Layers upon Layers

Layering is something that has been occupying my thoughts recently. This is due to the “writing matters” course at MIRIAD. In fact my talk I did on the Common Themes in the Research (link) was the building of several layers of visual and spoken communication. The reality was it was perhaps a bit much for my audience and even I who was presenting found difficulty with making and trying to read my research findings so far.

The whole thing was building on some of my ideas of making as performance. If I had thought it through clearly before presenting I would have asked my audience just to focus on one element that was going on and let the other things fall by the way side.

The layers seem to be a good representation of my thought processes which tend to be three or four places at once. It is also typical of how I work in my workspace with the thoughts in my head, a podcast in the background and my hands working away regardless of all these things. Another layer is perhaps I don’t want to be at the centre of attention, of the fear that what I have to say isn’t the most important thing I can show. I want my hands to communicate what I want to get across.

It is often said that less is more, but sometimes I want to do something so against the grain that it jars with people. I want to be brash, bold, and in your face to make people uncomfortable and to take notice. This has led to layering in my current work processes, with red clays, white slips, blue and brown oxides, and the possibility of gold or silver lustres on the verge of sneaking in to add more depth. The question is when is too much, too much with talks and with surface pattern; or does it boil down to taste and confidence to pull it all off. Though this is a hypothesis I don’t have the time to check.

Layering in writing is one thing I have struggled with even in poetry. Part of my problem seems to stem back to being sixteen years old and in a sixth form college. At the time I felt frustrated that science writing was often written in over complicated terms, seemingly to baffle those not in the know. It was around then I came to believe in writing things simply and clearly to eliminate that sense of elitism. Since doing the writing matters course I have started to wonder if what I saw as elitism in writing is an insecurity. That it comes from the same insecurity that those artists at MIRIAD who have said they are worried about things sounding right and how a thing is supposed to be done.

I love listening to Alice Kettle’s writing it sounds like her and her work even if someone else reads it, sawn together in a tapestry, with depth and themes pulling through the writing like threads, allowing the eye and ear to wander through the narrative. There is a real sense of flow and layers to it. I don’t see an elitism with her writing but a real honest poetic way of writing.

For me to write in a layered poetic way I feel almost like everything has to be written out by hand, then it is all typed up, rearranged and several drafts later, really memorising the work before scrapping it completely. Then with the memory of something already written I feel like I can turn away from the words that have come before, I can write something new, something completely different. This gives me more freedom and flowing thought but this takes so much time to write a single piece.

This same process seems to be throughout all my work from my making, to the talks I have given so far. The first talk I gave at MIRIAD I memorised, I knew what was supposed to come so I ad libbed freely without fear of not hitting a point I wanted to make. The second talk I didn’t know what I wanted to say and felt too tight still, and had to keep checking the paper as I didn’t feel I knew my writing well enough to ad lib. At the moment there is still the question of how to streamline the process and not try and hide behind so many layers, or layer things in a more intentional way without having to make it ten or more times.

So for the time I have decided to work in the same way as my pottery, that is with a sense of quantity, but this quantity has to be analysed to see what is happening and how things can be improved.

About Joseph Travis

Maker of ceramic objects, Ceramic Researcher and full time dad to two boys
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