The States and Status of Clay: Material, Metamorphic and Metaphorical Values.
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This doctoral project combines a performance-led practice with contextual research in order to demonstrate how arts practice can challenge historical perceptions of clay and enhance its material status. The core knowledge deduced from this research is that embodied performance transforms connectivity between artist and clay and produces a unified incarnation of both elements. Through the use of immersive research methods I gained insights which could not have been predicted - particularly that my experiential performances were a process of ‘clay becoming’ in which I ultimately became the clay. In terms of locality, the practice, comprising eight performance-led works and related documentation, focuses on the China Clay and Ball Clay of South West England. Traditionally in the arts, these materials are associated with ceramics, where through heating, clay becomes rigid and fixed. In contrast, my research investigates the textural fluidity and metamorphic potential of these clays in their raw state. The practice encompasses two interrelated groups of work; the In-breath and Out-breath. These terms are significant in three respects. Firstly they define two different modes and moments of practice. Secondly they refer to myself as a living component of these practices. Thirdly they reflect the cultural associations of clay as a metaphor for life. During the initial exploratory ‘In-breath’ phase of my practice, comprising four site-specific pieces, I engaged with clay at sites of historical relevance, building an expansive knowledge of my material. During the later ‘Out-breath’ phase, identification with site was relinquished. These works took place within neutral spaces, allowing the clay to be explored in relation to my body. The introduction of layering, where photographic elements of private clay rituals were situated within the context of a live performance, allowed a texturally dynamic and immersive experience to be created for both artist and viewer. By collecting and preserving clay traces from these live performances (e.g. foot and body prints) additional value was given to the embedded significance of the clay.