There is a particular quality of silence in an empty room, especially a family home when the door slams loudly and voices dissipate along the street. It is as if the air exhales, released from its constant disruption, constant churning by children running up the stairs and through doorways. For a moment, it is given reprieve to settle into the spaces left behind.
Material Presence 2018
Ceramics Art and Perception: article 'Pacing the Perimeter'
Ceramics Art and Perception: article 'Pacing the Perimeter'
Natasha Mayo is a researcher, writer, practitioner, and since 2004, senior lecturer in
ceramics at Cardiff School of Art and Design. She is a fellow of HEA, member of the Royal Anthropology Institute, the Folklore Society, trained in Oral History techniques, and a Haumea eco-literacy associate. She has achieved national and international acclaim for her ceramic practice and written over 30 articles for journals such as: Ceramics Art and Perception, Kerameiki Techni, Ceramic Review, Interpreting Ceramics, CCQ, Artist newsletter (AN) and the Royal Anthropology Journal.
Natasha received an AHRC award (2000) for research into the human form in clay, completing her practice-led doctorate in 2003. A contributing part of this was co-founding the Zelli Porcelain Prize and becoming joint winner alongside Kate Mcbride in 2002. Her PhD practice toured as part of ‘Ceramic Contemporaries 4’ (2003) ‘The Human Figure’ (2004) ‘Bodywork’ (2005). In 2004 with AHRC funding she worked as part of a team (J. Jones, B. Martini, M. Hose) to devise the Fragmented Figure exhibition and adjoining conference. She went on to develop the Fragmented Figure website (2006) comprising articles and recorded interviews with each of the artist involved. She was guest editor for ‘Ceramics and Society’ dedicated to the ceramic figure and held subsequent position as review’s editor for the Interpreting Ceramics peer review journal.
Making the Creative Process Visible
In 2008 Natasha gained her first HEA grant for pedagogic research ‘Making the Creative Process Visible’ identifying key stages in idea development in ceramics. This was followed by second HEA grant for ‘Eight Propositions and More…’ core approaches to using drawing as a thinking tool. Both projects used a student-led collaborative model working with over 70 ceramics graduates. This led to an ‘Innovations in Teaching’ award from HEA and the JORUM prize for use of film as a pedagogical tool. In 2010 a third HEA grant enabled her to test the strategies in relation to international artists practice as part of the ‘Porcelain Another Way’ residency in Poland. This reprised her interest in interview techniques in particular devising a method of ‘in conversation’ to explore its ability to unearth new territory. A further series of filmed discussions followed with artist Claire Curneen exploring her practice from multiple perspectives on site of her first solo exhibition in Wales ‘Passage’. An interview and subsequent round table with Lowri Davies and Dawn Youll followed exploring the ethnographic connections of artists involved in their exhibition ‘Placement: Ceramics Connections’, an account of this project is published by Fife Contemporary Art & Craft (2011).
All four projects contributed to online teaching resources receiving international acclaim at the Designs on E Learning Conference Savannah School of Art & Design USA, STLHE Conference Savanna College of Art, Canada, International Perspectives in Pedagogy, Leeds University, UK, NAITRL CELT 4th Annual Conference Galway University, Ire. Supported by Gwella funding she went on to co-design an interactive website with Glory Hall and Ingrid Murphy to house these and other video-based resources. A subsequent Wales Arts International award abled her to co-present the work together with Murphy at NCECA, USA, and to exhibit practice as part of the event’s exhibition route (2011). The resources were exhibited as part of the second British ceramics biennial (BCB) and are now used to structure the delivery of the Contemporary Craft Masters Course, Hereford College of Art.
An interest in the role of film as a pedagogic tool continued in a National Museum Wales funded project to devise ‘Frameworks for Interpreting Ceramic Objects’ igniting fascination in bringing together interdisciplinary approaches in the study of a theme. FICO involved bringing together: musicians, dancers, relational artists, art historians and curators as part of their ‘Fragile?’ exhibition to respond to exhibited artefacts, to date this is largest exhibition of ceramics in Wales (2016).
