Topographies of the Obsolete is an artistic research project that focuses on the closed Spode Works in Stoke-on-Trent, UK.

The first workshop Resurrecting the Obsolete took place in September 2012 in the Spode Factory, Stoke on Trent, UK organized by Bergen Academy of Art and Design, Norway (KHiB).

KHiB was invited as a Research Fellow Partner Institution by the British Ceramics Biennial 2013 and the first workshop included 33 staff and students from KHiB, The Royal Academy of Art Copenhagen, Muthesius Kunsthochschule Kiel, Sheffield Hallam Univerisity, University of Nottingham Trent and invited alumni/artists from KHiB. Together we explored the Spode site’s histories, industrial space and infrastructure.

The workshops have uncovered a variety of methods and strategies exploring the complexity of the site from different perspectives and practices particular to each of the artists/students involved. We had a great variation of expressions ranging from the performative intervention based to installation and object based work.

The second of the research residency took place in March 2013 as the artistic research project Topographies of the Obsolete. The third workshop takes place in August 2013.

In September a number of participants from the research project will present their works during the British Ceramics Biennial 2013.

This site will act as a meeting point for participants and others interested in our progress.

Monday, 30 September 2013


The day finally arrived! The result of the artistic activity connected to three workshops over the course of one year, arranged by the artistic research project Topographies of the Obsolete, is now open to the public. The exhibition and project maps the site through various media and artistic strategies that encompass object appropriation and re-contextualisation, architectural intervention, lens-based work and performative gesture.

"Topographies of the Obsolete: Vociferous Void" is the first major exhibition of the on-going artistic research project "Topographies of the Obsolete: Exploring the Site Specific and Associated Histories of Post-Industry". Engaging 32 international artists, with multi disciplinary approaches in affiliation with 5 institutions, the exhibition investigates the remnants and post-industrial ruin of the original Spode factory site.

The directors of the British Ceramics Biennial, Barney Hareduke and Jeremy Theophilos, welcomed everyone to the exhibition and the British Ceramcis Biennial. The opening speech for "Topographies of the Obsolete: Vociferous Void" was made by Professor Nina Malterud, member of the Steering Committee of the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme. The head of cultural affairs at the Norwegian Embassy in London; Eva Moksnes Vincent, attended the opening in order to see the results of the project.

Performances on opening day:

Andrew Brown: "A Walk through S"

Richard Launder & Julia Collura: “Glancing at Spode”

KELLY / MARHAUG: "Slipping" from Chapter three: Mandarin Dust

Saturday, 21 September 2013

New website!!!

Yes, we now have an official website where you can keep track of all our activities, participants and news!

Please visit:

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Friday, 13 September 2013

Press release for "Topographies of the Obsolete: Vociferous Void"



Site-specific responses to the post-industrial landscape of Stoke-on-Trent
at the Original Spode factory site, Stoke-on-Trent, UK 

Pre-opening Friday September 27th, 14:00 – 17:00.

Press preview: 
Thursday September 26 3pm and Friday September 27 10am or by appointment. 

Please contact: 
Neil Brownsword, tel: +44 7758645450 mail:
Anne Helen Mydland, tel: +47 47243995 mail:

The exhibition will run from the 27th of September to the 10th of November as a part of the British Ceramics Biennial (BCB) 2013, and is part of a artistic research project initiated by Bergen Academy of Art and Design. Norway (KHiB), and partner institutions.

“Topographies of the Obsolete:  Vociferous Void” is the first major exhibition of the on-going artistic research project “Topographies of the Obsolete: Exploring the Site Specific and Associated Histories of Post-Industry”. Engaging 32 international artists, with multi disciplinary approaches in affiliation with 5 institutions, the exhibition investigates the remnants and post-industrial ruin of the original Spode factory site. The industrial architecture spans from the 18th to the 20th century, with vast production halls, design studios, show rooms, smaller workshops, backyards/courtyards, and alleyways, offices, shops, mould stores, cellars and attics. The artists have encountered extreme dereliction with the forces of nature reclaiming the building, alongside more well kept, ordered, and attended areas. The result is a selection of works made on site, in spaces which have been previously closed to the public. During three residencies over the past year, the exhibition and project maps the site through various media and artistic strategies that encompass object appropriation and re-contextualisation, architectural intervention, lens-based work and performative gesture. 

