Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Deptford X 2011

It has been awhile since I posted here...

In July I put in a proposal to Deptford X 2011. The festival happened over two weekends at the end of September, and I didn't take part. Not being selected came as a relief since my design work had become very busy and I was also doing quite a bit of local campaigning (and still am)...and the idea I had was for another installation in the Creek that would have required a lot of work.

The "lead artist-curators" were (and still are) Hew Locke and Indra Khanna. Their brief was as follows...

Surrender to the pleasure of the decorative. Revel in the excessive, embrace it, be dazzled. A stall stacked with lurid artificial flowers, rhythmic serpentine graffiti, baroque mermen carved over the old town hall door, all equally a joy to the eye. Indulge yourself.

But there is more than just the surface. Layers of decoration contain levels of meaning, messages and codes. Symbols of power, conspicuous consumption, signals of elitist knowledge, patterns of control, signs of social belonging.

Is it all just too much? Visual overload, information overload, too much to digest – too much work, not enough time. Are our eyes bigger than our stomachs?

Here was my idea...It was not particularly decorative!

Deptford Creek forms the eastern boundary of the Deptford parliamentary seat presently occupied by Joan Ruddock MP. An imaginary dotted line runs through its middle.

The coalition government aims to reduce the number of MPs, and on September 6th 2011, boundary changes will be announced. The Deptford parliamentary seat is predicted to become Greenwich & Deptford. 

I propose to draw the present boundary line in the Creek with an object often found in the Creek, that is, crockery. The plates would be white (or possibly coloured and patterned) and be placed every metre along the imaginary line. The line would be viewable from Laban, from the Ha'Penny Hatch, and from the carpark at Faircharm.

The line would also only be visible at low-tide, and invisible at high tide. Over the duration of the festival, the line will be distressed and displaced by the tidal water and become indistinct as the plates become covered in mud, and eventually disappear, much as the present political boundary is predicted to.

The Creek as a political boundary has become a symbol of power, signalling patterns of control, creating a specific sense of place (and social belonging) to those living either side of it, despite the bridges that cross it. Rivers have long divided cities and countries, but has this particular division been natural or artificial? The Creek's role may now change as it becomes the centre of a much larger area, and a hub of luxury development. Do we care about this gerrymandering? Will we notice the difference?

(click to enlarge)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Creekery #2: refraction

Picture by Charles Shearer

Gaudi: July 2011: Casa Batlio

Gaudi: July 2011: On the roof of the Pedrera

Mark Wallinger: Folk Stones

On permanent show at Folkestone is Mark Wallinger's 2008 Triennial offering Folk Stones. The precise number of beach pebbles collected and laid out into a massive square reveals a profound underpinning: 19,240 individually numbered stones stand for the exact number of British soldiers killed on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The work is inspired by the one million soldiers who left from Folkestone harbour to fight on the battlefields of France and Flanders.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Let's Talk About the Rain

Parlez-moi De La Pluie – a film by Agnes Jaoui (2008). On the telly the other night. Am pretty sure that's a Willow Pattern plate on the wall there...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Drawing on the beach

Emma and Elisabeth were up at the South Bank this evening watching the Parkour...and saw this...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Made In Britain and China's PM visit

Great programme with the lovely Evan Davis, looking at the British economy, and in particular what is going on in China. Of the mighty sale price of the iPhone, most goes to the retailer and pays for the components, then $85 goes to Apple, and $5 to the Chinese company who assembled it.
Pointless making a link to i-Player, but anyway...Made In Britain.

Meanwhile, the Chinese are in town for trades deals, shaking hands with Cameron and getting the old horse guards parade treatment.

PM signs China deals but urges respect for human rights (link here to BBC report)

"After meeting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao for talks, Mr Cameron hailed what he said was a 'deeper dialogue'. But he said political and economic progress must go hand in hand as respect for human rights was 'the best guarantor' of prosperity and stability.

"Mr Wen urged co-operation and dialogue over the issue, not 'finger-pointing'.

"During talks in Downing Street, the two leaders signed bilateral trade agreements worth £1.4bn and restated their desire to double the value of two-way trade between the countries by 2015...."

