Production at Tate Modern

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After wandering around Borough Market and visiting Southwark Cathedral, we walked the short distance along the South Bank to Tate Modern where we spent the afternoon. The Bankside gallery is huge, even more so since the addition of the massive extension, that it would take more than a day to see everything. During this visit we concentrated on the extension (now named after a rich foreign mogul who contributed to Trump’s election, so no name check for him, as far as I’m concerned it’s the extension or “Switch House”) which occupied the rest of the afternoon and we still didn’t have time to see everything in it.

The exhibition space on Level 5 of the extension is devoted to the Tate Exchange which is described as

A space for everyone to collaborate, test ideas and discover new perspectives on life, through art

Currently the space has been transformed into a pottery production line by the artist Clare Twomey an artist who

works with clay in large-scale installations, Sculpture and site-specific works

and whose

installations have the social and historical context in which the installation is created as their point of departure

Entering the gallery we had to pick up a clock card and “clock in” and were given an apron to wear .

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We were then invited to join one of the production lines where gallery staff were instructing visitors on how to weigh out materials, cast vessels from a slurry of clay (known as “slip”) or bone china flowers.

We joined the slip casting production line. We were shown how to assemble a mould, pour in the slip. The filled moulds are left a short while for clay to deposit on the sides, forming the shape of the pot. We were given one that was ready for the next stage, pouring off the excess slip, cutting off the excess clay and then opening the mould to extract the cast object.

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The next stage would be firing the pot but we were told to take the pot we’d extracted to the end of the line and exchange it for another that had already been fired, which we were then free to take home with us after clocking out and having a photograph taken of the selected objects and clock cards.

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The final stage in real pottery production would be to apply a glaze and give it a second firing. But the pots available were all unfired “biscuit”. I guess the objects made will be fired and added to the exchange for another visitor to collect.

I’ve never been in a real pottery production factory although because of my job I know about the production process and the health hazards associated with it. The main concern being exposure to silica dust from the clay, talc dust used as a parting material to stop the clay sticking to the moulds, and toxic materials, such as lead, in the glazes. So it was interesting, as well as fun, to participate in the installation.

The pottery production was the first part of the installation, lasting a week. During the second week, 5 to 8 October,

The production line stops, the workers have left and you will enter a factory soundscape. The now redundant factory becomes a space for questions. Talks from industry specialists, researchers and makers will explore how communities are built by collective labour, look at where the industrial processes of our past are informing our future and consider what we will need from factories in years to come.

Cards placed throughout the factory floor invite you to think about raw materials, how knowledge is acquired and shared, where transformation takes place and the different systems of value we apply to material culture and human relationships. Leave your thoughts and share where production exists for you in exchange for an object made in the factory.

It would have been interesting to return and participate in the second phase. Like most tradition al industry in the UK, the pottery industry which used to dominate the Staffordshire Potteries around Stoke on Trent, has declined as production and jobs have been transferred to countries where labour is cheap and conditions are often significantly worse for the workers. So the exhibition mirrors what has happened to the pottery industry in the UK. Given my professional interest, and political philosophy, I’d have plenty I could contribute to this discussion.

Everything we, and other visitors, were doing during our participation, seemed to be logged. There was a phone app we could download and log in and out of the different stages of the process. It was also possible to see the towns where the objects produced had ended up (we had to include this on our clock cards). So no doubt there is more to this project then meets the eye.

7 thoughts on “Production at Tate Modern

  1. What a fascinating….hmm…exhibition? performance? installation? Very thought provoking on all sorts of levels. Is the pot you have taken home art? The likes of Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Tony Cragg use artisans to manufacture their art, so have you been likewise enlisted? Pottery is (I believe) very important in archeology, and the history of China is fascinating – I wonder of anybody has written something along the lines of Mark Kurlansky’s ‘Salt’ (or indeed ‘Cod’) which looks at World history through the lens of pottery? I’d read it.

  2. Pingback: A visit to Moorcroft Pottery | Down by the Dougie

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