The exhibition is curated by Professors Anne Helen Mydland and Neil Brownsword, from Bergen Academy of Art and Design (KHiB) Norway, as a major exhibition element to the 2013 British Ceramics Biennial, hosted at the original Spode Works. The exhibition’s concept explores ‘ceramics/clay as subject’ through a range of interdisciplinary practices which will question and examine interconnected themes including the contemporary ruin, the socio-economics of post-industry, the globalized landscape of ceramics and the artist as archivist/archaeologist. The exhibition deals with the physical site itself, and the human presence, history and individual and collective memory that constitute this place.

Exhibiting artists: 
Kerstin Abraham (GER), Karin Linnèa Blomgren (SE), Margrethe Kolstad Brekke (NO), Andrew Brown (UK), Chloë Brown (UK), Neil Brownsword (UK), Andreas Fabian (GER), Tina Gibbs (UK), Karen Harsbo (DK), Gwen Heeney (UK), Camilla Holm Birkeland (NO), Sofie Holten (DK), Lena Kaapke (GER), KELLY/MARHAUG (UK/NO), Richard Launder & Julia Collura (UK/USA), Danica Maier (USA), Morten Modin (DK), Anne Helen Mydland (NO), Heidi Nikolaisen (NO), Sabine Popp (GER), Toril Redalen (NO), Tone Saastad (NO), Johan Sandborg (NO), Erna Skúladóttir (IS), Caroline Slotte (FIN), Anne Stinessen (NO), Øyvind Suul (NO), Corrina Thornton (UK), Númi Thorvarsson (IS)

With the industrialisation of ceramics during the eighteenth century, systems of segregated labour brought about a phenomenal concentration of specialist skills and knowledge to specific regions of North Staffordshire. By 1800 the Six Towns of Stoke-on-Trent paralleled China as a world centre for ceramic production. Paradoxically, recent decades have seen centuries of this cultivated expertise being relocated to the Far East. Company investment in advanced production technology has further contributed to a massive reduction of an indigenous work force and the closure/demolition of once prevalent sites of historic manufacture. In 1948 around 79,000 were employed in the North Staffordshire ceramics industry; the figure now sits at just over 6000. In the current economic climate of rapid change, outsourcing, and innovation, the loss of traditional industry and skills is a matter of widespread public interest and concern. 

The Spode factory, situated in the city centre of Stoke-on-Trent, once a keystone of the city’s industrial heritage, which operated upon its original site for over 230 years, was one of many world-renowned brands that have since fallen into administration. In 2008 its Church Street factory closed, with most of its production infrastructure and contents left intact. Amongst Spode’s contributions to ceramic history is the perfection of the under-glaze blue printing process and the invention and development of Fine Bone China. The factory’s industrial architecture dates from the 1760’s to the late 1980’s, with spaces associated with all aspects of the design, manufacture, retail, and administration in close geographical proximity.

The artistic research project “Topographies of the Obsolete” is initiated by Professors Neil Brownsword and Anne Helen Mydland, Bergen Academy of Art and Design (KHiB), in collaboration with partner institutions in Denmark, Germany and the UK. The main collaborative partner is the British Ceramics Biennial, who invited KHiB to work at the original Spode ceramics factory site in Stoke on Trent, to develop an artistic response for the Biennial in 2013. More than 40 international artists have participated in this project with a programme of seminars, publications and exhibitions. Three residencies have accumulated individual artistic projects from which the overriding project has developed.

