Part One: Looking and Dreaming

I first became interested in exploring Woking Palace following a visit to Woking’s Story, a permanent museum at The Lightbox. The visit was planned prior to my interview for the 20/20 Project (which is a residency and commission organised by the Decolonising Arts Institute of the University of Arts London).


It was a very hot day when, having received some directions, I set off for Woking Palace. The route seemed quite like an adventure, a really lovely walk along roads and rough footpaths. There was a sense of mystery and intrigue as I approached the grounds. The Palace was mostly free standing brick walls; one showed a locked door, behind which there seemed to be a room, just one room left. I was really taken by it and started wondering about this locked room, which gave me the idea for exploring what may be inside, what I would like there to be inside.


Later on in the residency I went to Heather Farm, which is home to the reserves of Woking’s Story’s Heritage Collection. Here I discovered a rusty key, really quite a big key – certainly bigger than any other key I’ve come across. I decided to make my own version, in black clay. This imaginary key, my facsimile, would unlock the Palace door. I went on to make several other door inspired pieces in black clay, one of which was a hinge-like object; I called it Palace Hinge.


I had started wondering what was on the floor of this locked room when one day, looking at some Valencian tiles in the Heritage Collection, I discovered that they had actually been part of the Palace floor. I made several watercolour studies, which inspired some bottle-like 3D works. I called them Valencian Bottle Tiles. Within the reserve collection there was a particularly interesting tile, originally from Chertsey Palace. I made a watercolour study from it, which inspired another work (one I’ll talk about in a later episode of the blog).


Oyster shells were abundant in the Heritage Collection. They were eaten by lots of people in Tudor times, and then thrown into the river. The River Wey runs very close to the site of the former Woking Palace. I became very interested in this site being the hunting lodge for Henry VIII, and how the hunting party might have enjoyed themselves. Thinking about what they feasted on, I had the idea to make oyster bowls. I thought: well, what about enjoyment within one’s practice as an artist? What about creating works which could become functional, but also retain this idea that they were part of a previous collection, part of a former time?

Looking at oysters, at their shells, I made another work, Oyster Experiment. By sandwiching together different layers of porcelain and black clays, a squeezed simulation of the surfaces of oyster shells came about, which I felt was a really good effect.


These experiences of looking at the Heritage Collection laid the foundations of the work that I would go on to create during the rest of the residency, and also informed the work I would eventually make for the commission.


I have had a diverse approach to making for this project, and the exhibition presents an exploration of my interest in the materials and objects which the opportunity gave me access to. In this episode I will try to reflect on how some of these aspects came together: historical research, material properties, and my process in the studio.



As soon as I saw Bartmann, an object in the Heritage Collection, I became intrigued. During the residency I worked with some really dedicated Lightbox volunteers, who were able to give me a lot of detail about the history of the objects. Apparently Bartmann is also known as a ‘Bellarmine Jug’, a type of stoneware vessel named after Cardinal Bellarmine (1542-1621). The jug was a bit of a joke on the catholic cardinal, who tried to ban alcohol, designed as it was by protestant Germans who filled them with wines and ales.



I made three works based on Bartmann; one of them is called Goodbye Bartmann, It’s Been a Blast! It is going into the permanent collection at The Lightbox, and will hopefully sit near the fragment which inspired it. It is made out of crank clay, which I carved patterns into. The front patterns are Bartmann-ish, but for the back I was thinking about the work of Ana Mendieta. The surface of the fired crank clay is rather like sand, or sandy soil, reminding me of Mendieta’s explorations of bodily imprints on the earth.

Another Bartmann inspired work is Wiseman Bart. He does look very wise to me, with something of the holy man in his terracotta clay features, which are glazed white and painted with oxides. The whole sculpture was then dipped in a transparent glaze, to give it a really shiny surface.




Another work, On the Way to Woking Palace, was inspired by a ceramic fragment of a toy horse, also in the Heritage Collection. I wondered what the whole would have been like, and decided to complete the toy. At this point in the residency I was walking quite a lot around the Basingstoke Canal, which runs behind The Lightbox. It was autumn, and fallen leaves floated on the surface of the water, showing different colours. Oranges, orangey browns, and yellows, were framed by beautiful green foliage, which inspired the design of my ceramic sculpture. I was thinking about ferns, the coiled kind one finds near water, walking around the woods, and their coiled leaves became the horse’s legs.




I have a real dilemma about ceramics. Making them is adding to the world, which is something I try to avoid. I use pre-existing materials as much as possible: oyster shells, fishing nets, and other collectible debris. I wanted to present this conflict between repurposed and created elements in a sculpture, and started to add found substances to my fired sculptures. Two works in I Dream a Palace followed this process.

