I am about to do a seires of blArts about the ‘Earthen Jug Project’ I have been working through for the past couple of years. This first one is from old writings about how the project began and some early outcomes. The next couple of blArts I have planned a revelation of the new ‘artist’s books’ which have come out this month, September. So, watch this space man.
A mock interview on my Earthen Vessels Project.
You made an incredible discovery?
During semester three of my MA in Art & the Book I made an incredible discovery – a book about the Karoshi scripts in pots at Ghandara. It introduced me to the pots which inspired the final look painted onto this one. And increased my knowledge manifold. Toward the end of semester four I made another astounding discovery which I shall share with you at the end of this film. Finding it beggars my belief.
How did you come about making your clay pot?
So to begin, I had had a long time interest in the Dead Sea scrolls which were found at Qumran. This was re-ignited by my hearing about a library found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945, the existence of which is not often mentioned, and I wished to know why.
A close friend of mine (DW) sent me a copy of an album by someone I remembered meeting at college in Exeter in the early 70’s. John St. Field. He had since changed his name to Jackie Leven and the song I liked best was called Inside This Clay Jug after a poem written by Kabir an Indian poet in 1450, 500 years before my birth. The poem as read by Robert Bly struck a chord within me. Recite from memory the clay jug and maybe Tagore’s version. (I could add his worm thinks it a bit odd that humans don’t eat books)
The words flagged up my interest in the way ancient cultures would store treasured documents in pots and hide them away. I saw potential there for a project around which to hang my work for the second year of my MA. I did not realise how much wonder I was about to enter.
The writing was to be gleaned from the work of 6 men who had pushed the boundaries in human thinking; Gurdzhiev, Beuys, Angeli Scheffler, Tenzin Gyatso, C. G. Jung and Hesse. I took the title G BATCH from their names
What is the significance of the number ‘six’?
I decided to base my project around the idea of a six sided shape, the hexagon. You can see my pot has a hexagonal base. And two of my ‘heroes’, Gurdzhiev and Beuys, had bees in their personal cosmologies. Gurdzhiev’s bee was from ancient Armenian legend as the carrier of ‘knowledge’ from one generation to the next, Beuys often used analogies about honey and the spread of ideas. For these reasons I had built in the hexagon as a motif. Martin Bridges, my advisor on the pottery side, told me it is the strongest building block in the universe.
How did you choose the form of your pot?
I began to look at pots. I found myself in Vienna where I met hundreds of pots from many old cultures and new ones too. My favourite was one which was a little lob-sided and dark coloured with images inscribed in it. It turned out to be an Etruscan urn. I found more about the Etruscans who indeed were a mysterious bunch who had a big influence on Roman culture. They introduced the alphabet to Rome and their sages were much respected in Rome, in fact the most famous soothsayer ever was Etruscan, he warned Julius Caesar of the Ides of March. Also, their script remains un-deciphered. In fact a lot of things from the Mediterranean and the Middle East are still a mystery, or at least not widely known in the west. But I digress.
Did you discover anything new about the cultures you looked at?
The urn invited me into their culture and I became fascinated and familiar with more scripts like Linear A which is also un-deciphered. In fact I began to look into how writing began. I must thank Joanna Drucker for that book on the alphabet, it’s a tour de force. http://marjorieperloff.com/reviews/druckwerks/
The Phoenicians were a group of people, called Caananites in the bible, who moved around the Med as influential traders. In fact they built Carthage. They hailed from modern day Syria and it was they who created the first alphabet at Ugarit. They would have helped the spread of the written word because of their movement around the Med. They would have come in contact with two islands which held the most power, known to us as Crete and Thera. Thera was destroyed in a massive eruption and the tsunami from it would have been more powerful than that at Pompeii. It destroyed the power base of the Minoans and gave rise to the advance of Mycaenan Greece. This is of great importance for many reasons because yet another script remains un-deciphered, Linear A, from the Minoans. I believe that is more important than even the destruction of Pompeii because if we can ever decipher it it would tell us a mass about the ancient world which remains hidden.