The project is on-going until 2015, and is funded by The Norwegian Artistic Research Programme, Bergen Academy of Art and Design (KHiB), and partner institutions; The Royal Danish Academy of Art; Muthesius Kunsthochsule, Kiel; Bucks New University, Nottingham Trent University, Sheffield Hallam New University and Newcastle University.

Program for the opening night of the exhibition "Topographies of the Obsolete: Vociferous Void" at the British Ceramics Biennial 2013

Opening night details:

2.00pm - 5.00pm: Opening at Spode. Please use entrance from Elenora Street.Opening speech by Professor Nina Malterud, member of the Steering Committee of the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme.

8.30pm: Afterparty at the Glebe: 35 Glebe Street, Stoke On Trent, Staffordshire ST4 1HG T: 01782 860 670

Andrew Brown
“A walk through S”
Guided Walks.
Meeting point at the Topographies Pavilion. 33 min duration.
Friday 27 September 15.00 (Sign up to be made by 2.30pm max 25 people).
Saturday 28 September (10.30am and 12 noon)
Saturday 5 October (10.30am and 12 noon)
Friday 18 October (as part of the BCB seminar, TBC)
Places will be allocated on a sign-up basis, a sheet being available from 10am on Sat 28 September and Sat 5 October in the pavilion (for walks at 10.30am and noon). Maximum 25 people per walk.

Richard Launder & Julia Collura
“Glancing at Spode”
Meeting point at the stairwell with round window to the Designers block. Will be marked with a sign and directions in the Topographies pavilion.  Approx. 45 min duration.
Audience max. 25 people.
Friday 27th 16.00
Saturday 28th 16.00.

Chapter three: Mandarin Dust
China Hall. 15 min Duration.
Friday 27th 19.45
17th or 18th October during conference. Time and place to be confirmed.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Topographies of the Obsolete: Vociferous Void

We do now have a title for our exhibition that will be part of the British Ceramics Biennial 2013 in Stoke on Trent:
Topographies of the Obsolete: Vociferous Void

This is the first major exhibition of our ongoing artistic research project "Topographies of the Obsolete: Exploring the Site Specific and Associated Histories of Post-Industry", which has engaged multi disciplinary artists from several nations and institutions in workshops and residencies to investigate the remnants of Spode Works; once a leading manufacturing facility of ceramics. The result is a selection of works made in situ; to be found in various areas of the original Spode site where the production of bone china lasted for over 230 years.
Here is the link to BCB's post regarding the exhibition and the project: 
The exhibitor line-up for Topographies of the Obsolete: Vociferous Void is now official:
Kerstin Abraham
Karin Linnèa Blomgren
Margrethe Kolstad Brekke
Andrew Brown
Chloë Brown
Neil Brownsword
Andreas Fabian
Tina Gibbs
Karen Harsbo
Gwen Heeney
Camilla Holm Birkeland
Sofie Holten
Lena Kaapke
Richard Launder & Julia Collura
Danica Maier
Morten Modin
Anne Helen Mydland
Heidi Nikolaisen
Sabine Popp
Toril Redalen
Tone Saastad
Johan Sandborg
Erna Skuladottir
Caroline Slotte
Anne Stinessen
Øyvind Suul
Corrina Thornton
Númi Thorvarsson


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Logo for Topographies of the Obsolete released

We are proud to present the logo for our artistic research project!

The visual profile for Topographies of the Obsolete is developed by Philip Rawle, based in Uttoxeter, close to Stoke on Trent. This includes, in addition to the logo, also the publication which is underway as a result of the project's artistic activity and discourse. We are making a totally made in Britain publication (printing and design) in consideration of the out sourcing happening to European industry, which of course is a major ethical question/factor in our project.

Monday, 29 July 2013

All of China in your hand; a first impression of Spode

The lyric writer of British band T’pau, Carol Decker, explained when asked about the lyrics to China in Your Hand that “it is the effect that if you hold a china cup to a light, you can see your hand through it – therefore 'china in your hand' means something that is transparent.”

