Thursday, 20 April 2017

Prehistoric Domestic Landscape

My Practice - The Domestic - Activity at Tremough

My works frequently map attitudes towards protection, consumption, reproduction and systems of belief.  I clearly borrow and abstract meaning and significance from ancient domestic and ritual objects in order to create contemporary cultural indicators, recently highlighting shared domestic activities, connecting past and present. 

I am preoccupied with our basic drives and needs, my practice therefore, has a heavy emphasis upon he domestic. I am interested in the  everyday, those activities that may have changed so little and yet take up so much of our lives. Sourcing, preparing and cooking food is just one of those preoccupations and something that we now take for granted. 

There is evidence of cooking and food preparation going on at Tremough during the prehistoric period. Burnt stones, fire pits, and many pieces of pottery were identified as well as a number of grain remains. The presence of burnt stones often indicates cooking, heated stones being used to heat water or for roasting meat in pits. Many pits contained charcoal fragments but also charred weeds and small chaff items. 

The remains were in poor condition, due to the acidic clay soils at Tremough. In the early Neolithic pits sherds of early neolithic pottery, flint and hazelnut shell fragments were found. The charcoal that was found had clearly been produced from hazel, oak and hawthorn.

Pits dating to the early Bronze Age contained pottery, hulled wheat, several preserved cereal grains(spelt, barley, oats) and bulbuls of onion couch. One single Celtic bean was identified, though rare to find, charred beans have been found in a middle Bronze Age roundhouse elsewhere in Cornwall. The beans may have been used as a useful source of protein and carbohydrate. 

There were also a number of wild plants, grasses and weeds identified from the digs at Tremough. Black bindweed (also known as convolvulus), cleavers, ribwort plantain, selfheal, heath grass & onion couch tubers. 

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Prehistoric Standard-Ware

The Making Process

Initial sketchbook work for standard ware
Several months ago I began to work on designs for a small series of contemporary functional Gabbroic clay vessels. I want to in some way emulate some of the early Bronze Age pieces found in Cornwall, with a focus on the round bottomed bag shaped pots excavated from Carn Brea. I want to maintain a continuity of use for this remarkable material and show the use of this material spanning time.


Having worked on a series of direct reproductions, I decided to produce a contemporary range using CAD and CNC milling to produce the models for standard ware forms. I then  used traditional plaster mould making techniques to ram press mould these objects. Thinking about communicating archaeology through digital craft practice, these straightforward emulations invite the viewer to experience the familiar.

(John Peters) Computer Aided Designs from my paper cut outs
(John Peters) Final imagining of Gabbroic standard ware pieces
The next stage is to mill out the solid forms from blue foam, this was done with the help of Mark Squire, technician to sustainable product design at Falmouth University. 

Milled out blue foam formers with handle
The rounded bases have been joined using water contact expanding glue (Gorilla glue).   The foam solids are then sanded carefully to achieve a good finish. 

Initially I will use the same clay mixture to produce these pieces as was used for the giant pin. The Gabbroic mixture contains 20% paper pulp as well as 20% hyplas ball clay, and some heavier brick grog. This aids the plasticity and workability of the original clay body, whilst the grog helps with even drying and warping.

Freshly milled blue styrofoam pieces
I halved the sanded foam pieces, stuck them down onto a glass base and covered them in a thin layer of vaseline ready for the production of plaster casts. It was at this point I realised that I could have just had half of each piece milled in the foam, it would have been cheaper and quicker. 

I spent half a day making moulds, as well as more time preparing the clay. In order to present a range of these sets of standard ware, I am experimenting with different firing temperatures as well as different mixtures. 
Plaster moulds 
Gabbroic clay drying out before reclaiming

I want to continue with the paper pulp, grog and ball clay but also add some small feldspar chips for one of the sets. At 1260° the feldspar will melt and burst through the surface, creating a real contrast with the deep red/brown of the gabbroic clay. The making process is slow and there is a need for accuracy in order to achieve equal wall thickness. The work must be dried slowly and evenly to avoid cracking and warping of the form.
Smallest size of Gabbroic clay Standard ware
These images show the smoothed surface, the grog and the round bottomed form.

