Exploring the Decline of British Ceramic Manufacture and its Associated Histories through Contemporary Art Practice
Submitting InstitutionBuckinghamshire New University
Unit of AssessmentArt and Design: History, Practice and Theory
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Art Theory and Criticism, Film, Television and Digital Media
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Dr Neil Brownsword's research focuses on the associated histories of
ceramic manufacture in North Staffordshire, and its recent decline.
Through his artistic practice, this research has been disseminated beyond
academia to enhance public awareness of the social, cultural and economic
effects of this downturn, on people, place and heritage. The impact of
this research culturally, has arguably positioned Brownsword `at the
forefront of current experimental and conceptual approaches to clay in
Europe and Scandinavia' (Fielding 2008). In preparing programmes
dealing with ceramic history, the BBC has presented Brownsword's expertise
to communicate a broader public understanding of the region's
Brownsword's history of family employment and his own apprenticeship in
the ceramic industry remain seminal to the underpinning of this research.
Personal insights have heightened Brownsword's in-depth analysis of the
complex knowledge systems and traditional skills within specific divisions
of labour, and their subsequent displacement. The articulation of the
effects of industrial decline through his artistic practice developed
following graduation from the RCA (1995), and gained recognition
internationally following a prestigious residency in 1999 at the European
Ceramic Work Centre in the Netherlands (EKWC). Exhibitions at the Gallery
for New Ceramics, Copenhagen (2000), and the Craft Council, London (2000)
were the first to publically disseminate his use of fragmentary
installation as metaphor to negotiate new insights into Britain's
contemporary post-industrial experience as well as its industrial past.
Innovations within Brownsword's artistic research, involving the
excavation and regeneration of ceramic industrial archaeology as ciphers
of historic change and lost labour, were honed during his PhD, Action
Reflection: A Creative Response to Transition and Change in British
Ceramic Manufacture (2006) . This involved eight months
ethnographic fieldwork at the Wedgwood factory (2003/04), where he filmed
and documented the oral histories of employees during an intense period of
economic restructuring. The footage attracted the attention of NEVAC
(National Electronic Video Archive of the Crafts — now `Recording the
Crafts' based at the University of the West of England, Bristol), who
later collaborated with Brownsword to extend their archive of developments
within British Craft (http://www.uwe.ac.uk/sca/research/rtc/wedgwood.htm).
unique contribution of this footage is its meticulous elucidation of
industrial craft skills and material knowledge of factory artisans, whose
expertise was being displaced by technological advances and global
outsourcing. Brownsword's assembly of this footage together with his films
of demolished ceramic factories in North Staffordshire, in his reworked Salvage
Series installation (2005/2008), strengthened communication of the
region's loss of traditional industry and skills to a broad public
audience via high profile national/ international exhibitions, and artist
talks (Output 4, Possibilities and Losses (2009), Middlesbrough
Institute of Modern Art). 
Repeat invitations to the International Ceramics Research Centre, Denmark
(ICRC) (2001-2008) have played a significant role in developing
Brownsword's innovative approach to ceramic material research and
experimental wood firing. This was exemplified through artefacts created
for his solo exhibition Poet of Residue at Galerie Besson (2008),
which illuminated the histories of human endeavour involved in the
standardisation of ceramic manufacture (Output 1) . The ICRC was
also fundamental in developing Brownsword's exploration of experimental
mould making which he applied to create new work during his commission for
Fu Le International Ceramic Museum, China (2008) . Through these
works Brownsword offered new artistic insights into the cyclical histories
of skill and knowledge transference through cultural commodities, via his
aesthetic appropriation of early 18th century British attempts to imitate
Chinese porcelain (Output 2).
North Staffordshire's success as a centre for ceramic manufacture was
re-examined through Marl Hole, (Output 3) a project curated by
Brownsword which drew together four international artists to explore the
region's naturally abundant clay deposits. Marl Hole 
offered new insights into `material-led' site specific interventions, and
contributes to the discourse surrounding the expanded field of
contemporary clay and ceramic practice (Output 3) ..
References to the research
1. Book: Whiting, D., Goldmark, J., Modern British Potters and
their Studios, A&C Black, 2009. ISBN-10: 0713687320, p. 128-133.