With this song unavoidably playing itself in the back of my conscience since I first started to work for Topographies of the Obsolete in June, I think of my misunderstanding of these lyrics as a young child; that it is about comparing something seemingly impossible to the act of trying to gather the nation of China into your hand.

Being introduced to Josiah Spode, before heading off to Stoke on Trent for the first time, made me aware of the fact that he managed to give a piece of ‘Chinese luxury’ to many a hand. With Anne Helen Mydland explaining the details of  Spode’s bone china and blue under-glaze printing technique, by showing samples at Spode Works Museum, it became clearer why this novel equivalent to porcelain became sought after.

The local community prospered and declined parallel to Spode during those 230 years of production. There is something here, in these surroundings, that reminds me of the old Norwegian post industrial town of Odda; an intangible mood of some sort that saturates the terrain. Seeing the closed down factory for the first time, it seemed remote to me, even though it dominates the area physically with it stretching over a large portion of the urban territory. Here, time is frozen in some ways and accelerated in others. Decorative Christmas lighting on the outside makes sure everyone knows what time of year you enter when you enter Spode. However, the advancing decay speeds up the perception of time. Inside, it looked like there has been inactivity for several decades, not just for a few years. The process is astonishingly rapid.

Being guided around Spode, I noticed traces of human activity visible in the various rooms. The factory became more ‘transparent’, in a sense, when it began to reveal bits of its past. Objects left behind gave hints about previous work in the different departments of the factory; traces of former bodily routines. All played out in these document-filled offices, dusty showrooms, great factory halls, and mysterious storage areas for casting equipment as the ‘keepers of memory’. Even though I haven’t been working in the factory, as a participant in the previous workshops, I nevertheless experienced the desire to interpret and create; to revive something in this place.

I've learned that the song China in Your Hand is about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a novel which was the outcome of a conversation regarding the possibility of bringing a dead body back to life. Shelley started writing her novel the very same year that Spode first launched the Blue Italian range.

Jane Sverdrupsen, research assistant

Anne Helen Mydland explaining the process of Spode's blue under-glaze printing technique. With Neil Brownsword, Øystein Hauge and Johan Sandborg.

The first impression of Spode.

Plans are being made as we are shown the different departments of the factory.
Bits of history of the pottery craft at Spode, told by Anne Helen. Øystein Hauge paying close attention.

The oldest plaster moulds in storage.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Virtual Library.

See all the publications in our Topographies of the Obsolete shelf at the library here at Kunst- og Design Høgskolen i Bergen. This reading list  was compiled by suggestions from all of the participants in the Topographies of the Obsolete project. 

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Gwen Heeney Reflections on the Spode Workshop March 2013

Reflections on my time at the international workshop; Topographies of the Obsolete at the Spode Factory March 2013. During the workshop I identified two of the main stands of the project; the post industrial landscape as site and topography of objects/archives
My main focus was to create a series of narratives using light, space and objects which would become signifiers to the past and the obsolete. I was immediately drawn to the light in the China Hall a vast open space which throughout the day became altered by the light.
I became aware of the significance of the mould store, an important archive of information illuminated by light streaming through the windows. I had a sense of a knowledge store; of files/ records/archives. I began to view the moulds as an important archive which needed to be explored and some way to be made sense of.
In the store the moulds manifested themselves as objects with a great tension stored as though still precious; they presented a record to a past‘site’ of invention, a record of creativity. Like the shell of the empty building each mould represented a shell of a productive past. Light reveals shadows; the shadows reveal the anthropology of the forms within...Since the workshop I have been reading The Shadow Club, Roberto Casati. published by Little Brown
I started to make sense of the moulds in a very formal way, spending a great deal of time selecting each one and placing them carefully in grids in the China Hall where the light illuminated the interior spaces. Using different configurations I started to formally articulate a visual language which addressed issues of collective memory, history of ‘place’, mapping of creative pasts, but also made connections with current information technology i.e.‘Quick Response Codes’. They became a means of communicating the past and possible declaring/ predicting the future. A key to the skills left behind. They provoked descriptions such as profiles, building blocks (DNA) of the companies creative past; an industrial excavation/study
The moulds as multiple structures slightly parted, laid out in grids on the floor took on a futuristic appearance; the shadow and light penetrating the interior space began to deepen the language giving a glimpse of the abstract interior forms a glimpse of past creativity. The Light and shadow on another level physically and metaphorically described the past ‘dark side’ of the company; the physical labour which marked its worldwide success. A reference here to Calvino Invisible Cities
I created a series of photo montages of the interior of the China Hall; industrial landscape as site which investigated the way light changes our perception of space.
Marco Frascari the architect states “architecture exists because of light; palpable material light (lume materiale), something born in the materials of construction and imprisoned in the body of an edifice as the mind is imprisoned in the body”