Finished pieces drying

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Scanning Gabbroic Clay Sherds: Printing and Sewing

In early 2015, with the help of Dr. Imogen Wood from Exeter University and staff from The Royal Cornwall Museum, I was able to source pieces of gabbroic pottery found on site at Tremough, one fine ware and one coarse ware. I had long been digging and using this unique clay in my ceramics practice and was familiar with the myriad finds on display in Truro’s museum. 

These 4000-year-old gabbroic clay shards were thin sectioned, mounted in resin and scanned at the highest magnification. At the heart of this particular investigation sat a machine owned by Exeter and Cambourne school of Mines - Qemscan, a sophisticated machine providing automated mineralogy and petrography. 

This scan gave me detailed data on the clay formation; the clay is interesting in its make up, the blend of minerals makes it a good refractory material, more suitable to withstand thermal shock, perhaps explaining the number of large scale finds. This scan gave me data on the clay formulation as well as vibrant imagery. After establishing the colourways I transferred the information in SMARTPRINT software and digitally printed onto fabric. 

I then created a large paper pattern for the oven gloves, an exact 4x replica, cut them out, tacked them and machine stitched them finally finishing off the edges with bias. 

I marvel at the perfect circularity of this ongoing investigation. I find it exciting that I am only now able to look at a shard in such microscopic detail as has ever been technologically possible. I can only wonder at the coincidence of the placement of a machine that allows us to do this. Who would imagine when there are only 60 such machines in the world, that one of them would be situated directly on the ground where the 4000-year-old shard was dug? 

Communicating Archaeology through digital craft practice Scanning, reproduction & reinterpretation

I manipulate and reinterpret archaeological material through both digital and traditional craft practices, exploring how this hybridized approach potentially offers a new lens through which to view the past. I explore the post depositional life of the artefact and how through site-specific knowledge, reflective practice, conceptualisation and digital intervention, I engage a new dimension to the object biography. I am showing one work in progress to illustrate how the archaeology is moved through a transformative process with an influence exerted from the digital. These clay and stone moulds were excavated by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit from Tremough during 2011. The three piece fractured stone mould was discovered inside a dwelling posthole under the car park of the air building. The three parts of this mould were scanned, transferred and rebuilt into mesh before creating the virtual pin that would once have been cast from Bronze. A rapid prototype was printed, from this pin I was able to make a silicone mould. The silicone mould produced several injection moulded waxes, these were sprued ready for Bronze casting. 

Scanned with Hexagon metrology Roma absolute arm, integrated RS3 laser scanner
4000 year old stone pin mould 3 parts. 
Rhino used in transfer of the scan data through decimation rebuilt into mesh/ creation of pin - RP Pin 
Silicone mould vacuum formed from pin Waxes produced from mould ready for Bronze casting Bronze cast replica pin
The software version of the pin was enlarged and milled out as a 1.5 metre blue foam version. Materialize/Magics was used for all the smoothing on the virtual surface and picasoft/mayka for the milling, which took place in this Bridgeport milling machine, also on site at Tremough. The pin was milled out in two sections from dense blue foam, each piece turned over and milled from either side. 

Bridgeport Milling Machine
Blue Foam 1.5m Dress Pin
Producing Gabbroic clay pin from plaster mould

The two pieces will be joined before being cast in plaster of paris. With the two-piece press mould I can make several large-scale pins using my own gabbroic clay mixture.      
I propose to break one of the fired pins into many pieces and bury them across the Tremough site. Each of the pieces will be marked and given a GPS coordinate that can be tracked. The work is  the GPS points and a map of Tremough along with a copy of the pin.
The process of reclaiming the fragments could potentially be carried out through the digital mapping of the sherds. The pin could even be reconstructed if the pieces were ever recovered. 

Monday, 27 March 2017

Gabbroic Clay, Tests, Making Process & Giant Dress Pin

It was Archaeologist Professor David Peacock, whose research during the 60’s, first confirmed that that iron rich Gabbroic clay found only on this site was used in the production of pottery in Cornwall from the Neolithic period and continued for approximately 5000 years. This clay was formed from accumulations of wind blown clay dust from a time when the current seabed was dry land due to glaciation and covers an area of approximately 1.5 square miles, laying mostly between eight to eighteen inches below the surface. The main compositions of these clays are Feldspars, olivines (magnesium iron silicate) and mineral augites. 

