GALLERY: Human Conditions of Clay

GALLERY: Human Conditions of Clay

Pio Abad, Jonathan Baldock, Oliver Beer, William Cobbing, Shawanda Corbett, Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg, Ryan Gander, Antony Gormley, Nancy Herbert, Lubaina Himid, Rachel Kneebone, Lindsey Mendick, Zoë Paul, Tal R, Renee So, Francis Upritchard and Ai Weiwei


Curated by Deborah Smith

Human Conditions of Clay explores how humanity is expressed through the material use of clay artworks that carry a human trace and presence. The artists in the show demonstrate the dynamic use of clay through the manipulation of material and presentation – from installation, animation and works on paper to sculpture, photography and video performance – in conveying their lines of enquiry and interests in history, current affairs, human behaviour, folklore and tradition. 

Shawanda Corbett practice explores different cycles of human life through cyborg theory, to question what constitutes a complete body. In the photographs. It was just yesterday and Now go around the corner and get your brother (both 2021) Corbett places herself central in the work & masking her face in clay slip streaked with gestural lines, paying homage to the silent films of the 1920s and 30s.

Putin, Sushi, Tea and Cigs (all 2020) are autobiographical sculptures by Lindsey Mendick. The works are inspired by the intertwining stories of a female writer, depression, and Russian spies. When she was eighteen, Mendick had a nervous breakdown, left art school and returned to her parental home in North London. Agoraphobic and insomniac, seeing visions from her window of men in black, she discovered that their neighbour, the Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, had been poisoned. These works narrate this episode.

The figurative sculptures of Hot Future (2018), Four Dead and Buey (both 2017) by Francis Upritchard represent the "accoutrements of humans", made to avoid categorisation as described by Upritchard as “sculptures: things without spirit self". These signature bodies, are brightly coloured and adorned in traditional clothing from around the world.  

Dark Side of the Moon (2017) by Natalie Djurberg and Hans Berg is a stop-motion animation using clay vignettes with mesmerising music. Twisted fairy tales are seamlessly intertwined to tell the story of the moon and other protagonists. 

Antony Gormley’s practice explores the nature of the space a human-being inhabits. In Blanket Drawing I (1983) the place in which a body has occupied is defined in china clay slip, removing the physicality of the body itself.  

In the video Long Distance (2018) by William Cobbing, performers blindly manipulate raw clay that covers their heads. The bodies linked by the clay repetitively stroke, pummel and probe, in the attempt, to form a fixed shape, without conclusion.

Ai Weiwei uses the traditional material of porcelain in both Porcelain Vase (Crossing of the Sea) (2017) and Remains (2015). Depicted across the vase’s glazed surface are painterly images of tragic human displacement, trauma, and suffering of sea-crossing refugees. In painstaking detail, the objects in Remainspresent an excavated group of bones found at a labour camp operated under Chairman Mao’s regime in the 1950s.

The excavating of narrative through auction catalogues for Pio Abad reveals private histories of public people. In Decomposition No2 (2019) Abad’s series of drawings in ultramarine blue India ink, represent the twenty-four Chinese porcelain vases that the Lehmann Brothers auctioned off, two years after the collapse of their infamous holding company. 

Rachel Kneebone embraces the unpredictable nature of her chosen material of porcelain and the firing process. In Whirl (2017) Kneebone captures the fragility of the material and movement of rapid swirling, using interwoven motifs such as tendrils, folds, ribbons and spheres to accentuate motion and fluidity.  

The ancient sixteenth-century technique of Japanese raku firing is explored in Tal R’s Scholar’s Palace (2015). There is volatility with this process - in firing the oxygen is drawn from the clay leaving the surface blackened due to the intensity of its exposure. What emerges is a beauty in organic form, shaped by history, of what Tal R describes as his ‘stone clouds’. 

The wall-based drawing of Venus of Valdivia (2019) by Renee So is made up of multiple tiles in a palette of rusty colours and depicts two big-haired women who are inspired by and representative of the historical Venus figures of the Valdivian Ecuadorian women.  The two new traditionally tripod coiled pots Untitled (2021) of fertility idols reference several genres of prehistoric art and pottery.  

Zoë Paul’s Our Bodies, In Fragmented Gesture (2019) is an oversized hand-crafted tapestry made of individual tiny beads that have been fired at different temperatures to create a range of earthy brown, white and dark blue hues. The beads are weaved into an allegorical figurative scene that portrays male and female naked figures.

Swallow Hard: The Lancaster Dinner Service(2007/2017) is a collection of old decorative ceramic plates, tureens and jugs, purchased around Lancaster, and overpainted by Lubaina Himid. Himid’s work awakens our consciousness with memories of slave servants, sugary food, mahogany furniture, greedy families, tobacco, and cotton fabrics, and mixes them with British wildflowers, elegant architecture and African patterns.

Within Oliver Beer’s Resonance Vessels (British Quartet) (2021), a collection of family objects comes alive as the acoustic memories of the inside of each vessel is amplified, emitting a sound inherently determined by the object’s specific volume and geometry. 

Humour and playfulness oozes from Jonathan Baldock’s Maske (2020). This series of two-dimensional ceramic faces are bright in colour and the facial appearances are expressed through ripples of clay suggesting folds of skin, with cuts and bulges that reveal characteristic features such as ears, eyes and noses. 

Nancy Herbert’s colourful ceramic and knitted masks are echoes of traditions of rituals and ceremonies inspired by her heritage of Celtic and pagan histories and the lived experience of indigenous art of Canada, and its Inuit communities.  

Ryan Gander’s Making Time (2021) is a vending machine that dispenses objects at a cost of £10. The machine contains handmade porcelain stones that explore the economies of time, money and attention.

This exhibition is supported by Henry Moore FoundationArt Fund and Arts Council Wales with special thanks to KHBT



Entrance to Chapter Gallery is always free.

Mae mynediad i Oriel Chapter yn rhad ac am ddim bob amser. 

Gallery Opening Times: Tues – Sun, 11am – 5pm, closed Mondays

Oriau Agor Oriel: Mawrth – Sul, 11yb – 5yp, ar gau dydd Llun

Chapter Gallery is an international arts space that commissions, produces and presents contemporary visual and live art projects. We offer ambitious, challenging and wide-ranging programme of exhibitions, residencies, commissions and events by established Welsh and international artists.

Mae Oriel Chapter yn ofod celfyddydol rhyngwladol sy'n comisiynu, yn cynhyrchu ac yn cyflwyno prosiectau yn y celfyddydau gweledol a byw. Rydym yn cynnig rhaglen uchelgeisiol, heriol ac amrywiol o arddangosfeydd, cyfnodau preswyl, comisiynau a digwyddiadau gan artistiaid sefydledig o Gymru ac o bedwar ban byd.


Click here to access our Human Conditions of Clay education pack, aimed at Key Stages 2 & 3. This pack – for families and teachers – is full of information about the artists and their artworks, themes explored in the exhibition, and creative activities inspired by the work on display. 

Gallwch gael mynediad at ein pecyn addysg hefyd, sy’n llawn syniadau i helpu pobl ifanc i ymgysylltu’n fwy dwys gydag artistiaid, gwaith a themâu’r sioe.

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