BBC News reported this without irony and seemed at a loss as to what Mr Wen might be inferring, what with their piling up of political prisoners such as Ai Wei Wei.

Could it be, ahem, the British treatment of the Chinese some 200 years ago or is more likely, ahem, our treatment of terror suspects? Or could it be, ahem, our government's enormous disregard for trades unions, and the voice of protest (the same voices so right about Iraq)? Pointing the finger indeed, Mr Cameron, as you close down education, libraries, the health service and the arts, and cut local authority grants to ribbons, for the sake of your banker mates.

In his speech about how different our countries and cultures were, Cameron failed to refer even briefly to our shared history – why, for fear of shaming the Chinese? Or because, when the Chinese have been bank rolling the Western world for ten years now and is about to become the No.1 economic power in the world, it is hugely embarrassing to speak of an once vain glorious, now inglorious past.

It's not in the school curriculum, that's for sure.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lawes Chemical Co. at Harold Wharf

Christopher Mazeika from the Shipwright's Palace contacted me on Facebook to tell me to bid for this ashtray on eBay. For around £7 inc p&p I resurrected my PayPal account to snap up this small representation of my family name in Deptford. I have lived here 30 years and had no idea.

It was admittedly very exciting to find that my namesake (as yet connection unproved) John B Lawes had a chemical works on the very site where I have just exhibited. It is in fact, TOO WEIRD.

John Bennet Lawes founded the chemical fertiliser industry in 1842, with the development of wet process phosphoric acid technology. He was a self taught agricultural chemist and early Victorian entrepreneur who patented a process whereby ground coprolite was mixed with sulphuric acid resulting in a more soluble form of calcium phosphate or "superphosphate".

Coprolite is fossilised animal dung and composed chiefly of calcium phosphate along with minor quantities of organic matter (it is possible to infer the diet of the animal which produced the coprolite on examination). Superphosphate production factories were rapidly built around the country, where coprolite could be extracted. It had been discovered in 1840 that crops grew more strongly where the coprolite existed, but the mineral was not insoluble in water so couldn't be used until Lawes found a way to make it work. Bone ash was also used and many industries around the creek were based on using the discarded body parts of cattle.

Lawes was the founder of fertiliser (although wikipedia has some bloke called the Rev John Stevens Henslow as the one to patent the extraction process, so some more research is required!).

Lawes' first chemical works straddled the south of the present Faircharm site and the north of APT's site. This predates the present APT building.

I saw a map today at a consultation exhibition by Thames Tunnel (Thames Water) at Creekside Centre which showed the chemical works, but I've yet to track this map down. Rather ironic that Lawes made a fortune out of fossilised shit, and now I'm living in Shit Central, this area being one of the largest concentrations of sewage confluence...resulting in one of the few areas on the Thames discharging effluent into the Thames during heavy rain. The overflow is next door to the Ahoy Centre, where I have mudlarked on many an occasion and where some of my pottery fragments have been found.

At the Thames Tunnel consultation today I learned that the tunnel will merely be an overflow pipe, and not as I thought, a giant tunnel of shit channeling all out to sea. On the contrary.

After Creekery I thought my name would be associated with mud (my name is mud), but now it appears it is historically associated with shit. On my doorstep.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Clare Twomey

Just thinking about Clare Twomey's 2003 work Consciousness/Conscience...

"Consciousness/Conscience is a ceramic installation that is destroyed; it is made from one of the most precious and revered materials, Bone China. 7000 hollow cast bone china tiles is a lot of making for an individual crafts person. To maintain a constant form without deviation would be taxing for the individual maker. None of the above is impossible, just not logical for this project."

"The breaking of China is usually a moment for regret, and in the case of a much-used and well-loved domestic item one of great sadness. Twomey though, is excited by the ephemeral nature of her material and takes pleasure in its fragility, giving the breaking of it the same exhilarating possibilities encountered on walking over virgin snow." (Mark Currah)

But it's the footprint element of the work I'm interested in, and I go back to Creekery to look at the footprints we made that were such a problem at the time since they disrupted the smooth green carpet that made such a great canvas for the plates. APT sculptor Victoria Rance had said when I was worrying about it, "I quite like the footprints and the patterns they make..."