2. Exhibition catalogue: Adamson, G., Vieteberg, J., Possibilities
and Losses, Mima/Crafts Council Publication. 2010. ISBN (10)
19-0371-320-X. pp. 5-11, 15, 16, 25, 37-55. (Output 1)
3. Exhibition catalogue: Whiting, D., Poet of Residue,
Galerie Besson, 2008. (Output 1)
4. Research grant: Residency at Fu Le International Ceramic Art
Museums, Fuping Pottery Art Village, China awarded to Neil Brownsword.
Funder: Grants for individuals Award (ref 9790414), Arts Council England.
Value £4721.00. 23 June - 3 Aug 2008. (Output 2)
5. Exhibition catalogue: Marl Hole, Brownsword , N., Gustavsberg's
Konsthall, Sweden, 2010. ISBN 978-91-978426-4-8. (Output 3)
Details of the impact
Dr Neil Brownsword's research has been disseminated beyond academia
through exhibitions, lectures and publications associated with his
artistic practice. A broad range of national /international institutions
and esteemed cultural commentators have endorsed Brownsword's work for its
ability to enhance public awareness of the social, cultural and economic
effects of North Staffordshire's ceramic manufacturing downturn, on
people, place and heritage (including Alun Graves, Senior Ceramics
Curator, V&A; Glenn Adamson former head of research at the V&A,
Director Designate, Museum of Art and Design, New York; David Whiting
craft critic and writer; Dr Tanya Harrod, eminent craft historian and
Critically acclaimed as `one of the great monuments in contemporary
British ceramics' (Adamson Possibilities and Losses, 2010,
p. 11 ), Salvage Series' was exhibited in Possibilities
and Losses (2009), at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima)
to challenge traditional perceptions about clay practice and its
relationship to the historic model of craft. Possibilities and Losses
attracted 39,000 visitors , and led to mima's acquisition of Salvage
Series and Transition — an early work by Brownsword. mima
selected Transition to represent their contemporary collection at
Interloqui, an exhibition which attracted 4400 visitors during the
54th Venice Biennale (2011) .
The significance of Brownsword's contribution to the expanded field of
ceramics is evidenced through reviews and critical discourse offered by a
broad range of cultural commentators. The impact of this research
culturally, has positioned Brownsword as a `leading figure'
(Adamson, 2010) , arguably `at the forefront of current
experimental and conceptual approaches to clay in Europe and
Scandinavia' (Fielding, 2008) . His experimental material
research has been endorsed by the ICRC and disseminated through its
program of master classes, symposia and residencies — engaging graduates,
practicing artists and members of the public worldwide. Brownsword's
research expertise on industrial ceramic history led to his appointment as
artist/curator by Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery to redisplay their
nationally recognised collection of Shropshire ceramics (2011). Although
the museum's original opening date for December 2013 has been delayed,
Brownsword has publically disseminated his research surrounding `hidden'
knowledge and skills within ceramic production that underpin this
commission via a ticketed lecture (29/11/2012) . The Victoria
and Albert Museum also sought Brownsword's expertise in the redevelopment
of their Ceramic Galleries (2009) and in preparing programmes dealing with
ceramic's post-industrial history for their Hand Made in Britain
partnership with BBC4. For episode 2 of Ceramic's a Fragile History
Brownsword elucidated his creative process as artist/archaeologist and
sought ex-employees from the ceramic industry for interview (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0162yb1).
Screened on 17/10/2011 the episode was viewed by over 400,000 people
(excludes i-player figures), repeated in April 2012 .
The exploration of North Staffordshire's pre-industrial ceramic origins
through the Marl Hole project for the 2009 British Ceramics
Biennial (BCB) continues to be influential on a global level. Johnny
Magee's film output of this site specific articulation of raw clay has
been screened to a worldwide audience though exhibitions, public lectures
and symposia. Marl Hole has received a total of 11257 views (as of
24/11/13) since posted on YouTube by the British Crafts Council .
In 2009 Brownsword received the British Ceramic Biennial's one-off
category award, nominated by a panel of eminent curators and critical
commentators `in recognition for his creativity and achievement across
the breadth of contemporary ceramic practice' . Since this
accolade the BCB invited Brownsword to create new site specific works, and
to co-curate an international exhibition of works made at
sundaymorning@ekwc (formally the EKWC) for their 2011 festival programme.
The 2011 Biennial attracted 32,700 visitors, and generated £2.08m worth of
economic activity in the city .
