For Stair and Twomey, clay is a material that is deeply embedded in human existence, and one that enables them to explore social and cultural processes of exchange and consumption, memory and preservation, and ritual and touch. As 2018 marks the passing of one hundred years since the end of the First World War, this exhibition offers the opportunity to reflect on both the collective and personal impact of loss, legacy, testimony and commemoration. Whilst not directly concerned with the conflict, the two works Everyman’s Dream (2013) by Twomey and Reliquary for a Common Man (2012) by Stair encompass themes and ideas associated with remembrance.
For Everyman’s Dream, Twomey invited one thousand men to write down their aspiration of personal legacy. The work is installed as a ‘field’ of 1,000 bone china bowls, each holding a unique quote that presents an individual response. Applied in gold leaf, the lettering becomes a precious motif within these humble and familiar bowls, which relate ideas of the home, use, human interaction and care. Displayed as a collective body, the work forms a chorus of voices that reveal ambitions for legacy in a contemporary landscape.
Stair’s work explores the universality of death as a human experience, while also drawing on historically significant meanings of ‘the pot’. Reliquary for a Common Man is a memorial to the artist’s uncle-in-law, Leslie James Cox (1926-2008). An intensely personal work, Reliquary embodies the themes of vessels, containment and the human body in death. Its central element is a single hand-thrown bone china jar, for which Stair substituted the ox-bone element of bone china with Cox’s remains, to create a cinerary jar to hold the remaining ash. In doing so, Stair reinforces the corporeal identity of the vessel and has created a piece which is both memorial to, and made from, Leslie Cox.
The display is accompanied by audio-visual components that relate to Cox’s life: family film footage shot on Super-8 film, a slideshow of family portraits, and an interview recorded between Cox and the Socialist Party of Great Britain, of which he was a member, about his political views and experiences of the Second World War. The inclusion of these elements reveals the multi-faceted nature of pottery and its potential for wider social engagement.
Legacy: Two Works on Hope and Memory is part of Firstsite’s programme theme of ‘Culture and Conflict’, and is presented alongside Not Yet At Ease, a major new work by the internationally renowned Delhi-based artists Raqs Media Collective that explores the interlinked histories of war, poetry and mental health.
Says Sally Shaw, Firstsite Director: ‘This exhibition is presented at Firstsite at a significant moment in British history, as we remember the commitment and contribution of servicemen and women around the world who were affected by the First World War. The two artists have used clay and the idea of the vessel to create an experience that is familiar and deeply human, and one that evokes the poignancy of everyday lives.’
Legacy: Two Works on Hope and Memory is a touring exhibition developed by the Crafts Council in partnership with Forty Hall & Estate.