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.

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.