Neil Brownsword – Thingness 2011

In Neil Brownsword’s work, there is a distinctly subversive negation of traditional craft and technical skill – a subtle response to the more difficult aspects of long labour in the Stoke potteries from an artist who also, paradoxically, has great admiration for those skills. His delicate and poetic amalgams, further fused, warped and mutated by their resubmissions to the kiln, have a strong sense of regeneration… Rarely has the oozing, coagulating, brittle detritus of clay, re-formed and re-fired into another state of permanence, been so intelligently and eloquently expressed. Nor has the history of ceramic manufacture in one place been so elegiacally and poignantly recorded.’

The reason for highlighting specific elements within the text above is that for myself these are the quintessentially important factors that underline Brownsword’s work. taking on the role of an artist/archaeologist, Brownsword unearths/ salvages by-products from the histories ceramic production and regenerates these symbolically charged vestiges of labour into poetic abstract amalgams of self-reflection. Using his hometown of north Staffordshire as an excavation site  Brownsword Through metaphoric explorations of absence, fragmentation and the discarded, his work signifies the inevitable effects of global capitalism which continue to disrupt indigenous skills and a heritage economy.

Splott Beach – excavation​ and site of memory

Located not far from Cardiff bays development retail park Splott Beach is a hidden gem within Cardiff that very few people have heard off. Used as an industrial dumping ground in the past, the hidden beach has become a somewhat post-industrial symbol for the destruction and debris of local factories within the area. The east Moore steelworks and the smaller factories that were demolished in the 1980s such as the biscuit factories and spillers mill have manufactured a new landscape and over the years reshaped the environment.

For me what is interesting is the evident ceramic history that is openly prevalent across the beach. The beach could be regarded as a timeline of sorts in which we can analyse and excavate ceramic history, manufacturing techniques and development of various materials through the ages. The beach holds vestige to the idea of how lasting ceramics is and its wear through time.

The beach is a perfect symbol with regards fragmentary memory. Over time the debris that has slowly washed up upon the coastline shore has been corroded, warped and transformed into its environment. I very often talk about how the older a memory is the more distorted the apprehension or redescribing of it tends to be. this couldn’t be more exemplary with regards to these objects, some vaguely resembling their original manufactured design. Memories we tend to reject or discard are never truly forgotten, but like this beach stored on a plain and slowly distort as time goes by. As we get older we pick and choose (excavate) these memories from this plain often depicting a picturesque scenario very different than the events that originally transpired, thus where the idea of nostalgia plays its part.

Moving forward I intend to use this beach as an excavation site, a spot in which to investigate and uncover the historical relevance in relation to the area and further myself and my ideas surrounding memory and the falsity of nostalgia. Once what was a dumping ground for industrial companies has become a hidden gem within the Cardiff area. .

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The YTK Aesthetic – the falsity of nostalgia

The ‘YTK’ aesthetic gives reference to aesthetics of the early/mid-2000s where a shiny new millennium opened out before us, glittering with the promises of modern technology. This brief moment was characterized and encapsulated through fashion, hardware design, music, and furnishings shiny with tech optimism – sometimes literally. Inhabiting the spirit of the age with shiny clothes Synthetic or metallic-looking materials, inflatable furniture and alien-inspired hairstyles were just a few signposts of the spirit of the age. Even popular music videos of the time had a cluster of common traits: shiny clothes, setpieces that resembled airlocks or computer interfaces.

The ‘Y2K’ element gives reference to– the supposed turn-of-the-century bug that was supposed to bring our infrastructure to a terrifying halt. This supposed bug had failed to materialize and for a brief moment, there was nothing but glittering utopian futurism and faith in a new age of boundless possibility.

Technological developments further dictated aesthetics through the construct of “blobs”, gradients, layered transparencies and lens flares.  “I think curves reigned supreme in Y2K aesthetic as they weren’t so easily done before, so they had the added appeal of being somewhat new. With the very ‘new’ turn of the century came an almost ‘new’ optimism and futuristic aesthetic rained supreme.

Site of memory – sensuous geography and nostalgia

Moving forward, separating and understanding the differences between nostalgia and sentimentality another element within my work I have been interested in is the site of memory, or ‘ sensuous geography’ – the idea that ‘the senses mediate the apprehension of space and in so doing contribute to our sense of place’. Yi-Fu Tuan (1972) was the first to call attention to the spatiality of the senses and their role in shaping the affective relation of people to their habitat. “What begins as undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better [through our senses] and endow it with value”’. 

Fundamentally it’s the idea that if you were stood on top of a mountain for example, then the sound, feel, and temperature of the atmosphere around you would ultimately denote you to your sense of place and thus your brain would register the fact you are on top of a mountain. What becomes interesting in terms of memory is say for example you visited this location under a second set of circumstances and similar environmental conditions endured then your brain may ultimately remember the preceding set of events, thus upon the second time you visit you may register a greater sense of space as you are adding new memories to a preceding one. You stand on top of the mountain, think back, take a huge breath, breathe out and feel good.