So what did you decide to use as a ground for your words and images?
At first it was my intention to put the scrolls inside the pot inside a hexagonal box. I investigated the way scrolls were made, from Torahs to Kerouac’s On The Road in the British Library. On my way to see if there were any Buddhist scrolls that had been found in pots I became aware of the pothi form of book, which I saw on ‘Buddha Of Suburbia’ documentary on a monk who lived in England but went to search for missing potis in Mongolia. I saw stacks of shelved potis wrapped in cloth. I did find evidence of scrolls in pots in the Dunhuang project with thousands of them having been found in caves in China but I never pursued that link yet.
What did you learn from the project about making?
Ok so back to the pot. I asked Martin Bridges how I could best make it with my limited experience as a potter? He said Pete, it’ll have to be a coil pot. So it is. It took weeks to make it as I could only do about 10cms a day owing to the weight and downward pressure of wet clay over a wide span, it would mis-shape if I loaded too much on. I used letter tools from Martin’s alphabet sets to impress the words from Kabir’s poem around the neck of my pot. So the word became ‘real’ if only in a negative form. I wanted the lovely colours and burnt look created in a raku firing but Martin advised against it, one firing at 1000 degrees was risk enough. Now I had my monster pot on which I left the ‘scratch’ marks used to bind the clay surface, which I had intended to smooth off but folk kept saying they loved it and some said it resembled a bee-hive and that suited my incorporation of the bee as a motif.
Why did you decide to make clay tablets?
I was aware that the Sumerians had written early texts in cuneiform on clay tablets so I decided to create a poti in clay thus amalgamating two early forms of recording words. I condensed words for each ‘mystic’ from hundreds of pages of notes from my readings on them down to about 40 words on each. I based the layout on a Tibetan woodblock I possess. I used the same letter tools as on the pot. Once they had been fired I painted them in a colour code for each mystic. I made a wooden top and base on a band saw with Richard’s help. I wrapped it in a cloth Buddhist style. These I handed in with my pot onto which I had painted several hexagons but that was not well received by the markers at the half way stage so I would have to re-consider my design. By chance, which Jung calls synchronicity, I discovered the book about the Buddhist community at Ghandara who hid pots in caves with Karoshti scripts in them, in which there are several astounding, and so well rounded, pots with delicate shades of yellow ochre and pink on them which I decided to use as my pot re-decoration. Some debate had opened up about whether my first hand in constituted a ‘book’. Did it have ‘bookness’? This caused me to investigate how bookness is being defined in the present artist’s bookworld. My ideas had been fed by Joanna Drucker’s formidable work in the USA but now I began to look at what is happening in the UK. I had visited the Oxford book fair during year one and seen wonderful books like the Barbarian Press. Since 1973 I was aware of the work of Dieter Roth as I had visited his subversive seminal show at the newly opened Hayward Gallery. A major exhibition of his collections of rubbish and films made during the final days of his life showing him sitting making books and prints was on at Edinburgh so I made sure I went up there to take part in the symposium about him attended by curators from big British galleries and some university scholars. This is all documented in my ‘notes’ for semester 3. Roth created ‘books’ on authors who offended him by boiling their books to a pulp and squeezing them into sausage skins as an obvious metaphor for waste products. I wrote an article which is to be published in the September 2013 ABYB putting my case forward that my pot and poti constitute a book. Sarah Bodman liked it and it has joined the debate raging around what Les Bicknell refers to as ‘bookness’.It seems that books take on as many forms as paintings do.
I see you went to the biggest artist’s book fair in the country, did you go for any specific reason?
At BABE Nancy Campbell had advised me on the layout for my scroll pages; an etching set to the left from which your eye could drift across right and find the words. Much better than an etching at the top and writing under it. I decided to do my drawings as brown etchings to signify old ink and the words would be chine colle of elephant font to match those words impressed on the pot in style, only this time I would be able to add lower case letters. These would be printed black with some key words picked out in red. The paper I used for the words was fine Japanese which gave problems when it came to trying to do them under the press with the etchings and I abandoned that idea as impossible. I then blind embossed a space in which I would later stick the words down with bookmaker’s glue. There are two copies of each scroll but every print has a different feel. I also did one set on half width Somerset paper which was to form the basis of the display book which visitors would be able to peruse on a lectern. This ‘book’ I have bound inside a cover with leaves on it. I kept the pages unstitched as a set of prints but in a set sequence for purposes of telling the story.
