Making as a Performance

Making by throwing or hand building is the only part of the process where the clay feels alive to me. As soon as it dries out to greenware, my love for it wanes. Generally all love is destroyed as it changes chemically and becomes set in stone. Sometimes the glazing can bring a sense of liveliness, but it doesn’t have the same sense of being alive that fresh clay has.

When I was a full-time maker I made a lot that I thought would sell. The problem is as I created these objects I lost part of the passion that made me a maker. It is only as I have become distanced from the situation that I could see what had happened to me.

It is only with this crystallisation of understanding; that for me the best part of making is making. Alongside the idea that the best part of teaching I always find is the act of performance. Where people watch and say “wow, that’s amazing” and then want to throw themselves into the making process. With these two ideas combined I get this sense that to me the most important part is making as performance.

With my shop I always made sure that I could throw pots where people could see me making them, want to come in and discover more. I really don’t like the act of selling pottery it feels so fake and dishonest to me to try and sell my own work, and so I would shy away from it. What I enjoyed doing though was having a conversation with someone while throwing, they would watch with fascination and their eyes follow along. They were really engaged in that moment of watching me make and listening to me talk about the process.

Last year I discovered Theaster Gates’ Soul Manufacturing Corporation, the idea of people making being the exhibition really caught my imagination. Setting up a work space in an unusual space and just getting to work really appealed to me. I have considered going to the square next to the university and just rolling coils to build something big in front of people. I love the idea of just using a space to engage people in making process, especially if that space isn’t normally associated with creative endeavours. These sorts of ideas are along the lines of making handmade bricks alongside a busy building site, or repairing a brick wall with a handmade brick decorated with a sgraffito carving.

This piece of writing has been sat on my desk for a while, and in the meantime I found the Meerkat app for my iPad. This allows me to live stream straight from my studio direct to the people’s digital devices. It is all live so there is no editing or fiddling, I just set up my iPad and go, it has been really refreshing. I have just been working through making mugs and pulling handles while people watch and ask me questions. At the same time I have found that being focused on just mugs my confidence in making that form and the handles has vastly increased over the short time.

I really feel like I am engaging with people when I live stream. I can’t believe I worried for so long about what content to live stream, I guess it is a different audience than I originally considered. With this audience though just working, talking my way through the process and answering questions is more than enough cone. Meerkat is a space with where a lot of people just talk so making an object still stands out, like the Soul Manufacturing Corporation does in a gallery.

There are still so many avenues I want to explore in making as performance, but for the moment due to time restraints they will have to be put on hold while I think about them further. Meerkat is definitely a way forward for me, and I would encourage other crafts people to try it out too, just give it a go for a month and see if it works for you.

About Joseph Travis

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