It is this way that light can become part of a building; in this case the derelict post industrial site which interests me.


Monday, 8 April 2013

"Disaster Photography: When is Documentary Exploitation." Text by Richard B. Woodward.

A text on “Ruin Porn” and representing disasters.

Read full article

"The Site is the Question" Airspace Gallery, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.

During our second workshop we held a research in progress show with works and documentation of work from the first work in progress show in Rom8 in Bergen with additions as we progressed on site at Spode for the second workshop. This time we were very happy to hold it at Airspace Gallery. Here is a sneaky peek at what it was like.

Topographies of the Obsolete receives funding from the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme.

The project "Topographies of the Obsolete: Exploring the Site Specific and Associated Histories of Post-Industry", headed by Professor Anne Helen Mydland, has just received funding from the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme.
The focus of the project is on the landscape of post industry, explored through artistic research projects taking its point of departure in workshops/residencies in the closed Spode Factory site in Stoke-on-Trent. This site offers multi-faceted scope for creative interpretation through its socio-economic histories, industrial architecture, production and material remnants.
"This is great news", says Anne Helen Mydland and explains: "For KHiB it is an exploration of the possibilities of the new structure of the Department of Fine Art and the goal of making artistic research the core of what we do and how the institution is built: How do we develop methods for research based teaching and larger inter-institutional and international research projects?" Co-artistic leader is Neil Brownsword, Professor at KHiB, and Buckinghamshire New University.
The funding is NOK 1.9 million from January 2013 to September 2014.

Some additions to the reading list.

Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay; refections on art, family and survival. Christopher Benfry.

Wedgwood and the Wilsons. A. N. Wilson, article in CRAFTS, December issue 2012.

Dust, the archive and Cultural History. Carolyn Steedman.

The Secret Life of Dust, from the Cosmos to the Kitchen Counter, the Big Consequences of little things. Hannah Holmes.

Our Mutual Friend. Charles Dickens.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Andrew Brown

For 'Resurrecting the obsolete' in September 2012 my modus operandi was to try to retain an open mind as I walked around the site, listening, recording, taking photographs and simply enjoying the experience. I brought my existing interests:

  • Post-industrial landscapes
  • Exploring moments in time, being ‘present’
  • Thresholds and spaces betwixt and between
and approaches:
  • Retracing steps
  • Design direct embodied experience
  • Solitary vs. collective
  • Making use of what is there
  • The particular effectiveness of sound
and found myself initially drawn to signage, personal effects and inscriptions that gave insights into the the former Spode workforce. As I explored tentative routes began to form for a group walk, taking participants from one sonic environment to another.

For ’Topographies of the Obsolete’ March 2013 I returned with recording equipment and the intention of effecting a temporary repair of the works bell. This I recorded from various parts of the site.

