Saturday, November 3, 2012

Mucking Out

Miners operating a Greathead Shield to 'muck out' London tunnels

I have a habit of keeping my eye out for construction sites as a source of indigenous clay. I had already found myself reaching into pits where waterlines were being repaired to grab precious handfuls of the dense muck London is built on- mostly disdained by Londoners as a total nuisance.
My partner Rob Hunter had taken a trip to Highate Cemetery to do photography and saw piles of solid clay that had been excavated during some street work nearby. Two days later we returned with bags to haul back as much as we could carry but the clay was gone- with the Olympics looming things were probably more expedient than usual and the only clay remaining was in the work pit. I took a chance and climbed inside the barriers just to grab what I could but I had to lay down on the concrete and hang in so I didn't dilly dally.
Line repair near Highgate Cemetary

When I came upon my second chance at a large construction site in east London I decided to carpe diem -
Meet Joe my knight in shining reflector tape in my quest for London clay! 

 When asked- Joe, who was more puzzled about how I knew his name than my strange interest in the clay, quickly responded by saying the clay in the pile was 'rubbish' and I would want the 'solid sticky stuff' and that there are a couple of different types. Needless to say Joe's working knowledge of clay was impressive, he offered to bag up some 'good clean stuff'  and I could come back for it later especially if I brought some 'hot girls' with me! I did attempt to honor his request but the man for the job was once again Rod 007 Jellicoe -Joe did bag up the clay as promised about 60 kilos- but when I asked around at the V&A if there was anyone with a vehicle to grab the precious cargo the response was 'we usually take the train or ride bikes' clearly that was not gonna happen. Rod to the rescue, he picked me up and when we arrived I could see the disappointment on Joe's face as I explained that Rod was the hottest girl I could find with a car…
Getting the clay into the museum is a story in itself, the security gate guards and all involved were amazingly responsive to the impromptu situation so Rod maneuvered his way into the V&A loading dock and delivered the payload once again!
The clay in bags in front of my V&A  studio in gallery 143

One type of clay from  east London which is black in it's raw form

The second type which has a marbled stratus and is almost oily feeling.
This excursion was in the midst of my preparation and filming of the delft puzzle jug and the agate teapot I describe in an earlier post. The clays were pretty moist the day I got them but I had to turn my attention  to the videos and by the time I could begin my experiments they had hardened- but not dried- the most difficult state for reconstituting. I also wanted to try to preserve the marbleization of the 2nd type which requires it being wet enough to use directly or thoroughly dry.
I  thought I might play with the idea of the natural agate in contrast with the extraordinarily contrived process of the Staffordshire type I was busy developing for the video and also wanted to continue my Nike 2012 Olympic trainer patterns with east London earth. But the most compelling thing about these clays is experiential not result oriented, literally using the ground I was occupying to explore their unique unknown properties-  unpredictable-volital- beautiful and not necessarily anything anyone in their right mind would want to mess with. Right up my ally!
The unfired black clay impressed with some of the Nike patterns to test. 
London clay is famous for the fossils it contains which dovetails with my interest in connecting fossil imagery with fossil fuel and the notion of a 'human fossil' exemplified by my work Fossil Teapot
Fossil Teapot Collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art's, Richmond VA