With the objects featured in the images, i am attempting to be slightly more obscure. You could almost look at the objects featured as miniature excavations pulled from my dried out slurry buckets with the site of memory being the buckets themselves. What I do to these excavations or ‘uncovered’ objects is completely controlled. I like the idea of looking at these objects as a series of memories from the past that has been mashed and distorted into the present, much like how I personally view ‘nostalgia’. How I glaze these objects, in terms of aestheticism is purely representational and subjective of my immaterial, material memories and nostalgia, that of early 2000s aesthetics or ‘YTK aesthetics’ – the glad, tacky, wacky space colors and transparent inflatable sofas that dominate my subconscious. These objects are ‘fractured’ representations of my memories and further myself.

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Defining the differences between nostalgia & sentimentality

Like a book, our lives are one continual flow of experience. The moment within the present never ends and the lines between one “experience” and the next are much blurrier than our rational brains would like to perceive it to be.

we place borders around sensory experiences (the sounds, smells, tastes, touches, looks of life), we give them names, and we catalog these experiences as memories. These unsolicited memory triggers happen to many of us. As people, we are influenced by sentimental emotion in ways that usually lack reason, our emotions bank on emotion’s ability to sidestep logic.

Sentimentality from my better understanding unlike nostalgia is the idea of how our senses trigger and are attuned to our past experiences, how a certain smell or emotion could transport your mind back to a moment when you were a child. Where sentimentality falters, however, is in its basis in longing, a longing for the past or for some idealized concept through a set of emotionally led triggers.As we may often forget, longing is the opposite of contentedness, of thinking you have enough.Sentimental longing or the  desire for days-gone-by is usually based on one’s desire that the contents of the memory still were or, conversely one’s desire that the contents of the memory had never happened (a wish to change the past)

In moments of pure contentedness, of unbridled appreciation, I often find myself looking back on my life and realizing the continuity of it all, the connections of each experience and how each moment led to this current moment.

Where Nostalgia differentiates from sentimentality is in its yearning for an idealized past- a longing for a sanitized impression of the past. Nostalgia is not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process, all negative emotions filtered out. If one defines nostalgia as a yearning for an idealized past, the bittersweet nature of it becomes clearer. One can never return to this past as theoretically it never truly existed. And the present reality, no matter how good, can never be as good as an ideal — which nostalgia has created.

Idealized past emotions become displaced onto inanimate objects, sounds, smells and tastes that were experienced concurrently with the emotions. Nostalgia is typically associated with a specific era ( the 80s, 90s, 00s etc.) this is because typically nostalgia is associated with an overview of a specific part of time.For myself pictured above is the classic windows 2000 screen saver; this particular image takes me back to a time where I used to sit, disrupt and muck around on the IT equipment at school, adversely this image takes me back to the same era where I would be at home waiting for my computer games to load. It is an aesthetic understanding  I both associated with a time and feeling – more so an overview of a specific era, that of the 2000s.

 

material alphabet

After testing, gathering and creating a body of work I decided to take a number of the objects down to the photography studio to play with composition and ultimately develop some form of language between the forms I have manufactured. with the idea of memory very much at mind, what narrative where these objects beginning to speak? and by pairing them in compositions how did they bounce off and work with each other?

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I like the idea of looking upon these series of objects as an alphabet, a physical, sensorial language that challenges semiotical ways of viewing sculpture.

Although I really enjoy the images that I have taken of the objects I have made so far I am unsure at this point in time that the actual objects themselves are representational of the concepts that I hold to my project ( that of personal memory and ideas surrounding sentimentality and nostalgia). Although These objects are highly subjective to my own personal experiences and are thus abstracted as a representation of myself, to some degree I want the experience of my objects to be understood by a collective, to be interpreted in a certain way or to make people feel a certain ‘vibe’ you could say.

I am at a turning point. Where I have created a series of objects in response to my intuition and intuitively/contemporarily glazed. Ideas of nostalgia and ‘the child at play’ dominate my theoretical standpoint and to some extent, I do believe my objects represent that, although I do believe these objects are also disjointed.

Personally, these objects subjectively are based on early childhood memories – where as a child because both of my parents were busy working I was usually dumped on a construction site with my dad. In that moment I was incredibly bored, twiddling my thumbs and finding ways to play and keep myself busy. Not until looking back now as an adult do I firstly see how easy things were back then and now really reside and reminisce over the events that took place, where the world of working and childhood play intermingled.  It is interesting now from really studying these events do I realize how relevant it is within my studio practice.

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