The first, Tongue Tied, is made of porcelain. I had found some pieces of green glass near the Thames which, pressed into the ceramic, became a pair of eyes. After it was fired, with a green glaze, the eyes looked like they were weeping. I added some pink fishing net debris to this new object but felt it needed another textile. In the studio I came across an embroidered piece, similarly pink, and the two pink textiles seemed almost serendipitously to match with the green of the ceramic glaze. Its title refers to colonial histories, atrocities which remain unspoken because the people who have experienced them are unable to articulate them.

The second work which presents a material conflict is Nipple Caught. Again I used porcelain clay; a nipple of brick I placed in the centre has turned black inside the white ceramic. It has been fired three times: first a bisque, then a glaze, and finally with lustre. I wanted to add fishing nets again, onto which I’ve sewn a found pattern of cream and red silk. The work is based on a story I heard once about the atrocities around the time of the British Raj, of how women were violated. Their breasts were cut off and played with, in games of catch. On the surface, when one looks at these works, their subjects are not by any means immediately obvious, but the titles are an indication of the stories they tell.




In hanging I Dream a Palace, the idea was that objects in the collection would have a conversation with the works I had created from them. The toy horse fragment speaks with On The Way To Woking Palace. The two are talking to each other, perhaps sizing each other up, and wondering what each other’s stories are. The Bartmann fragment looks across the gallery and talks with my crowd of Bartmann sculptures. Other voices are coming from the community works, and from the materials themselves. Found, combined, collected, provided, loaned; the exhibition represents a bringing together, an exploration of time and place.




The second part of the blog is called Palace Community. Community engagement was an important part of the 20/20 Project, taking two main strands during the residency.



I went to visit the Shah Jahan Mosque, a really beautiful Mosque in Woking. There are many wonderful trees and plants in the garden, the architecture is superb, and the interior is filled with interesting patterns. I spoke with the manager of the Mosque, who was very helpful. We talked through ways of engaging the Mosque’s students, and came up with the idea (I think it was actually his idea) to organise a competition. Students would be asked to create a drawing responding to Islamic architecture, designed in colour on a single sheet of paper. The prize, if you like, was that selected designs would become patterns in the final commission. There were some really interesting drawings created by the students, and some of them were so wonderful that I did use them to create specific ceramic pieces. Lustre Pattern 2 responds to Workshop Drawing 1 and, inversely, Workshop Drawing 2 inspired Lustre Pattern 1. Both were made with stoneware clay, which darkens when it’s fired. Their forms are based on specific oyster shells; after a first firing, I painted the students’ patterns on them in layers of coloured underglazes, and fired them again. A third and final firing followed after I’d added silver lustre to the designs, to lend them a silvery glow. I’d not used lustre before, and enjoyed experimenting with this underglaze/lustre combination, which gave the works their names.



Another student created a building-like design, Workshop Drawing 3. It looked like a palace. In form and colour, this drawing inspired Palace Design, another ceramic sculpture. I wanted to create a palace that was hanging: a hovering palace. I carved the student’s design into sections of ceramic, cut from a larger slab. Quite a long time elapsed after this stage of the process, and the ceramics’ firing, to actually finishing the work; I was really interested in combining ceramics with textiles. In the studio I often use fishing nets, sewing silk textiles onto them, and thought that these combined structures could complete the hanging effect of Palace Design. The silk would wrap around the fishing net, which supported the suspended ceramic. I wanted the whole structure to hang by itself, without additional fixings. Small shells were added at points to the fishing net – I wanted it to look as if it had been found, as if the whole thing had been found. It’s a bit like encountering objects that have been in the sea for a long time; on their surfaces you find barnacles, lichen. I wanted to create that feeling, that this sculpture was a found thing, pulled out of the sea.



Another series of workshops I organised took place at The Lightbox. They were 3D workshops, aimed at families. I collect quite a lot of packaging for my work; rather than buying new materials, I like to use things that are around us. During the lockdown I collected lots of egg boxes, with a view to one day making an egg box temple. It’s not been raised yet, but I thought the families might help me. The brief was, they could make their own complete palace, or an object that might be found inside such a palace, all from repurposed egg boxes. My own samples, Palace Sample, Rose Sample, and Spoon Sample, were made this way. The attendees made some really interesting things, particularly Workshop Sculpture’s 1 & 2.



These sculptures, as well as the childrens’ drawings, are in the exhibition, which I felt was really important. We have created it together, and their work forms a key part.