Talking to other artists, it is clear that ‘collaboration’ can mean a whole range of things, and taking the time to discuss examples of successful partnerships helped to reveal a range of possibilities. 1 Joy and Gill are keen to find ways of working that bring the clay and textiles together in integrated solutions. They decided to use an object that they both felt happy to work with, but using it as a structure for experimental work rather than as a ‘product’ with set outcomes. This follows the concept of a ‘boundary object’, which can be used ‘to help craftspeople and designers work together to support knowledge exchange and collaboration’ (Suib, Engelen and Crul, 2020 2); particularly the sort of tacit knowledge that is not easily put into words. As the form of a corona or flattened sphere is present in both of their individual work it was an ideal starting point, and Joy’s cushions were chosen to work with.
Joy sent Gill some textile cushions. Gill moulded one of them and made several ceramic cushions in different types of clays – these were to go back to Joy. Gill would then interact with the textile objects using clay and Joy, in reverse, would interact with the clay objects using textiles. This process immediately highlighted practicalities about how the textiles and ceramic materials would be attached to each other – questions were raised about forward planning of things like holes and supporting structures. So there was a need for both artists to start understanding and accommodating each other’s working practices and material requirements.
The ceramic processes of mould making, drying clay, and kiln firing can take quite a time and the collaboration had to accommodate this slowing of pace. To make use of the waiting time productively, Joy initiated a drawing project, which would act as research and help generate ideas for the material interactions. This was to explore the theme of natural growth, using photos from Gill’s garden as a starting point, with plants and fungi emerging out of walls and paving.
Joy: ‘I have been exploring the cushion form, based on an ‘ojami’, because of its simple rectangular pattern shape and this seemed a good place to start. (A link to a short history about the game of otedama and how to make them: https://www.juggle.org/otedama-japanese-childrens-juggling-game)
As the process of mould making, casting and then firing is lengthy, I turned to my sketchbook to play around with ideas on the theme of emergence and how I could integrate threads with mud.
Joy’s sketchbook work and material experiments
I began a systematic exploration of threads and colour to create some free flowing samples that may integrate with the solid clay forms. Images of emerging growth were translated in free stitch on dissolvable film, making trailing and flowing branches, some as fractals. Substituting the materiality of hard clay with found stones and pebbles, I wanted to emulate the contrasting flow of tendrils of growth and the impermanence of fallen leaves with the non malleable and solid grounded stones.‘
Joy’s experiments with leaf forms
Gill: ‘I haven’t made moulds for many years ( not since my last job at Aardman Animations in 2010) , and I was very happy to revive this skill. I tried to make each clay cushion individual by using different clays and surface textures, again re-experiencing things from earlier years in ceramics. I needed to make holes at this stage while the clay was soft, as a way for Joy to add textiles, and tried to think about what might be useful or inspiring. I found it difficult to know what would be helpful to Joy so just made a selection of different size holes – some quite expressive and others that might be hidden away.
To combine with Joy’s textile cushions, I experimented with modelling clay ‘growths’. The drawing work was useful in understanding a variety of living forms: how they emerge and patterns of growth. After making a few, I realised they needed holes underneath that would take a fixing wire, as a means of attaching the clay securely to the textiles.’
Gill’s drawings and ‘growth’ experiments
1 Examples are: Alice Kettle and Helen Felcey working under the name ‘Clay and Thread’ to produce an exhibition combining china tableware, and an embroidered landscape cloth (2009).https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Azc5Cy508o
‘Forest and Found’ are a working partnership in wood and textiles, which shares an aesthetic of natural, refined forms and surface qualities. https://www.forest-and-found.com
Manchester University set up a ‘pairing project’ (2010) for university staff working in different creative media. https://thepairingsproject.wordpress.com/about/
2 Suib, Engelen and Crul, 2020. Enhancing knowledge exchange and collaboration between craftspeople and designers using the concept of boundary objects International Journal of Design, 14(1), 113-133.