Residencies in Clay Artist Blog: Josie ko

Photo by Felicity Crawshaw

For 4 weeks across November and December Josie KO took part in Residencies in Clay, which supported artists exploring the transformational potential of clay within society and contemporary arts practice. The residency culminated in Building the Clay Commons with Eva Masterman, which brought together local community members, makers and artists from the North East and beyond. Josie reflects on her developing relationship with clay and her thought processes while on residency at SSW.

All words by Josie ko.

I’ve never worked under these circumstances before, with no deadline, no expectation and no need for an outcome. It should have been liberating and should have been free from the pressures to produce but instead, the unlimited possibilities of things I could do and explore was overwhelming. Without the structures and pressure I was used to, I became frazzled.

I realised that in a residency that was so freeing, I needed to create a plan for myself for the next month so I didn’t explode from over-thinking. It showed that without external pressures, I was able to create internal pressure for myself. To dilute this self-inflicted pressure, I decided, while there was so much that this residency in this workshop could provide, the only thing I will be concentrating on this month was hand building.

Handbuilding was the way of working I was instinctively drawn to. Holding the clay, I immediately swished and pinched at the lump, reforming it into a new forms. This instinctive response to clay felt like a return to being a child and playing with mud and play-doh. It caused me to consider our connection with the land and ancestral knowledge we all have within us but been conditioned to reject and ignore

Now this goal of hand building was set in my head, the next four weeks became a rhythmic repetition of wedging clay, squeezing it through the extruder (my new favorite device in the ceramic workshop) and layering and pressing the coilings on top of one another again and again and again. The repeated action became an unconscious dance as I went through the motions. When I got into the groove of it, it became second nature and my finger worked though muscle memory, remembering the right amount of pressure to squish the two separate coils into one.

Josie ko finished artwork, photo by the artist.

I loved this connection with the body and the clay. How I was noticing my movements and my body in relation to the clay. Clay recorded each decision I made, each finger impression recorded in time becoming a reflection of my own self in the clay and the consequences of each action.

I worked in the night and drifted about in the day creating a nocturnal schedule that the 24 hour studio thankfully allowed. Without any wifi or service in the studio, when I was working I escaped the realities of the world and entered a clay sanctuary which I could get lost in. 

I would get so comfortable and used to the rhythm that it was hard to stop when I got going. But I always had to eventually. Not because I wanted to, in fact, most of the time when I was in the action, I didn’t want to stop. But the clay would force me to take breaks with its threatening wobbles and its flimsiness. If I ignored this and persisted on building, which I did sometimes, I would always regret it. The clays’ little wobbles and squishy softness would erupt in a grand collapse, undoing the hours of wall building work. I learnt this the first night of speedily coil building the walls up only to come back in the morning to see it collapsed in a rubble pile. Instead, I listened and obeyed the clay, enforcing tea breaks as mandatory and learned and discovered through making mistakes and continuously working with the clay

These breaks entwined with building, meant that there was constant chat between myself and the other artists on residency. Speaking to Nic and Mina (and Keng Keng who was on a different residency at the same time as us) was the most enriching part of the experience. Collectively we created a small clay commons. While we were working in the same workshop together for a month, we learned from each other, helped and inspired one another while also cooking together (or more accurately they cooked for me). We formed a beautiful friendship and I am so thankful that our mutual love of clay brought us together

The final 5th week of the residency also continued this dialogue surrounding the multiplicity and power of clay in Eva’s Building the Clay Commons week. It was amazing to expand discussions on clay to an even wider group of clay lovers around scotland. During this final week it felt like we gave words to all the things I had internally been thinking about while working over the month I was in SSW. It was fascinating to hear from the speakers Zoe, Bisila, Mark, Oren and Rabi who individually spoke about their experiences with clay in their practices. What I got away from all the talks is the significant legacy that clay has in our human lives and how its material importance in our present contemporary lives.

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