So you decided to write a poem to relate their ideas?
I dug into my knowledge base about the six mystics when I went to the BABE show at Bristol’s Arnolfini organised by Sarah Bodman and began to write a poem which was supposed to have the same beat as the clay jug poem. Altho I moved off that beat I did come up with a typical Kennedy ‘poym’.Typing them up was the first stage of editing. I sent the ‘poem’ off to 4 friends who all found it too dense so I knew I had to re-gig it so that folk had roads into my thinking and ideas. Karen Harrison liked the reference to dance and said it reminded her of Keats’ ‘Ode to a Grecean Urn.’ Which must be good as it is about a pot. She talked of my interesting use of repetition. So I did a big re-write. Sent it back and this time it was deemed much better. I had my printer print off some words on Somerset paper with a Hesse illustration but it proved inadequate on his inkjet. I showed the result to Jayne Knowles who liked the width of it and likened it to holding a broadsheet newspaper. I liked her idea of placing something on each side for you to hold and experimented using bay twigs but decided there is a tremendous beauty in simply leaving the scrolls as rolled loose self-standing simple curled papers.
And how do you intend to exhibit all this stuff?
Returning to the focal point of my final show I had Lyn Clarke make me two hexagonal table bases on which I would place the clay tablets emanating from the pot like the spokes on a Buddhist wheel of life. These would be placed between the ‘spokes’ around the pot and would be echoed in the garden by six logs carved with the names of the visionaries. A symbolic light source would be suspended above the pot made into an Archimedean shape, I hope, that is a combination of hexagons and squares.
Do you intend to produce any outcomes which may be saleable?
I asked my printer to produce four new ‘publications’ from the work In my project: a cardboard facsimile of the clay poti which doubles up as a concertina book. An introductory book called G. BATCH telling newcomers to the project about some of the ideas that drove it. A Dieter Roth style ‘copy book’ called Enbuk in tribute to the first recorded story in history about Enlil in the Epic of Gilgamesh. A series of banners using the words of each mystic in large capitals in clashing colours similar to the thesaurus paintings by Mel Bochner. My article in ABYB follows in the footsteps of other artists like Smithson and Weiner who also wrote in periodicals like ‘October’ as part of their contribution both as artworks and critique. Originally I intended to make the banners in a pseudo Japanese style but then thought it would be good to have some really modern images. I did a talk in which I used masks and music to create a performance in which the audience will be sculptural parts and the whole will be filmed as another art statement.
When did that happen?
On Saturday August 3rd 2013 at 4pm in the Minories. And your questions will also be art.
You started by mentioning the incredible discovery you made last weekend?
And I have not forgotten. What was it? I was perusing ‘Scribes, Scripts & Books’ by Leila Avrin where I saw an hexagonal prism named after Sennacherib as it was made in his reign in Nineveh about 3000 years ago. It has cuneiform writing on each of its six sides. I could not believe it. This discovery had come to me BEFORE hand in. So I journeyed up to see if I could find it in room 55 of the British Museum. And there it was.
About 45 cms tall. Now I know what I am going to make next, but AFTER my course is completed. I also saw a small section from a clay tablet ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ story in cuneiform. I shall do six more mystics on Peter’s Hexagonal Prism next. In fact it may be simpler to make an hexagonal prism ‘lamp’ to hang above the pot? I found heaven, whereabouts ARE known, here at home. Inside this old mug.
Since that talk I have done two ‘readings’ from new simpler versions of the poems. Then I simplified them some more and did a book called Inside this earthen vessel, launch date September 2014. Also David Jury and I have collaborated on a letterpress version where DJ prints the poems with an extra sub-text from my other poems. More about that in a blArt soon.