The Sensorial Object

 Craft in the Bay, Cardiff

7th January – 8th March 2015

An exhibition exploring the sensory capacity of the material object

Curated by Zoe Preece and Dr. Natasha Mayo, on behalf of the Makers Guild of Wales

This exhibition brings together a collection of artists whose work in various intriguing and beautiful ways explores the sense experience through the materiality of things. How do we sensate the world? Is it possible to capture or extend those moments of sensation long enough for us to perceive them? As we selected artists and discussed the individual properties of their artworks, an underlying theme emerged – that of the familiar, domestic object. Taking the domestic object as our site of exploration, seemed to offer up the possibility of not only re-visiting our sensory world, but also of discovering rich layers of complexity and depth and new apertures of perception within and beneath our familiar daily experience. The bringing together of new digital technologies with the long established traditions of ceramics, textiles and glass, was to further push the boundaries of this idea within the applied art object, testing out the ability of materiality to both trigger and illuminate sensory connection from sight, sound, touch, smell and even taste.

As the project progressed, we began with increasing wonder to recognize its scope. In order to make these rich permeations more explicit, we expanded our search into three key areas. In the first instance, we turned to academics to articulate their thoughts in the form of ‘sensory musings’. It was astounding to discover the significance of the theme for such a wide spectrum of disciplines from dance, theatre, and psychology to anthropology. We simply asked for short exerts, explaining the significance of sensory states and ‘object’ to each academics given field, and a demonstration of how it might be used to elicit interpretation of an art work.

This uncovering of theoretical dialogues in turn prompted us to explore further the thinking behind each artists practice – in particular the ways in which their sensory modalities might have governed the development of their ideas. In an attempt to identify this, each artist was asked to consider the influence of sensory experience at key stages in creating their work, recording their reflections through photographic imagery and written thoughts. The third, explored how those very sensorial experiences undertaken by the artists contain the potential for social application; how capturing and extending moments of sensory experience can be used to enhance engagement with the world by re-mapping synaptic connections, to reinforce memories in dementia, encourage social interaction in autism, and bring communities together. This final aspect of research perhaps recognises most poignantly how essential our sensorial experience is to being human.

The project has evolved into such a rich, diverse, multi layered and cross disciplinary research project, that we have now come to appreciate this particular formation of exceptional artists and thinkers culminating at Craft in the Bay, as a platform from which the project will continue to grow.

Ainsley Hillard

Reflections on Materials, Processes and Space

I considered the idea of what is a sensorial object, making connections with the interior space and the domestic objects. How the textures of natural light within that space animate objects and make one aware of a temporal dimension and the merging and intersecting of the visual and tactile senses.

…the moment, captured yet un-graspable in the interweaving material forms.
I am drawn to specific spaces and want to question how do we grasp space and place? I strive to evoke the sensual, material, aesthetic and emotional dimensions of place.

I am interested in materializing the immaterial. I want the viewer to be drawn in to the structure of the fabric, and embrace an embodied and haptic means of looking, mapping the surfaces of objects, giving close attention to materiality and what David Michael Levin terms as an ‘alethic gaze’ a bodily felt visual encounter with what is being seen.

The photographic images are de-saturated, however, there are tones of blue and green in the printed weft … the cool tones of the print aesthetically give an ephemeral, light and airy sense to the works, referencing that which is tangible and intangible.

Of greater importance is the transfiguring of a two-dimensional image into a three-dimensional material structure. This requires an active bodily engagement that includes both vision and touch.

The photographic images are heat transferred on to one side of the weft yarn. The weft yarn is then unravelled and wound on to a shuttle. The process is entirely done by hand through to hand weaving the photographic image through the nylon warp.

The bodily experience of weaving provides the basis for exploring the poetics of woven moments. Repetition and reflection, through the process of construction and merging of the image into woven cloth.
Textile as concept and medium.

Anne Gibbs

Reflections on Materials, Processes and Space

My initial response to the theme of this exhibition was thinking about the traditional senses of sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. Images of different types of surfaces such as smooth, rough, prickly, sharp and shiny popped into my head.