I bleached out some photos of the installation process to find the footprints. But these are just reminiscent of the photos I took at Christmas in my mother's garden, where foxes, magpies, blackbirds and robins made their patterns...

Anyway, Clare Twomey is awesome. Here's a pic from Trophy, a 2006 installation at the V&A.

More on Clare Twomey here.

Apple exploits Chinese workers

In the ongoing dialogue of Western trade with China that is a pertinent theme in this project, this surely has to be the story that is closest to home, what with me being a Mac user since 1984:

"An investigation into the conditions of Chinese workers has revealed the shocking human cost of producing the must-have Apple iPhones and iPads that are now ubiquitous in the west.

"The research, carried out by two NGOs, has revealed disturbing allegations of excessive working hours and draconian workplace rules at two major plants in southern China. It has also uncovered an "anti-suicide" pledge that workers at the two plants have been urged to sign, after a series of employee deaths last year..."

See more of this Guardian story here.

Half a million Chinese workers are paid about 65p an hour in a 60-hour week to cope with demand for Apple products.

Creekery the movie

Creekery #2 at Creekside Open 2011 from Sue Lawes on Vimeo.

Creekery at RSVPLondon

On Friday 17th June, Studio Raw took over a ground floor unit at Faircharm to stage RSVPLondon. One of the main exhibitors were Karakusevic Carson Architects who have been commissioned by Work Space to completely redesign the Faircharm Trading Estate, or as the blurb said, "to create new purpose built studios, gallery spaces, workshops, and a new residential, live-work space". Quite controversial for all the businesses and studios presentedly housed in Faircharm, and also for Crossfields Estate residents opposite (of which I am one).

I hung two photos by Charles Shearer of last year's Creekery at Deptford X 2010 and a spanking new print of Creekery #2, also taken by Charles. I also showed my little movie looped on my laptop. I was very proud to share a space with Boro, who up-cycle furniture and fashion items (gorgeous chairs here), and the rather famous Charming Baker, aka Alan, a painter and illustrator who has achieved dizzying heights of success over the past year. Other exhibitors included Hive, Union Cycle Works, JAILmake and Based Upon.

The exhibition continued on Saturday. Meanwhile, there was lots going on in Faircharm that weekend – Core Gallery, open studios at Creekside Artists and Cor Blimey Arts, and the Faircharm Fair. Also in Creekside, Cockpit Arts were open, plus ArtHub open studios and Creekside Open Part Two at APT.

At the Faircharm Fair, artists from Creekside Artists were showing among the craft artists, and I liked Paul Coombs' work in particular. It reminded me of Yee Sookyung's broken pots stuck back together again, only these little pieces refer to the human form, being broken statuettes or nick nacks.

 Emathion Paul Coombs, 2010 Broken ceramic


Creekside Open finished on 29th May. I was allowed to keep the plates in so that I could finish my documentation. However it rained solidly for several days afterwards. On 7th June it stopped and I went to view the damage. A number of dishes that had been in the water had been swept away down the Creek as far as the Ha'Penny Hatch, whilst the plates in the mud bank had fallen over. Some of the waterbound plates had become detached from the bricks that had been weighting them down, so had to be repaired.

For the medium format film photography and the time lapse movie I had planned, the whole lot had to be washed and re-installed. The whole thing was also to be removed by Saturday 11th before the private view of the second exhibition in Creekside Open. So I had three days to conquer the technicalities of time lapse photography and get Charles Shearer down with his film camera.

It turned out that the advice I had been given by Mo Hague was completely wrong for my project and the equipment I had available to me. I now had lots of batteries for my Panasonic and an intervalometer, a remote control device to set the camera to take shots at specific intervals, that fitted my FZ30.

On Thursday and Friday I finally succeeded in getting some footage, even though the weather was completely unreliable. It was so bad that I was unable to leave the camera to do its thing and had to stand in the wind and rain making sure the umbrella I'd attached to a pole next to the tripod to keep rain off the camera didn't fly off. I also managed to drop my pocket Lumix into the water and had to rescue it before the tide took it away (miraculously it dried out in front of the Rhino heater in the studio over the next five days and came back to life).