International collaboration continues to be an integral part of
Brownsword's research, which has recently been exemplified in his
initiation and co-leading of the project Topographies of the Obsolete.
This collaboration between Bergen Academy of Art and Design and the BCB,
invited interdisciplinary artists have been to explore the former Spode
ceramic factory and its redundant infrastructure as raw material. The
project questions, and offers new artistic insights into how ceramic and
clay can be understood as both material and subject in contemporary art
practice, through a range of research strands including the contemporary
ruin, the artist as archaeologist and the globalized landscape of
ceramics. The success of the project is due to its receipt of funding both
from KHiB and the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme (totalling
£217000.00)  which has enabled previously inaccessible parts of
the site to be made safe for public access during the Biennial, and for
future cultural activity.
The significance of Brownsword's impact is further evidenced by the
acquisition of his artefacts for permanent collection in museum displays
internationally. He has four artefacts on permanent public display in the
Fu Le International Ceramic Museum China (2008). In 2009 the National
Public Art Council, Sweden purchased Stilt, from his solo
exhibition Elegy in Stockholm. In 2011 Brownsword seminal work Transition
(1999) was auctioned alongside the works of the Chapman, brothers, Grayson
Perry and Gavin Turk at Material Worlds — the Contemporary Art
Society's (CAS) annual fundraising event in support of new purchases of
contemporary art for audiences across the UK. Transition raised
£20,000 (9/03/2011) purchased for Middlesbrough Museum of Modern Art's
permanent collection . In 2011 the V&A Museum purchased Elegy
(2009) to represent Brownsword's `ground-breaking practice' ,
and Brighton and Hove Museum purchased Waster (2011) for their
internationally renowned collection of contemporary ceramics. As well as
extensive lectures in academic institutions internationally, Brownsword
has been invited to present public lectures and gallery talks, including:
Ceramic Art London, Royal College of Art (2008); Ceramic City,
British Ceramics Biennial Platform Conference, (2009); The Museum of
Decorative Arts and Design, Oslo (2010); European Ceramic Context 2010,
Bornholm, and Contemporary British Studio Ceramics, at The Mint
Museum of Craft, North Carolina (2011).
Sources to corroborate the impact
1. Exhibition catalogue: Adamson, G., Vieteberg, J., Possibilities
and Losses, Mima/ Crafts Council Publication, 2010, ISBN (10)
19-0371-320-X. pp. 10-11.
2. Crafts Council Annual Review 2001-2010:
3. Interloqui Evaluation Report for Arts Council England, Susan
Priestley, 2012 Interloqui, Caterina Tognon Arte Contemporanea, an
exhibition coinciding with the 54th Venice Biennale of Art, Italy, 2 June
- 26 November 2011, p.12.
4. Exhibition catalogue. Adamson, G., Harrod, T., Mickey, M., Contemporary
British Studio Ceramics: The Grainer Collection, Yale University
Press, 2010 ISBN 978-0-300-16719-1, p.200.
5. Exhibition catalogue. Fielding, A., Neil Brownsword: New
Work, SOFA New York, 2008, ISBN 978-0-9789206-0-9. p.18-19.
6. Email correspondence: Adrian Plant curator Shrewsbury Museum
and Art Gallery.
7. Ceramics a Fragile History: The Age of Wedgwood viewing figures
Email correspondence from series producer David Vincent 25/06/2012.
8. Marl Hole film YOUTUBE viewing figures total 11257,
viewing figures 24/11/13 - 6282
viewing figures 24/11/13 - 1115
viewing figures 24/11/13 - 1522
viewing figures 24/11/13 - 2338
9. British Ceramic Biennial Archives 2009Awards— Excellence, breaking
new ground p.54
10. British Ceramic Biennial 2011 evaluation:
11. Research grant: Topographies of the Obsolete, co-led by
Professor Neil Brownsword at Bergen Academy of Art and Design and Senior
lecturer at Bucks New University. Funder: The Project Programme, The
Norwegian Artistic Research Programme. Value: 1922000.00 NOK (approx.
£217,000.00) from Jan 2013 to Sept 2014. http://artistic-research.no/?page_id=2057
12. Material Worlds, Contemporary Art Society fundraising event for
13. Justification for Acquisition, Alun Graves, Senior Curator
Ceramics, V&A London.