I’d been put in contact with local archivist Ray Johnson (from the Staffordshire Film Archive) with whom I spent a couple of highly productive hours, as well as one of the key members of Airspace gallery, Anna Francis. Meeting her, Glen and Andy provided a cultural dimension that was previously missing for me.

The bus tour of Bradwell woods, Etruria, Gladstone and Burslem was also significant, making the place more comprehensible as a city. To develop this, and to begin to address the second strand of my project I performed several walks, to Cobridge, along the canal towpath to Westport Lake, back to Spode via Burslem and Hanley Park, to the Garden Festival site, and finally to Harecastle tunnel.

Overall I am pleased to have overcome my initial rush of naieve excitement regarding the site and, through having now worked there a second time and for a longer period, I feel I am better-placed to produce a mature response.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Laura Twigg

Working with my enjoyment of materials my work draws from the interaction between the readymade and the handmade. Collecting found materials within the space is a communication of the relationship between material and form. By contrasting these I am exploring the context of objects in relation to the histories of the material. I am inspired by the materiality of objects, their nature of form and how we adapt these into our environments. I am interested in the tension between natural and fabricated form and sculpturally how this creates a sense of spatial awareness. Informed by a sense of labour and craft, ceramic form communicates a concern of craft and mass production. Raw clay communicates malleability, allowing me to directly react with the material in a space in an instinctive way. Completing a residency at Spode in my hometown of Stoke-on-Trent has identified an exchange of cultural materiality between students from The University of Nottingham Trent, Muthesius Kunsthochschule, Bergen Academy of Art & Design, The Royal Academy of Art Copenhagen, Newcastle-upon-Tyne University and Sheffield Hallam University. Identifying these new relationships has broadened my conceptual understanding of ceramics and sculpture. Working with ceramicists and technicians has allowed me to access ideas and combine a social awareness with writings such as ‘Failure’ by Lisa Le Feuvre and ‘The Dematerialisation of the art object’ by Lucy Lippard.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

In Memory of Holocene

Reactive dyes in Stoke on Trent

March 2013

Margrethe Kolstad Brekke
entering anthropocene scetchwork

sitespecific workshop initiated by Lisa Stenbro

Yas Island UAE, February 2013

Margrethe Kolstad Brekke
In Memory of Pleistocene

Reactive dyes in Stoke on Trent, September 2012

Margrethe Kolstad Brekke

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Site specific work in progress in an abandoned paint factory

We decided upon an abandoned place in an ruinous state where we could work uninterrupted, to try out methods, concepts and materials in a direct response to a site. It was intense work for two weeks, in the cold and limited daylight of february. We made an opportunity for others to come over to see our works in progress and have a discussion about out them. 

It was a chance to get into working mode before the second part of the Stoke Project.

I wanted to use the time in this space to develop strategies of site specific works. It is a very different experience to work out side with much harder physical conditions than inside in the studio. If you just can keep warm for two hours and if the clay freezes over after half an hour that of cause affects the work and you have to find ways to work around it. I used materials on site to be part of my interventions which also pushed and shaped the work in more than just the obvious, physical way.


Ruins are an ongoing process, nothing is today as it was yesterday, and it won´t be the same tomorrow. It is a natural process where nature or man keep layering on top of each other, dust, leaves, trash, spray paint etc. I attempted to highlight that gradual transition by either adding to or taking away from a structure, to build up or clean away the layers, to dramatize the dreamlike nature of the change. 

There were three attempts:

In an Paint Factory, using paint as a material has many implications, in the life of this building the focus has shifted from being a producer of paint to being a recipient of it in the form of spray paint. It is a natural growth, gradual growth, as is the accumulation of leaves, plants and trash.

In a ruinous place there are many layers to be found, dust and broken glass cover the floors. The glass shards were cleaned and now shine when the light hits the dusty floor.

Porcelain was laid out on the floor, it picked up, natural pigments, left from another artist, it froze in the frost and a new form of porcelain roses was formed. A porcelain, frostrose desert.