I work mainly with bone china liquid clay; it is a material I have used for many years. I like its properties and how it can be altered with coloured stains and glazes. I also use mixed media and found objects. I use metal pins with my work, I want to ‘draw’ and create forms with the pins to particularly focus on the sense of touch.

I work very intuitively with the materials I use. I have a starting point of how and what I would like to make but during the making process things inevitably change. I enjoy this aspect of making, the incidental and how it can spark new ideas. Sometimes if I am making a mould and I’m waiting for the plaster to set I will start a drawing or consider the placement of a new composition using individual pieces of my work.

My studio has three different ‘stations’. I have a table for making moulds and slip casting; this is the messy area. Another table for drawing and a third for placing works and objects to observe and reflect upon. When entering my space each day I have the practical ritual of filling buckets of water (my studio doesn’t have a water supply) putting on the heater, kettle and radio.

The beginning of making new work usually starts with mould making. This is a means to an end. I dedicate a particular amount of time to make the moulds; once they are dried I start slip casting. Only after several days of slip casting, I become at ease and in control of working with the material. It takes time to familiarize myself with each mould and work out how to get the best cast. This I would say is a crucial point of interaction with the material.

As my studio starts to fill with new works, I have to adjust my studio space and move things around everyday. I make decisions on whether I will carve, slice, pierce, wrap or bind the works. Once the works are completed I then clear my studio and decide on the display and placement of these new pieces.


Reflections on Materials, Processes and Space

It begins with changing the menu I suppose, well maybe not, it’s a process. I’ve got a little black book where I write all my ideas down and that idea might not take shape straight away. There are dishes that I’ve come up with five years ago that I still haven’t made . . . they’re ideas.

I like taking dishes that are classics and making them a little bit quirky like the ham, eggs, chips and peas. So when you order it you’re not going to know what you’re getting. It’s about doing something that surprises people a little bit.
The walnut idea … the whole thing is edible. It looks like a walnut, and tastes like a walnut and is filled with something else.

It’s about trying to change textures of things for me. We’ve got a carrot dish on the menu, its different textures of carrot, so we’ve got jelly, we’ve got smoked, we’ve got pickled, we’ve got sorbet, we’ve got a carrot breadcrumb. We try and put a twist on the textures rather than flavours. I like hot and cold together; I like the textures I like the mouth-feel of it, and that’s what we try and create.

The sperification of mango with white chocolate brulee wrapped around it . . . we use quite technical equipment sometimes, calcium chloride and sodium alginate. We make a water bath out of a little bit of salt, calcium chloride and distilled water. We suck the air out of it and then we make a mango puree. We put sodium alginate in that and again we suck the air out of that, then using a melon baller sort of thing – canella they are called – we tip it into the calcium chloride and it forms an outer skin around it. It forms a ball, when you bite into that ball the flavour of the mango pours out. We gently – because its very fragile – gently put the mango sphere into the egg shell and then top it up with the crème brulee and let it set, and that’s the desert so when you stick your spoon into the egg it’ll break the yoke that’s in the middle just like an egg, if all goes to plan.

The other chefs here have exactly the same knife for every day kind of jobs; it seems a bit silly but I can’t actually use Sam’s knife I feel like I’m going to cut my finger. His knife feels slightly different to mine in my hand.

When I come into the kitchen in the morning first thing I make is a cup of coffee, I get into a routine with things. So on a Tuesday for instance we generally in the morning will crack on with the sauces. The first thing I do will be to start the sauces. Some things have to be done earlier than others.

Elaine Sheldon

Reflections on Materials, Processes and Space

Functional objects often inspire me . . . the object could be a clip, a milk bottle, a fastening.

My workspace is important to me . . . this table and lamp represent the type of workstation where I draw and make models, working through my ideas. My workspace allows me to work things out using my hands and to surround myself with models and prototypes and bits and pieces to ponder.