My interest in this clay began with my first ever visit to the Royal Cornwall Museum more than 20 years ago, where I was able to handle some of the pots and Funery urns. In my early years as a ceramics tutor at Falmouth University, we ran a reconstruction project. We took students to dig the unique clay from Goonhilly Downs, we processed it, made replicas and finally we would visit a Bronze Age settlement reconstruction, where the work was fired in pit or bonfire. 

This wonderfully versatile material  can be worked immediately and easily modeled. Dried out, and in its raw state, this clay survives firings to 1280°. 
By removing as many large pieces of rock from the mix as I can, the process of reclamation begins. Placing the dry pieces into warm water they fizz and dissolve quickly, reducing down to a thick slip. The clay is then poured onto small plaster bats in order for the water to be absorbed, and then it is wedged and ready for use. 

I produced clay tests using combinations of Gabbroic clay with a variety of inclusions. The results of these tests ascertained workability, plasticity and temperature range as well as establishing colour and texture. Tests show a variety of colour changes, due in part to the inclusion of ball clay by increased percentage, which acts as a binding agent and contributes to workability and strength in the ceramic body. There is a greater distinction between colour and shrinkage above 1200°. The results are surprising and spectacular. The clay body, even at 1280 degrees and being 100 percent Gabbro does not move or melt, it simply vitrifies. Tests also showed a significant colour variation in the clay body over this temperature range. The image shows a straightforward line blend of gabbroic clay in mix from 100% gabbroic clay on the left to 40/60 ball clay combination on the right. The temperature ranges from 600° to 1280° with the bottom line showing the tests at 1280 and the top row 600. On the left hand side the tests are pure gabbroic clay. 

I have made several reconstruction pots as part of this project, all of which were extremely problematic to produce and fire. I began by visiting the Royal Cornwall Museum to sketch, measure, photograph and examine closely the gabbroic material and the pot fragment forms. I was particularly impressed by the lightness and thin nature of the sections. 


Achieving a good finish took a great deal of skill and far more trial and error than I had expected. Bronze Age potters clearly took time to master their clay mixture and perfect their firing techniques in order to achieve a high success rate. Within the first few weeks, my failure rate was so great that it took 5 attempts (and some tears) to get a pair of replicas that were not cracking in the making, firing or cooling process. 

I can't express the importance of this tacit knowledge build up in the later production of sculptural gabbroic works. I think it was Edison who said, 

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” 

Making the large gabbroic pin presented some unique problems. The 100% gabbroic mixture was extremely difficult to shape and handle, particularly for the long shaft of the pin measuring almost a metre in length and tapering to almost 4mm. Shrinkage and drying was also tricky, made more difficult by the presence of the occasional medium sized inclusions remaining in the mix. 

The first attempt split in 3 places whilst drying and then firing so I decided to use it as a test sacrifice. We used the large glass kiln to bisque fire as none of the other kilns could take the full size of the pin in one piece, this meant I would not be bale to fire up to a higher temperature as this particular kiln was designed for the lower temperature firings used in glass slumping and fusing. I immediately decided to re - reclaim the clay mixture and add additional grog (ground and fired ceramic material) as well as a small % of paper pulp to lighten the whole fabric and allow for any splits to be repaired even after bisque. This seemed to make the build far easier, I also split the build into two parts for ease of transportation and the ability to fire up to top temperature in another kiln. 


I did initially have some concerns about the warping of the form at high temperature but the addition of large amounts of silica sand under the structure seems to have helped avoid this disaster, in addition the silica sand aided the shrinkage in drying so I had no cracks. 
The professional picture shows one of the final pins fired to 1160° and re attached at the neck.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Communicating Archaeology: The Tremough Site - Cornwall

Coordinates: 50°10′07″N 5°07′02″W / 50.1687°N 5.1171°W / 50.1687; ...

This story is about the way in which I seek to communicate archaeology to the public through the exhibition of digital craft works. As part of a practice led interdisciplinary PhD, I manipulate and reinterpret archaeological material through both digital and traditional craft practices, exploring how this hybridized approach potentially offers a new lens through which to view the past. I am working towards exhibition of the finds and my works in October 2017. 

