If you look at the image above it shows a group of cups from Marsden Woo’s acclaimed contemporary ceramic art show. Many A Slip: Invited artists juggle with the domestic symbol of the “cup” (London, July 22-Setpmeber 5, 2015). Everyone seemed to love it, a cup for all occasions and tastes, the show’s strength and weakness. If you look at the far right corner you will just see the cup by Conor Wilson. You may like it, you may not. In the clamor of vessels you may not even notice it. If you do, will you wonder what was behind its creation: is it simply the intent to transfer warm beverage to the mouth or is it something else? If you thought, “something else,” you win. Here is Wilson’s rumination on the cup (among other things):
Above image: Installation view of Many a Slip: invited artists juggle with the domestic symbol of the cup, 2015 at Marsden Woo Gallery. Photograph by Philip Sayer, courtesy of the gallery.
I select the tools that fit the material and the form. Marks and qualities proceed from the making. There is a vague image in the mind’s eye. As the marks make form, a deal is made – between the image inside me and the reality in front of me. The image fades as the vagueness becomes concrete, but some ideal residue remains, standing over the hand and making it nervous.
Above images courtesy of the artist. Read “A Cup is a” here.
A difference that appears – egregious – in the making body, yet, when asked to manifest itself outside the made object, resists words, cloaks itself in opacity.
Or, a different difference would have it that a decision about the emergent qualities is taken at some point – ‘here is the feel I want it to have’ – and thereafter this decision is resolutely pursued, with the anxiety of failure, the fuck-up, hovering. Or is this the same difference, just expressed in a different form? Why did I think it was a different difference? Partly, I think because I’m working from a set of studio notes and also thinking independently of those notes. So, I go back to ‘Two Ways of Making’ and identify an unexpressed subtlety. The ‘pre-existing sense’ is not fixed; it is in dialogue with the emergent qualities of the object. The vague, pre-existing image becomes part of a conversation between body, tools and material. Could that conversation be characterised as style?
Is it my job to write as clearly as I can, so that the text is perfectly comprehensible? Or is that like saying that each cup should be a perfect realisation of a mental construct? If I write clearly, you might think better of the text, but have no deeper understanding of the engagement with material being described. Like an object that hides its struggle for life behind a façade of facility. Or perhaps it makes no difference – a text that seems to communicate something that is impossible to communicate, as opposed to a text that openly fails to communicate something that is impossible to communicate.
If the urge to make well can be resisted, might all marks, all qualities, flow only from the technique employed? The end of the gouging is not a fine interior, but a serviceable interior, of the right thickness, that does not conceal the means of its construction. The sledged lip, while done with great care, is about the tool, the hand and the clay; not about a well-formed lip, a beautiful lip. An old idea, of course, but not so easy to apply in a craft context. Not so easy to usher into / outof praxis.
It is easy to write and make badly, but very difficult to resist the urge, the imperative, to write and make well. To resist that urge, as a maker, is to resist facility, to resist craft. But I’m trying to make a cup that someone will want to drink out of (when not contemplating the shade). And I’m trying to make a text that will express something worth knowing about craft. So, what I’m hoping is that text and cup will not be badly made, as such, but made without the boundary of the normative, the burden of style. As I write it, I know I did not achieve it. I cannot hide from the memory of the compulsion to judge one mark better than another; the compulsion to make decisions based on taste rather than… than what? Functionality? Unselfconscious process? Non-subjective making? Object-Object engagement? It’s not Yanagi’s Unknown
Craftsman, or the Pompidou Centre, or Stokes’s Stones of Rimini; it is not aesthetic morality, because, while inelegance and poor functionality are not courted, they are tolerated. The object is secondary to the process. The process lives in a house made of three objects – a cup, a text, a body.
I don’t have a word for it yet, but the making produced a tacit, fugitive understanding of it; and the writing at least helped consciousness to find the tracks of that understanding.
Two Ways of Making:
- Nothavingafixedendinmind,butbeingguidedatallpointsintheprocess by an ‘inbuilt’, pre-existing sense of what looks good, what works.
- Nothavingafixedendinmindand,whilestilltakingcare,onlyfollowingthe ‘logic’ of each technique of the process (cutting, gouging, sledging), with no concern for what the result should look like.
Conor Wilson is a 2010 Jerwood Contemporary Makers prizewinner, a ceramist and a lecturer.
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