For me glass doesn’t really have an inert state, even in the furnace it is moving. The way I work with glass allows for surprises. I usually only try to control part of the objects form, allowing the rest of the piece to inflate freely. I have an idea in my mind’s eye how the resulting piece will look; this gets drawn in my sketchbook so that Dominic Cooney (who often blows the glass for me) knows what I’m trying to achieve. Usually the glass behaves how I expect it to, but not always.

I get happy and excited when something wonderful or unusual is made in the glass workshop. I sometimes have a little dance around. The glassmaking process is very physically demanding and I am totally physically immersed in making the piece, working in partnership with Dominic (2 people are required to make most glass objects).

I am usually seated sometimes at a table making models using a range of things; paper, electrical components, plaster, balloons, cocktail sticks . . . I like the space to be white and I like a shelf to put models, interesting things and prototypes on.

I am rarely 100% happy with anything I design or make, occasionally I am. I know then that the piece is finished. Everything else is work in progress.

Emma Rawson

Reflections on Materials, Processes and Space

My immediate response to the theme Sensorial Object was of one relating to on-going interests … to communicate and explore a remembered sensation.
Sensations of time spent in a quiet front room. Sitting in with a terminally ill loved one. I was intensely aware of it at the time and ever since. The ability of human memory to store and absorb an experience, to accommodate it . . .

I am interested in storage; I love hoarding programmes on television. I am intrigued by our attachment to things as signifiers of human relationships and mediators of memory. I am interested in the spaces these things occupy more than the actual thing itself. For me what remains is the sensation of the space where these ‘things’ I recall resided …

Glass is a difficult material to manipulate and form. I have become very aware that my interactions with it are through the intermediary of tools and machines.
It is heavy yet very fragile. It can be opaque, translucent, transparent and reflective. It can appear soft and be razor sharp. It reflects, bends and conducts light. It is brittle, technically demanding and unforgiving.

I see glass as a very quiet almost silent material, with an interior realm. I am drawn to the challenges and love the problem solving that the material demands. How to support the glass while the heat work is completed, how to do the cold work, how to cope with the weight if making larger pieces?

When I am grinding glass I count the number of moves around the flat bed grinder. I rotate the direction after 25 or 50 cycles and do this up to eight times for each side of the object I am working on. I have to stay very aware of the glass and my posture and the position and pressure of my hands but I can slip into a very quiet mental zone with the sweeping rotations and counting.
When I am grinding and polishing work I am aware of the movement of the arms, the sound and rhythm of the machine, the correct flow of water over the glass.

Funda Susamoglu

Reflections on Materials, Processes and Space

Drawing is my usual thinking process to start with. Visualising the thoughts, getting it out of your head to a piece of paper, where you start to think of variations and solutions about the building process. Drawing and writing sometimes comes together, thoughts about the general theme and details start to come up. These moments of enlightenment during the process of drawing, writing and experiments with materials are the moments, which I seek and try to capture and make visible. So all these processes are documents that I collect which can be part of the work.

The making process in ceramics is a period made up of many moments where ideas meet the real world and material drives you to create solutions. All that struggle and negotiation is the very interesting part of the work of art. I try to capture that feeling of movement, the process of making with the marks textures, different layers of materials, which I collect and bring in to the studio for some reason.

The studio is usually a table for me. The surrounding area can be packed with stuff but I keep the table top empty till the moment comes to start to get the things out of my head on to the table. I like thinking of the tools as they are waiting for that precious moment that they will fully save the day and materials with different talents, which can’t replace each other. Putting on the apron is another act of getting ready for negotiation. The beginning can usually feel tense, because I have a sense of what I want but I don’t know exactly what will come out and how it will be done. So the table, apron and the tools became main characters in my work. The studio is the equivalent to the space that you open up in your mind. From some of the videos that I took while I was working, I realised that my physical movements are much less than I felt, there were more stable moments where I just stare at the work and the mind is where the working takes place.

