How does plastic art represent or produce an event, a happening, or a transformation?
Can the plastic arts – such as sculpture, pottery and ceramics – transform and express transformation even after their forms have been ossified or fixed, for example after being fired in the kiln?
Does plasticity and plastic transformation have a temporality, or a history? What kind of narrative or story does plastic transformation produce?
Does plastic transformation happy in time or space? Or both? Or neither?
The work of ceramicist Amanda Doidge comprises fascinating and surprising engagements with these questions.
Amanda Doidge: Ceramics, temporality, event
Describing her recent creations in experimental ceramics on her website, Amanda says:
“I am fascinated by how life has evolved from rock. How can we tell the precise stage when it becomes life and is no longer ‘just’ chemistry? I have been looking into the elements that make up clay and glaze materials, that are also found in humans and have a biological role. Some, like Lithium, are used as medicines.
This piece kill or cure is made of bone china, all the elements of which are found in humans: Silica, Alumina, Potassium, Sodium, Calcium and Phosphorous. I have included in the clay increasing amounts of Lithium. In ceramics, Lithium is normally used in the glaze. It lowers the melting point of silica. In medicine Lithium has to be given at a dose specific to the patient, and patients have to be very closely monitored. Too small a dose and it doesn’t work, too much and it can cause everything from paralysis to death. The difference between a medicine and a poison is the dose. In kill or cure, the gradual increases of the ‘dose’ illustrate the story of where the tipping point is. If you do not see the whole series but see the final cup in isolation it is almost unrecognisable as a cup.
The series of cups below is also made of bone china. I have made a mould and carved into it – repeatedly carving into the plaster mould and recasting the clay until gradually the cup disappears, consumed by the rock. Displayed the other way around, it seems as though a cup is emerging from the rock. I was inspired by a story about Michelangelo, who was asked by a small boy why he was chipping away at a piece of marble: his answer was ‘because there is an angel inside.’”
Change and transformation in series: A linear progression?
Upon meeting Amanda, I knew that her way of working and thinking plastic transformation and deformation through ceramics would be perfect for the “Narrating Plasticity” project.
Amanda’s way of producing bone china cups in series, with minute differences and transformations between the cups, struck me as a way of putting temporality in ceramics.
When you encounter Amanda’s cups side by side in series, they read left to right or right to left, mobilising the temporality and kenesis of a progression or a change, even though each individual cup in itself might seen static or ossified in its form.
Amanda stresses that all the cups were fired together. In the Kill or Cure? series, the level of deformation of each individual cup depends entirely on the dose of lithium mixed into the bone china.
All the cups went into the kiln at the same time and were exposed to the same heat for the same duration, each cup deforming and flopping back in concordance with the dose of lithium within it. Amanda notes that whilst the cups have all deformed to different degrees, they all seem to flop in the same way, falling back on the weight of the cup’s handle. This unifying logic of deformation creates the feeling that the cups are all different moments in the same narrative arc of deformation.
One way of reading this series of cups, then, it seems, is as a linear progression of transformation or deformations, either from left to right or right to left. The beautiful, recognisable form of the perfect cup gradually melts along the series into the smudged up puddle of bone china, or conversely, the smudged up puddle of bone china evolves into the recognisable form of the perfect cup. Read like this, transformation is linear, developmental, evolutionary. Each cup gains its identity from the narrative of the series, identity evolves as a clear arc or progression.
However, this is not the only way of reading the series.
Taking the form out of the series
The cup pictured below is Amanda’s favourite cup in the series.
When we have finished looking at the cups in series, Amanda picks one of the cups out and places it on a different table in isolation.
“Look at it,” she says. “You probably wouldn’t know it was a cup.”
Taken out of context, the cup loses its narrative arc, its logic or history of transformation. It is rid of its linear, helpful temporality.
We don’t know quite where the cup’s deformations are coming from, or where they are going. We don’t know what the cup was “before”. Has its function as a cup changed? Is it still a receptacle? Is it still a form?
Is there still temporality even though this temporality has been taken out of its linear progression? Is there a narrative of this transformed or evacuated temporality?
Talking through the initial brief of the “Narrating Plasticity” project with Amanda, the image of the transformed cup in isolation seemed particularly resonant. We talked about the neuro-ward, and how clinical teams will encounter a patient completely out of context. This patient will sometimes have undergone changes to their brain that will have rendered them very different to the person they were “before”, and yet taken out of context, the story of that change is very difficult to communicate, or indeed becomes itself fragmented, or is erased entirely.
Over the course of this project, from the transforming cups in the series onwards, we hope to think about ways of communicating and narrating plastic transformation where recourse to linear temporality and developmental narrative arcs are no longer possible.