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Writing this today at my desk, our advert for the blog sitting within the newly arrived copy of Crafts, with you, Helen, undertaking research in the States, I was interested in the seeming disparity between the ambitions for a culture of thinking about craft represented within the editorial, with its close eye on trends and emerging practices happening internationally and closely allied to contemporary fine art practices, and the world of craft in the UK represented within the adverts and listings.

There are questions for our collaboration, as maker and exhibitions practitioner, about where we position our ambitions and proposal, both for the blog and the proposed exhibition. Something that will become more evident through further discussion and I hope expressed within the blog is how our research and exchange of ideas will be realised in a form that extends what we might understand of craft, and which also connects and resonates within the wider constituency of makers and audiences, whose experiences will be many and varied.

We have been talking about age and how this can be embodied within maker’s approach to their practice. This is particularly in light of your visit to the American enamellist June Schwarz who is ninety this year and continues to be innovative and engaged, enthused by the possibilities within her work. We have been interested in how age can embody a quality of slowness and what this brings to a person’s work. Droog Design represented this by their ‘Go Slow’ installation at Salone del Mobile 2004 in Milan for which Dutch ‘elders’ served and prepared food for visitors, encouraging them to participate in and savour simple experiences facilitated by Droog products.

Ceramic Review’s recently introduced column ‘If Only’, invites potters to reflect on things that they wish they had known when starting out. It is revealing of the value of spent, cumulative time and which combined with lived experience, brings the contributors to a different position and outlook on their life and work: Alison Britton wrote, ‘I wish I’d known how to be less edgy early on in my working life and arrived earlier at savouring uncertainty – the pleasurable and purposeful state of ‘not knowing’ is something that grows stronger for artists, and needs sometimes to be defended, and is perhaps one of the perks of getting older.’ (Ceramic Review Jan/Feb 07)

I particularly like Jane Hamlyn’s observation of the potter Ray Finch (born 1914), whose openness to the ongoing challenges of engaging with material and process, suggests the depth of commitment that a life of making can require and what this reveals about time, ‘Many years ago I went to Winchcombe and was lucky enough to watch Ray Finch throwing a cider jar. He had got to the shoulder and was closing it in and stretching the clay up to make the neck and finish the top….when it started to wobble, badly. He did eventually rescue it, but not without a struggle. I told him I was a beginner and that it was surprising but also really helpful to me in a way, to see him have difficulty. He just smiled ruefully and said “It doesn’t seem to get any easier”.

I have been reading ‘The Meaning of Things’ by the philosopher A.C. Grayling. He tells a story about one of John F. Kennedy’s speech-writers who in 1961 remarked that America was going to put a man on the moon not because it was an easy thing to do but because it was a hard thing to do; and doing hard things is what makes you better. Grayling continues ‘Anything that requires perseverance is a hard thing in the meaning of this saying, and therefore improves you.’ (Ceramic Review, March/April 07).

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One thought on “An ongoing conversation between Helen Carnac and Andy Horn:

  1. Earlier this month I unpacked a kiln in my studio here in Herefordshire. It contained a single vessel- a fairly large slab built pot which had been started sometime in 2006. To be honest I am not really sure when, but I had written 2006 underneath and specific years are as precise as my dating system gets. It had been painted with various cobalt blue slips and oxides when first made and fired several times, but somehow it had never really come to life. I remember, after it sitting around for some months, one day painting a vivid mauve slip all over and firing it again, but I didn’t like the result. Eventually the pot was moved out of the studio into the yard where it sat accumulating moss, dirt and leaves for another year or so. The piece had reached that place, that middle ground where work is not good enough to exhibit, but not bad enough to smash. Anyway, there it lay for months- weathering away through rain and frost and slowly it started to fill up with water. I glanced at it sitting down on the ground every time I walked back and forth to the studio. In the making the piece had been formed on a workbench, but now I grew to know it from above- looking down onto the pot’s linear plan- the line of its rim flowing as a drawing. Not so long ago, for some reason I brought it back inside again and over the next few days it dried out. Just by being around and surviving, the piece had begun to mean more to me. Over the years I have developed methods which allow me to return again and again to a piece of work- painting and firing again and seldom glazing. I decided to paint the piece once again- this time with black and grey slips and then with various oxides in solution. The process was a messy business- I used my hands dipped in the slips, rather than any brushes this time. The pot was fired once more, this time to a higher temperature than usual and when unpacked the piece had changed and appeared burnt and scarred. The slips had begun to melt and flow a little, fluxing with the layers underneath. I liked the piece and it has continued to interest me over the subsequent days. ‘Untitled 2006-08’ will now go to exhibition in London.

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