Ceramics Research Centre – UK

Research Seminar 2: Practice and Context

Research Seminar 2

LOCATION | University of Westminster

DATE | 12 June 2012


Professor Christie Brown: Principal Investigator Clare Twomey: Co-Investigator Dr Julian Stair: Co-Investigator Laura Breen: PhD student, University of Westminster and Mike Tooby:  Independent curator/ researcher and Professor of Art and Design, Bath School of Art & Design, Bath Spa University. Susie O’ Reilly: Left Field, Project Director, museumaker and Project Manager, New Ways of Curating and New Expressions Tessa Peters:  Senior lecturer and curator Zahed Tajeddi:. PhD student, University of Westminster Andrew Ippoliti: PhD student, University of Westminster Emily-Clare Thorn: Assistant

The second in the series of research seminars took the themes of practice and context as a starting point. In the morning Susie O’ Reilly, Mike Tooby and Tessa Peters delivered presentations which outlined their individual perspectives on the issues. The afternoon session was devoted to Project Investigators Julian Stair and Christie Brown’s personal takes on the matter. Summaries of the presentations are available to download in PDF form at the bottom of the page.

After five stimulating talks the discussion was opened up to all of the attendees. Clare Twomey summarized the morning’s proceedings and drew out some common threads:

Opening up the collection

For Susie, the projects she was involved with were about unlocking, rather than adding to collections. Clare proposed that one measure of a project’s success is whether it has created a new sense of what a collection or location is about.

The relevance of material

Tessa asked about the tensions that might arise when the artist’s personal story accords quite closely with the material that they are responding to. The V&A was taken as a case study in the different ways in which art can be broken down and categorized.

The museum’s role

The museum’s involvement in shaping an artwork was seen as a key issue by all. All participants acknowledged that the relationship with the museum is a dialogue; particularly as museums today place a greater emphasis on self-reflexivity and public accountability. Julian queried why there was a surge in museum-sanctioned intervention now. He asked whether our discussion would be happening without the funding bodies’ shift towards audience-focused projects. He also noted the impact of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in higher education; with research funding being driven by outcomes, thus privileging certain ways of working. Mike Tooby agreed that arts funding played a major role both in the museum and academia, including the AHRC, the body that funded the CiTEF project.  He posited that it was just another manifestation of the age-old issue of patronage; the balance between integrity and funding. Clare asked what impact having to respond to funding streams has on an artist’s practice and what will happen if that funding plateaus. Will we have a generation of makers who make works that are not commercially viable in a traditional sense? She wondered whether some artists, who were driven by funding, rather than a commitment to this way of working, whereas she saw as her core practice. She also spoke of the movement from the studio to on-site delivery.

Mike suggested that the relationship has shifted from the individual to the collaborative; it isn’t just the single object of an artist’s sensibility. He raised the thorny question of whether the curator becomes a co-artist through this method of production. Both Tessa and Susie suggested that the independent curator can act as a go-between, negotiating the different demands of the museum and the artist. It was also remarked that everyone seems to be claiming to be a curator these days too.


Clare and Mike discussed the risk inherent in the shift away from purchasing to commissioning for both artist and curator. Mike proposed that museums can keep up with artistic practices that circumvent traditional modes of acquisition by taking the co-curating, intervention and residency route. 

Clare asked whether commissioning might lead to museums becoming excessively inward looking. Does the temporary nature of many interventions mean that in the long-term they will remain alienated from the body of the collection?

The willingness to relinquish meaning

Mike questioned whether the single person intervention is about the relationship between the ego and the collection.  Laura also asked whether there was sometimes an assumption that a ceramic artist had more to say about ceramics and questioned how we might differentiate the various forms of interaction with the museum and assumed roles.

Clare flagged up the way in which shifting terms have opened up new models of working. Outlining the stigma that had been attached to the model of the community artist in the past, she suggested that working with audience response and participation was much more agreeable. Julian recalled that in the 1980s art graduates who were unable to get work were forced into learning settings in order to survive, which may account for the negative associations of community work.  Susie suggested that community work is often held at a distance from an artist’s practice and left off their C.V. Clare contrasted this with the sense of ownership she felt over the NewExpressions2 project at Plymouth Museum; acting as the author, rather than following a prescriptive recipe.

Robert Dawson, Parlour Table, 2009, table with printed ceramic tiles from The House of Words. Photo: Philip Sayer. Courtesy of Dr Johnson’s House Trust.  
Richard Slee, Bedroom Snake, 2001, fired ceramic from The Uncanny Room. Photo: Philip Sayer.