That’s why I usually start with a plan, knowing that it will change and allowing myself to be a viewer and making the process visible in the end. I do try to allow that surprise for myself as well. In the building process the construction allows the material to take over and spatially the installations in the end are the collection of photos, drawings and experiments with various materials which usually comes together differently every time; hoping to make visible that creative research where these objects I make and collect are creating a new order of dialogue.

Ingrid Murphy and Jon Pigott

Reflections on Materials, Processes and Space

An opportunity to collaborate for the first time – bringing together our respective and common interests in materiality, sound, objects and systems.
An observation on behalf of Murphy . . . Pigott would often tap and listen to the resonance of objects when holding them, further noting that this is also a way of checking the integrity and quality of fired ceramic pieces, led to the idea that ceramic form could be presented for its sonic as well as its formal qualities. The materiality and haptic quality of ceramic juxtaposed with the mechanical formality of electronics and devices offers an interesting aesthetic challenge.

The professional environment of Pigott and Murphy is almost entirely responsible for the development of this work. On a daily basis the pair navigate territories of objects and relations within the context of an art school, weaving a treacherous path through artworks, raw materials, paperwork, furniture, tools, financial predictions, human beings, fixtures, fittings and Danish pastries to name just a few of the sensorial objects that have informed the trajectory of our collaboration.

The material is never inert – always alive and bristling with its own intentions. We seek to expose particular traits of the materials, which are keen to show some aspects of their secret world. Our part will be over relatively early in the life of the work, the material will get the last word through the resonant chime of the ceramic pieces.

There is fission between us and the materials/objects, as we explore the possibilities, the trials for finding the perfect pitch, between, object, sound and form. Ideas reverberate around the office as we clink, handle, listen and look.
Pigott: Cramped use of laptop on crowded train, crossed legs limiting blood flow to foot, trying not to knock fellow passenger with right elbow. Murphy: As I lean too far across the plaster table, to pour a bucket of plaster, the sheer physical effort of making large moulds surprises me.

The corner of a newly occupied office space becomes an ad-hoc studio environment, the smell of newly fitted carpet nestles up against ceramic forms and emergent creative plans. An empty art school, lighting my way as I walk through the spaces carrying moulds, it gives a great sense of gravitas to mundane and tedious process.

There is the moment when ideas take on a clear focus, at that point material for me changes from a thing of untold potential, a friend, an ally in creativity, to a thing which must be subverted, cajoled and controlled into what it now needs to be . . . and that’s a battle.


Zoe Preece

Reflections on Materials, Processes and Space

A group of words or a visual detail is often my way in to a creative project. I won’t fully understand why my mind has made a particular association, but still the words or the detail will lodge in my head and my mind will short-circuit back to it in a tight loop. It’s an uncomfortable process, like trying to see something that won’t quite be seen.

It’s the same with a visual image; there is this repetition, a return to a detail I have seen – the meniscus on a spoon filled to the point of tipping. As I return and return to that detail I have the sensation of a world opening up from within it. I draw and re-draw it. With each repeated drawing some progress is made.
Drawing leads me into material. The beginnings of my interactions with material always take the form of empirical enquiry. I relax then . . . I can get involved in trying to figure out how to make something happen, figure out a process.

I collect objects, arrange them rearrange them, move them around my space, place them next to this image, on that window ledge, next to that object and in so doing thoughts and ideas are triggered.

The space can seem uncomfortable, almost threatening, at the beginning of a project. There is a shifting and ordering, a placing and replacing of things. Then every so often I want to get rid of the lot, clear the whole thing and start again.
I don’t work with an end plan or design; my process often feels a little like working blind right up to the very end point. It’s through the testing out of materials I find something. The creative process only comes fully alive for me as the process of investigating material and the varying effects of heat from the kiln unfolds. Until this point I feel ill at ease with my space, my process, the material – like I’m working against the grain.

I find myself staring into particular material qualities that emerge from the kiln, trying to read what they’re saying. For me, these visual details are far more lucid than words at expressing a concept or idea – by not nailing it down in words, there seems to be space for an idea to take on a more expansive character. The edges can be blurred – it can be this but it can also be that.