For some time I have been producing reinterpretive works in response to archaeological finds.  I presented works as part of the CinBA project in 2013, also in the touring Crafts Council Exhibition, ’Re-Making the Past’ in 2015. 

I produce playful, resonant works using a variety of materials. They frequently allude to function, borrowing and abstracting meaning and significance from both domestic and ritual objects highlighting shared activities and concerns, connecting past and present. 

Tremough in Cornwall is currently my case study; it has been a long-standing site of ‘making’ evidenced through three archaeological investigations, proving that this is one of the earliest sites of metal casting in the UK. 

My reinterpretive works are based upon the prehistoric Tremough finds, which are stone moulds, bronze jewellery and ceramic sherds & vessels. The site has an existing and somewhat lengthy narrative; The recent report by Andy Jones of Cornwall Archaeological Unit, talks about Tremough as a ‘triangular plateau above the town of Penryn in mid Cornwall, not particularly large or elevated but overlooking the Fal estuary and the Carrick Roads, historically one of the busiest waterways in Cornwall.’ 

Since early 2001 the combined universities of Cornwall campus at Tremough redeveloped the site in a series of stages. As the campus expanded investigations revealed archaeological remains across the plateau to be amongst the richest in the country. 

There is an extremely long record of fairly continued occupation from Mesolithic flints (8500 – 4000BC) to a later Iron Age enclosure, a Romano British settlement and a Queen Anne period house. 

Working together with Cornwall archaeological unit, Cornwall museum services, and the myriad varied technicians within Falmouth & Exeter Universities, has meant that I have been able to access and scan objects, reproduce finds and manipulate the results to produce unique artefacts. In the development of my conceptual framework, and in order to promote a less autobiographical approach, I interviewed archaeologists who had been involved with the various digs performed at Tremough. With only one publication available, and this being purely factual and archaeological in format, I needed to establish a greater understanding of the site. I used this as an opportunity to collect the thoughts and feelings of those involved, not necessarily contained within the pages of the publication.

Many of the responses given in interview have shaped the work for exhibition. Conversations about the site during the Bronze Age, who might have been there, what might have been happening, what the site might have looked like, have all contributed to the narrative of the works. There is clearly an emphasis upon the domestic as well as the production of metal objects functioning in everyday use.  

The largest of the pits excavated shows evidence of communal events, possibly associated with the cooking of foodstuffs, and this is also implied by the presence of fragments from large ceramic vessels, which may have been used to store or share food. In addition to the myriad of broken ceramic vessels present in deposition, it is clear that there was, at one stage, small scale production of Bronze objects on site.  Fractured stone moulds were discovered, two different designs, as well as a clay sword tip mould and moulds for axe heads. There was clearly a production of tools as well as weapons. There is also evidence for the construction of an enclosure with architecture of a type not previously found in the South West and it represents the first large-scale monument to be constructed on the plateau. 

"Although the site was not fully exposed, it has been argued that the form of the enclosure is likely to have resulted from contacts with other regions, where similar sites dating to the Late Bronze Age are found. These include eastern Britain and Ireland, and it is possible that it was constructed by a group of people who wanted to demonstrate their knowledge and links with the distant architectural traditions and wider cosmologies. As such is was probably an important focal point for the surrounding community."

Jones, A, Gossip, J & Quinnell, H
Settlement & Metalworking in the middle Bronze Age & beyond, New Evidence from Tremough, Cornwall

In spite of the fact that I am the conceptual director of my work, much of my digital practice is becoming co authored, and in so doing the work is truly collaborative. It simply isn’t possible to intensively accumulate a broad range of digital skills. The hidden engagement of skilled technicians historically resides in the realm of the fine artist; increasingly in a post disciplinary milieu, we make connections with those around us who can facilitate our ideas.  I fully and publicly acknowledge the varied expertise embedded within in my completed works. I have decided to highlight this during the exhibition in October at Royal Cornwall Museum. I am proposing to display photographs and short bibliographies of all those involved in the making of the works, and then initialise each work on display so it can easily be worked out who was involved in the process.