Q: Did you create the work, ‘Black Teapot’ from scratch or modify an
I make all objects by hand. I make them as close to the originals as possible (as in ‘Twenty –Eight Pitchers’). It is important that I make it, not because of any romantic idea to do with touch, but because it is a way of asking questions to do with how we know things conceptually, visually and physically and about the status we give things.
I have a lot more freedom if I make the objects. Over time I’ve got better at it and many of them look manufactured (which is interesting!). This way I can choose more exactly what I want to do, instead of always responding to the world of manufacture or ready-made things.
Q: To what extent do you view it as the de-functioning of a teapot (in removing its handle) or the creation of an art object?
In ‘Black Teapot’ I altered the idea of what a common tea pot is by making it handle less, but I did not de-functionalize it in a practical sense, to use your phrase. It could still work. The plinth it was exhibited on and where it is placed defunctionalizes it more than not having handles!
Because this object plays so much on how we think about it (how we know things), not having a handle makes what is thought of as absent more present – because you can’t help but think about it… it’s not there! This is what I was trying to do. Sometimes I acknowledge things by leaving them out. This curiously makes us more aware of them than if they were there.
If ‘Black Teapot’ were used, human hands would replace the handles. I like the idea that someone might think to use his or her hands as a part of the teapot. I also like the idea that someone might simply contemplate this option when looking at it – how they might pick it up. I like the to-ing and fro-ing of thinking about things and physically engaging with them, or nearly engaging with them. In other works I have made that do have a function, I play with this notion.
Q: You seem to take history into consideration in your work, in terms of the evolution of the vessel. How do you think the modern teapot fits into this evolution of functionality and basic design?
The modern tea pot does it’s job OK (if the spout works well!). It still looks like it did in the 17th century when it was developed in Europe and still looks historical.
The evolution of the teapot is a fascinating story that starts in the East and that I am sure has echoes all over the world. Another work I made, ‘Property of a Lady’ is exactly about this idea that objects transmigrate across places and time. It is fascinating to see how some cultures at a given time own a kind of object that later, another culture might adopt by copying and altering it to suit them, and making it ‘their own’, like the teapot.
I chose the shape for ‘Black Teapot’ because it seemed the most interesting in terms of reflection, it seemed the most common in terms of known shape that spanned more than one class and it seemed plausible as a large size teapot (the rounder ones became ridiculous looking when made large). So I could do what I wanted – explore what I wanted -in terms of an artwork while still letting it appear very much like a teapot.
I think a lot of design evolution intention is to focus on new designs: ideas of the future, fashion or novelty and often makes references to art or design history. I guess a designer would fully engage in history everyday when trying to design something. If you asked the question, ‘What could a teapot be today?’ I am sure it wouldn’t need to look like it did in 1730!
Q: How do you feel the shelf of, ‘Light Shelf’, alters the space that it’s in?
It makes you more aware of it.
Q: As a shelf made out of a delicate material to support such a weightless thing as light, how would you say this redefines our perception of the functionality of the shelf?
The shelf does not have to be hand height – it becomes something to be looked at and to lead you to contemplate other things.
As you look at it, the shelf becomes a thing in itself – it transforms from being something within a functional space to being in a more 2 D space and as such more like an image than an object. It acts as a bridge to contemplating light by casting shadows that move with the changing light in the space it is exhibited in.
I have always wanted to acknowledge light in the works I have made. Someone pointed out to me that without it we would see nothing, yet it is very unnoticed. So ‘Light Shelf’ acknowledges that without the light to see the work, it wouldn’t exist. Ironically the light never sits on the shelf – it always escapes it, but the light supports the shelf, or rather us seeing it!
Q: I feel that in both these works there is a certain wit. To what extent is humour a consideration in your work?
I love the idea that things are not always as we think they are. Humour has always been a possibility if you ask the question, ‘What happens if I turn this upside down?’ or, ‘What happens if I leave this part off?’ etc. If you begin asking questions about how we know things, how we give shape to things and make sense, then humour has to play a part because they inevitably become nonsensical at some stage. Humour enables us to stand back a little and look at things – a form of irony that I like. It’s also a way to engage the body in looking. If you laugh your belly jiggles!
Q: What is your personal relationship with technology and invention? Does this impact the way you create or think about your work?
Yes, I love seeing new ways of doing things. In one project, ‘Skyline’ I used an engineering drawing programme, Form Z, to draw chimney pots and made them with craftsmen in a factory. Bringing the new technology and the artisans skills together was very interesting.
I really love inventing things. I grew up making things in my family – functional things and non-functional things, so there is a certain naturalness and enjoyment to it for me. Many things are not made that people need or would enjoy, so being able to think inventively and make things is wonderful.
Q: For many, pottery appears to have its roots in creating functional items – how do you feel the use of this discipline impacts the final works?
I have always exhibited in a fine art context (except once) because what I do is in conversation with fine art, its discussions and debates that have evolved over the centuries. I have at times wanted to crash boundaries and hierarchies to do with Fine Art, Craft and Design and am happiest when in a Fine Art context – it enables me to make my intentions clear so my reasons for employing clay are not confusing.
Q: Do you have any requirements for the way the works are displayed?
Always. Every work has definite presentation and installation requirements as this is a part of the work – how it is perceived and understood. I design all shelving and plinths and have a shop fitter make them. Detailed drawings are always supplied. I like this part of the process – I use all kinds of ‘making do’ materials to mock up the size and shape of the object I have made.
‘Black Teapot’ and ‘Light Shelf’ Conversation between Cecile Johnson Soliz and Deborah Basckin, 1999