On Saturday 11th June Emma came to help clear the plates out. We also filmed that. See next post for the Creekery movie which I put together in iMovie the following week in order to show at the RSVP exhibition on 17th June.


Mali Morris has a studio on the top floor at APT. Her view of Creekery was even more elevated than the one from the wharf wall. She kindly furnished me with a CD of photographs she'd taken from her french windows.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Creekery #2 on The Culture Show tonight

Mild excitement since I've been informed that the filming done by BBC2's Culture Show team last Friday is going to include a few seconds of Creekery #2 and it's being screened tonight.

(See it on BBC iPlayer here, and fast forward 20 minutes...)

The weather was truly awful last Wednesday and Thursday (though very good news for farmers and gardeners). It pretty much wrecked the installation, quickly covering it in mud, knocking a few plates over and carrying one or two downstream. Friday was more clement so I got down into the creek and washed them all again. It was beginning to feel like a performance piece with the old woman doing the washing up in the river...

Just as I'd finished practically totally reinstalling the piece and was coming up the ladder at around 5pm, the BBC film crew emerged outside from the gallery. Fortunately they didn't want to speak to me. They also filmed Charlotte Warne Thomas's gold leaf portaloo which was situated outside, and filmed in the gallery so they'll be featuring a couple more works housed indoors. There will probably be interviews and more action coming from Bear Space, The Old Police Station and The Agency, where they filmed later on.

Meanwhile, my buyer pulled out, but may still be interested in a photograph. Getting a large format photograph is now posing a challenge because the lowtides are at awkward times of the day this week and next.

I've also been getting helpful advice from time lapse photographer Mo Hague who is a friend of my potential buyer. The work continues...

Fortunately, I am being allowed to keep the piece in the Creek a bit longer so that we can do this documentation, even though the show finished last Sunday.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Creekery #2 at Creekside Open: Day 18

Creekery #2 has now been in the Creek for eighteen days and has been open to public viewing for 8 of those. There are another 4 days to go before Creekside Open closes (May 29th).

A young collector has expressed an interest in buying the installation, but it has been very hard to arrive at a realistic price. I have taken advice from gallerist Bea de Souza (The Agency) who has made some helpful suggestions on how to present the work for the buyer that is of museum standards. A fantastic photograph of the piece is an important part of this.

Charles Shearer took some photos in the first week, and is coming again today. But here are four from his first proofings...

I have also spent some considerable time trying to make a time lapse movie of the tide going out to reveal the plates, so far without success...

The installation has been cleaned by hand three or four times since going in – after three or four days silt builds up on the plates and begins to obscure the pattern, damping down the contrast of the blue with the green. It is very tempting to leave them to become covered in mud. If I had not cleaned them, they would be white/off-grey by now with no pattern visible at all.

The problem with going in to wipe the plates clean is that muddy black footprints are left behind. After one tide, the deep footprints fill with water and soften so that after the next tide, they show up as dimples in the green carpet. Creekside Open's co-ordinator was keen to have a less dimpled mudbank and sparkling plates for when The Culture Show visit on Friday for SLAM (South London Art Map Last Fridays). On the off chance Creekery #2 might be filmed, yesterday I purchased a 30 metre garden hose and attempted to hose the plates down without leaving any footprints, but the jet wasn't strong enough to disperse the ingrained silt.

Perhaps that is Creekery #3 – the plates and Creek left to their own devices, as was inferred in my original text...