In 2012 Natasha’s practice, particularly the role of drawing continued to develop with work showcased in Kyra Canes ‘Making and Drawing’ Pub A&C Black and informing new work ‘A History of Marks’ exhibited in the international touring project ‘Mother Suckers: Corpse Fertile Bodies’ (2013). The same year with her first strategic Insight fund (SIPs) she worked with a trained councillor and drama specialist from Valley and Vale Community Arts to explore the potential of ‘Drawma’; an embodied drama-drawing technique to assist children as they negotiated their experience of a recent fire at their school. This relational interest in drawing led to the international project ‘Drawing Parental Conversations’, a year-long project, again using an artist-led collaborative model engaging over 28 families in over 8 countries, exploring how drawing can be used to navigate family relationships. An account of this in the paper ‘Bentos Sketchbook’ was published by TANT (2016). In 2015 with a fourth HEA grant, she devised a symposium ‘Drawing In-Between: Interdisciplinary Learning Through Drawing’ in which to present her research, presenting again at the Berger Conference (2016) Cardiffmet, an HEA led conference in Sunderland (Centre of Ceramic and Glass) and leading to a two-day workshop in collaboration with the illustrator Chris Glynn at the Victoria & Albert Museum (2016).
A second SIP’s grant was gained to collaborate with Artworks Cymru to identify
‘New Paradigms in Participatory Art’ together with Dr. Melania Warwick. This time the focus returned to the field of ceramics and the result ‘Civic Ceramics’ written for the Ceramics Reader, Pub. Bloomsbury (2017). This shift was timely, the refugee crisis in 2016 pulled all areas of concern together: creative thinking, clay, and ethnographic study leading to ‘Beyond Borders’ an interdisciplinary response, with dancers, poets, story tellers, musicians, sculptors, ceramists, illustrators, NMW geologists each exploring ways to align the movement of the earth with the movement of man. Welcoming 70 refugee: Bangladeshi, Iranian, Syrian, Kurdish, Somali, together with Polish, Italian immigrants, and huge support from local families. This subsequently informed her public event Flux: art, Society and Responsibility at Cardiff MADE in 2016.
In 2016 Natasha became programme director of ceramics at CSAD shifting focus from
external projects to those within the studio resulting in projects harnessing the social capacity of skills namely, ‘Vicarious Wednesdays: skill share events’, an approach showcased at CoCA’s Restating Clay conference 2018 and CAID: ‘Can ceramics make a difference’ symposium, Stoke as part of BCB. This approach was extended by the Craft Council Hey Clay initiatives including: ‘Cob Stomping’ staged at the Greenman Festival of Music and Art (2017), exploring how the cob mixing process serves as an ethnographic record of time and place involving storytelling, dance and song, ‘A Play on Extraordinary Processes’ (2018) mapping historic and contemporary account of materials, skills and tools, and collaboration with poets and story tellers in ‘the Poetry of Clay’. More collaborative initiatives followed with the Masters ‘Creative Exchange’ collaboration across all art subjects and the Creative Writing MA (CSESP), and ‘Global Studio’: simultaneous collaborative events with institutions from Iceland, Turley, Korea, Ireland and Namibia, devised to uncover the cultural wealth of shared skills in ceramics. She stepped down from this role in 2019 these approaches are still in place.
An ensemble artist she enjoys the entanglement of making / writing / teaching /oral histories / social practice, considering them all ‘events’ for playing with different modalities of self-representation in the world.
The Flight Lines project is supported by the National Museum Wales and Get Started
research fund Cardiff Met, co-devised with artist CJ O’Niell and supported by sound artist Heledd Evans. It arose from an interest in the painter Gwen Johns personal letters, and ways in which they could be used to map connections between her art practice and life. Flightlines uses non-hierarchical approaches such as oral histories, to gather conversations that reveal the extraordinary practices that can arise from the relationship between ceramic practice and life ‘as it is lived’. It seeks to reveal the innovation of these extraordinary ‘ensemble’ practices, but perhaps more significantly, to learn from their demonstration of ‘hospitality’ and open-endedness, an essential mindset for us to cultivate if we are to respond to our current eco crisis.
An initial account of such practices can be found in Mayo, N., 2022 ‘The Irreducible Forces of Home: Ensemble Art Practices of Parent/Artists during COVID, Journal of Anthropology. The project will be launched at NCECA 2023 Cincinnati with the paper ‘Things Left Out of the Story’ pending.
Her own ceramics practice remains a pivotal part of this. Through ceramics and print she explores the surface of the body as milieu to carry the indexical and intentional mark making of her family; such as setting the diary entries of her mother in law when she was 15 against the drawings of her 10 year old daughter – her dad’s requests for copies of his PhD thesis in 1972 and the school reports of her son 2015 – her practice arises from a fascination in what connects and makes us who we are and all of this of course, is experienced through and enacted by the body.