Ceramicist Carol Sinclair explains how collaborating with jeweller Rebecca Hannon to make a set of human scale wings with sustainability and identity at the core of their creation led to a fundamental change in her work.
This blog is part of a series by the Scottish makers participating in a programme of residencies with makers in Mexico, Thailand and Canada as part of the AAS international exchange project to create new work on the themes of identity and sustainability for an exhibition, Meet Make Collaborate.
Collaboration is for me the perfect way to explore, channel and challenge some of the many different creative ideas that I constantly have in my head and in all those test pieces that sit around my studio. Finding the time and space to bring these new ideas to fruition is always a challenge when there are so many other activities competing for my time, but the commitment made to my partner simply made me me do it, and I am so thankful that I did. Having a weekly Zoom catch up with my collaborator, Rebecca Hannon in Halifax, Nova Scotia has been a pleasure and a privilege, and given me a vital creative focus throughout the uncertainty of lockdown.
As I write we are working towards the Meet Make Collaborate exhibition and I am now putting together the 118 individual components that make up our collaborative work, 59 made by Nova Scotia based collaborator, jeweller Rebecca Hannon, and 59 made by me in my studio in Forfar. Together we have created a set of human scale wings with each individual feather made with materials and techniques with sustainability at the core of their conception and I am really looking forward to seeing them displayed together.
The wings represent the natural world that connects our countries and the environmental issues that we need to work together to tackle. We also thought that creating a work made of smaller pieces would be a very practical approach to reducing the carbon footprint of collaborating across continents.
Using the colours from our partners living and working environments as our starting point, Rebecca and I each developed our own palette and began exploring materials and associated making techniques to achieve those colours. For Rebecca each feather was a unit of research as she experimented with new techniques in metal, textile and ceramic fabrication, suggested by other makers in response to the colours of Scotland. Rebecca uses laser cutting and 3D printing techniques in her work and combines these with traditional hand making methods, giving great range and flexibility to her practice.
I selected my materials based on a “closed loop” approach in which as little as possible is wasted or has a minimal an amount of extra energy used in its reformulation. I have recycled the paper from my clay processing, reconstituted clay to create a new biodegradable plastic, reused the wooden feathers from my tests for this project, and mixed paint and ink to create the colours of Halifax. This is the part in the process of creating a new body of work I really enjoy, when all the hard work in testing ideas produces tangible results, but in truth this collaboration has been a joy from the very start so let me share that story with you.
I first met Rebecca in May 2019 on an AAS visit to Halifax to meet our potential project partners at Nova Scotia School of Art and Design (NSCAD). We were there to explore ideas and find like minded people to work with. Rebecca is Associate Professor at NSCAD where she balances her work teaching jewellery with her own very active practice and had just completed a solo show, Camouflage, at the Mary E Black Gallery in Halifax when we met. We visited Rebecca’s studio and as we chatted about making processes and materials she introduced me to a new ceramic material she had been testing. And without either of us previously anticipating it, our collaboration was born there and then.
Over this last 18 months we have worked together on developing practical aspects of the Meet Make Collaborate project, and in the last 12 months we have been having weekly Zoom meetings to share ideas and develop our work together. Fundamental to our collaboration has been sharing our personal, community and country’s responses to the Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matters movement, and the issues of inequality and discrimination that are being highlighted by both. Our dialogue and sharing of other perspectives has fed directly into our work as makers but also into our roles as teachers and facilitators. We have encouraged and supported one another, and reinforced the vital role craft and making has in promoting communication and understanding across divides.
Collaborating with Rebecca has given me the time, space and support that has brought about a fundamental change in my work. Working with white porcelain for the last 10 years, I love the purity of form, texture and shadow that it offers, but I wanted to find an appropriate way to add colour into my work. The colours of Halifax were an inspirational starting point and Rebecca encouraged me to be bold with both pattern and colour as a way of expressing my own identify and the stories I want to tell in the work I create. But more fundamentally my conversations with Rebecca have encouraged me to be bolder in the way I incorporate the social and environmental issues that matter to me.
As well as creating feathers for my wings I have also developed a new body of ceramic work, Perspectives is a collection of sculptural vessels that contain memories of people and places. Using the cityscape and waterfront of Halifax for inspiration I have created work that expresses the identity of the city through my interpretation of its shapes and colours. I have also developed a set of pieces using black, white and coloured clays to represent the mix of skin colours of the rich cultural mix of people that call Halifax home, with decoration applied to either the outside and inside of the pieces to echo the tensions between inclusion and exclusion.
As we reach the culmination of this project, Rebecca and I realise that we need to find other projects to work on together, because neither of us want to stop the stimulating, inspiring and very enjoyable creative exploration that we undertake together every Friday afternoon.
Top image: Wings detail, photo Rebecca Hannon
Read about the experiences of other Scottish makers taking part in Meet Make Collaborate – ceramicist Susan O’Byrne, weaver Cally Booker, textile maker Fiona Hall, basketmaker Sarah Paramor, textile designer Kate Davies, artist Louise Barrington, weaver Lynne Hocking-Mennie and jeweller Stefanie Cheong.
The Meet Make Collaborate exhibition is part of an international project by Applied Arts Scotland SCIO in partnership with the British Council Crafting Futures programme including the British Council Mexico and British Council Thailand, the British Council Scotland, High Life Highland, Museums Galleries Scotland and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and funded by Creative Scotland, Edinburgh College of Art and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.