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.

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.

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