell when it opened in 1822. The scene depicted the Bay of Naples, reflecting the prosperity and global links of the early traders in china clay.

“When it was created, the original panorama was the height of fashion and depicted St Austell as the bustling growth town it was then. I want to use this pre-cinema idea of the spectacle to create a panorama of the things that are important about this place for people today. I will gather ideas through their stories – when someone tells you a story about something it will seep into what you’re doing.”

West’s new panorama will be made up of a number of panels created from local clay made to resemble wallpaper.

Whitegold Co-curator Katie Bunnell said: “The Whitegold Prize brings internationally recognised artists to the region to develop new work with local community at its heart. The two prize winners were selected from a very strong shortlist by an experienced team of jurors. We’re looking forward to seeing how the artists’ ideas develop over the coming months, and how the local community respond to this creative exploration of the area’s industrial past.”

The winning artists are currently working with Whitegold curators to develop the fine detail of their proposals. The work created will be part of the Whitegold Festival on 19 September 2020.

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