Craft case: British Ceramics biennial

 

If the UK is to hold a ceramics festival, is there a better location than Stoke on Trent?

The city has a well-documented history as a global hub of quality ceramics, but the British Ceramics Biennial is an event that looks determinely forward and outward from Britain.

Back for a third time in 2013, Stoke-on-Trent’s British Ceramics Biennial presented work from the UK’s leading contemporary ceramic artists in a series of new exhibitions and special events across the city. 

Following the success of the last Biennial in 2011, the festival took over China Hall at the original, historic Spode factory site in Stoke town. This festival of the best in contemporary ceramics brought together 150 artists through exhibitions, installations and events that draw on the heritage and creative edge of Stoke-on-Trent. 

Furthermore, In Exploring Spode, commissioned artists made personal responses to the factory space. These included poet and writer Holly Corfield Carr’s texts embedded in the building, and Stephen Dixon’s archaeological study of the value of historical artefacts. Ceramicists from the Crafts Council’s Hothouse Programme which supports emerging makers, also collaborated for the Biennial by creating individual site-specific works which visitors encountered as a unified group using a specially designed map.

There was also an international dialogue with work on display from practitioners based in France, Norway and China. 

An international group of 30 researchers from the Bergen Academy of Art and Design (KHIB) in Norway inhabited other buildings and spaces that have not previously been open to the public, with a specially mapped out site tour revealing their sensitive and remarkable interventions and installations.  

During the Biennial, the Firing Up also showcase presented ceramics by secondary school pupils who participated in the Crafts Council’s Firing Up programme between 2010 and 2013.

Firing Up is a three-year programme funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation that has introduced thousands of young people to the joy of clay.

Ceramics is a subject that is rarely taught in secondary schools despite huge benefits that children receive from learning with their hands. 

Firing Up supports secondary schools to use clay creatively and confidently via collaborative working with makers, artists and Higher Educational Institutions in their area. 

The programme has developed a number of clusters across the UK including Stoke, Preston, London, Plymouth, Liverpool, Sunderland, Bath and Leicester. To date the programme has involved 66 schools and over 2,600 students. 

Ceramicists from the Crafts Council’s Hothouse Programme which supports emerging makers, also collaborated for the Biennial by creating individual site-specific works which visitors encountered as a unified group using a specially designed map.