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Highly accomplished watercolourist Jonathan Pike came by the show today and told me he'd recently been painting pottery shards and had found much of his pieces on the Kent coast in places such as Halstow (where I have mudlarked too). He sent me these pix...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Creekery #2 Installation: Day 4 : Wednesday 11 May

Charles comes to take photographs, but the weather's a bit iffy. Emma has come to help clean the plates. They have become fairly dirty over three days. However if we go down and clean them Charles will have our footprints in his pictures, so he goes down and takes some pix before we begin cleaning...
On Monday I had hung a large print in the hut. It's a blow-up of Charles's photograph of the autumn 2010 Ha'Penny Hatch installation. The Creekside co-ordinator Liz May had asked me for a print of the photo submitted and chosen by Dexter Dalwood. I got two pics blown up, not sure which was best. Liz's idea was that people who come to the show when the tide is fully in can see what it might look like when the tide is out. The new installation looks quite different from the photo, not just because it's a different location but because the mud is much, much greener at this time of year.

I'm not sure what to do about the objects already in the hut – for instance, a large plaster head of Marilyn Munroe...
A koot takes a walk through the plate garden...
When Charles has left, Emma and I take a walk up the Creek. Coming back I get another perspective...
...and sunny side up...
Emma and I were just in time to grab a panini from Creekside Cafe before it closed at 4pm, and we ended the day in my studio exploring the possibilities of making a time lapse film of the tide coming in and going out...Webcam? SLR with Timer Remote Control? i-Sight on a laptop with Gawker? We were quite tickled by Pet Cam...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Creekery #2 installation

Day One - Saturday 7th May

Rain was forecast, with low-tide at 10.45am, so we used this day to transport the crocks over to the APT yard and store them and equipment (waders, sticks, basket, rope) in the little hut situated on the riverwall of the APT yard. Typically, the forecast was misleading, and Saturday turned into a beautiful day.

Ten days ago, I went on a Creekside Walk and put in five plates as a test. Over this period, which had been very dry and often sunny, silt had built up on the plates and almost totally obscured the blue pattern. The mud had dried almost white like china clay.

Day Two - Sunday 8th May

Emma was a theatre carpenter in a previous life with lots of experience backstage up in the flys, and fully used to heights and steep Jacob ladders. She's first down into the Creek, ready to receive the materials...


End of Day Two...tide coming in fast at 2.15pm, some tweaking to do tomorrow...

Day Three - Monday 9th May

Low-tide is 11.45. Lisa is helping today. She says low-tide is 12.45. An experienced Thames mudlarker (and an archaeologist in a previous life) she reads the tides at London Bridge, not Woolwich as I have been taught.  I have a few more pieces to add to the installation which must be fetched over from my studio. At 12.45, Lisa's on rope duty...

Today, APT is hanging the show in the gallery with the selector Dexter Dalwood. Meanwhile, down the road, Creekside Centre is holding a launch to announce its sponsorship from Thames Water and its new name, Creekside Discovery Centre. There's lots going on, including a school's walk in the Creek. At 1.15pm, we are invaded by around 30 kids and three or four teachers, led by Nick Bertrand.

Nick refers to Lisa and myself as the River People and asks me to tell the kids what I'm doing. I fail to keep their attention as I struggle to describe the project. I try to tell them how dinner plates are just mud that's been heated in a hot fire (not totally accurate!), how the project started when I found all the bits of pottery in the water, how the plate design is 220 years old and people used to throw their rubbish in the river then....I even lose the teacher's interest, but that is probably because they are more concerned with policing the children who are extremely over excited. I think I might have just shown the kids that the picture on the plate shows a Creek and a bridge and birds and trees and leave it at that.

Lisa stands guard at the onslaught of nine year olds...
I am watching the shadow being created by the DLR flyover. Charles Shearer is going to come down and take some photographs later in the week and I'm keen to know at what time this shadow moves.
Back up on the wharf, I survey what more needs to be done...

Around 2.30pm Lisa leaves, and I go back down to tweak a little more before the tide comes in. I'm accompanied by a pair of ducks...I find out later from Nick that these are Egyptian Geese – and although they have been seen in other parts of London, this is the FIRST EVER sighting of these geese in the Creek.

At 2.45, back on dry land, the tide is coming in fast, and the shadow has cleared the plates...

At 3.15pm, the tide has crept up the mudbanks and the shadow has gone...If Charles comes on Wednesday, low-tide will be around 1.45pm. If he comes on Thursday, low-tide will be 3pm, which will also be good for a shot of the entire installation with no shadows...depends on whether it's sunny or not of course.