Symposium: Topographies of the Obsolete, Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology, University of Oxford

“In ‘The Natural History of Staffordshire’, Dr Robert Plot, the first keeper of the Ashmolean Museum describes an early account of the county’s pre-industrial pottery manufacturing during the late 17th century. Apart from documenting potters’ practices and processes, Plot details the region’s natural clays that were once fundamental to its rise as a world renowned industrial centre for ceramics. Yet in recent decades, the factories and communities of labour that historically developed around these natural resources have been subject to dramatic downturn. Global economics have resulted in much of the region’s ceramic industry outsourcing to low-cost overseas production.

Today, despite ongoing attempts to regenerate the city of Stoke-on-Trent, the economic fallout and human cost of the decline of traditional industry remain omnipresent throughout the six towns. Plot’s pre-industrial mapping of North Staffordshire in the 1680’s, has been echoed through the artistic research project Topographies of the Obsolete*, which has recently surveyed the region’s post-industrial landscape through a range of multi-media responses primarily centred around the former Spode factory site. Through various phases of on-site practice-led investigation, interconnected strands of discourse emerged that examine the socio-economic impact of globalization upon community and place, the contemporary ruin, and the artist as post-industrial archivist/archaeologist. Topographies of the Obsolete frames a particular point in time through which artists have opened up a different perspective to the complexities of socio–economic decline addressed by politicians, economists, historians and ex-employees. It documents both the aftermath of the Spode factory closure and the repurposing of its post-industrial fabric through processes of culture-led regeneration.

This one-day symposium will reflect upon this recent history. The topics uncovered through Topographies of the Obsolete will be expanded upon by a panel of experts previously unconnected to the project, from the fields of art and design, anthropology, urban sociology, critical theory and cultural geography. It will offer a broad range of inter-disciplinary perspectives surrounding the effects of de-industrialisation upon communities and landscapes, and the urban renewal of such cities through art and culture-led strategies.

*Topographies of the Obsolete is an international artistic research project initiated by Bergen Academy of Art and Design that explores the post-industrial landscape and its associated socio-economic histories, industrial architecture, production remnants through a range of interdisciplinary artistic practice. The project primarily explores how ceramic and clay can be understood as both material and subject in contemporary art practice.”

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Intercorporeal, Intersubjective, Imaginary and Rational Spatialities: Between Existence and Abstraction

Untitled © Denise Startin

“If a person feels inside a place, he or she is here rather than there, safe rather than threatened, enclosed rather than exposed, at ease rather than stressed. Relph suggests that the more profoundly inside a place a person feels, the stronger will be his or her identity with that place.”

‘Space is multiple. Such multiplicity is both the precondition for and the result of spatial practices. Spatiality and practicality ground one another. There are different ways of attempting to grasp this co-dependent multiplicity. For example,

“…Relph defines four sorts of space, or knowledge about space, produced by different relationships to places. At the first step ‘pragmatic’ spaces are organised by our bodily situation (left or right, up or down). Second is perceptual space, organised through our intentions and centred on us – what we focus upon, what we look at, thus tending to be centred on the observer. Existential space is informed by cultural structures as much as our perceptions – it is space full of social meaning. This space is defined in relationship to some human experience or task. Finally, cognitive space is how we abstractly model spatial relationships.” (Crang, 1998:110). While this is a valuable starting point, recent re-thinkings of the phenomenological heritage, within which Relph lies, may point to a slightly different classification, coordinating person-hood with place-hood. This schema is based on the intercorporeal (as embodied-situated interaction), the intersubjective (as symbolic, performative, narrative interaction), the imaginary (as fantasmal, intracorporeal, medial-virtual interaction) and rational (as geometric, logical, coded interaction), each with their different degrees of freedom. Each of these four dimensions may or may not be well integrated and may well be skewed in various different directions, such that, for example, one’s fantasmal imaginings may begin to dominate and render unsustainable one’s intercorporeal and intersubjective relations. Through integration of these dimensions, spatial practices coordinate, integrate and separate spatialities centred on the self, and its motivated engagement with the world, with the spatialities that derive from geometric and logical calculation and fabrication, the structures of the designed and manufactured world. This is to acknowledge, while re-articulating Heidegger’s focus on care:

“Heidegger does not talk about intentions so much as care. Since we are always engaged with the world, we must focus our attention on particular aspects at any given time. We thus have different types and levels of care for different things at different times. The world might then be seen as comprising different levels of care.” (Crang, 1998: 110). The conclusion that Crang draws from this passage above, in which Relph interprets Heidegger, is that (human) knowledge of the world is always em-placed. It starts from and continues to be based around places as centres of care about the world. Thus, notes Crang, employing this approach suggests that we make sense of the world through the materials at hand, not from abstract schemes.

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Micro Residency, Archaeology Team: The Geneaology of Erddig House

Family Tree of the Yorkes,

Family Tree of the Yorkes, © Erddig, Clwyd. The National Trust Guidebook 1988

Joshua Edisbury, member of the Edisbury family of Marchwiel, Flintshire is described in The Chronicles of Erthig on the Dyke by Albinia Lucy Cust (1914) as “not at all a satisfactory husband, but never an unkind one, and to judge by his letters, a devoted lover after ten years of married life”. [1] Edisbury built Erddig House, which was designed by Thomas Webb in 1683, and started laying out the garden in 1684-87 by demolishing the old house and recycling the materials into the new house implying that the former was erected on a different site to the latter [2]. For Edisbury it was a costly and disastrous exercise financially and he was forced into re-mortgaging parts of the estate to meet the demands of his creditors. In support his brother John borrowed money from the fees belonging to the court of the Chancery until he was eventually forced to resign his office and bought to trial when repayments could not be made. John died in 1713 leaving Joshua in a legal battle to repossess his estates. Later that year the Court of the Chancery ordered the estate to be sold to the highest bidder. The estate passed to John Meller in 1714, Meller had succeeded John Edisbury as one of the Masters of the Chancery. John Meller of Erddig (1665-1733) made many improvements to the house extending it by adding 2 wings to the North and South. He also began laying out the current parkland as it can be seen today [2]. He was unmarried and on his death the house and estate passed to his nephew Simon Yorke, originally from Wiltshire, who became Simon Yorke I of Erddig (1696 –1767). From this point onwards the Yorke Family were the custodians of Erddig for over 2 centuries. (Taking this into account although the history at Erddig House is considerable and relatively long in terms of human habitation it could be considered a snapshot in time in relation to the ancient landscape that surrounds it, dating as it does back to early medieval and medieval times.)

Simon’s son and heir, Phillip Yorke I (1743-1804) made improvements to the House & Grounds and due to an inheritance of property from his uncle James Hutton he won the hand of Elizabeth Cust (1750-1779), daughter of Sir James Cust, Speaker of the House of Commons. Phillip Yorke I is most well-known for his antiquarian studies into the history of Wales resulting in the book The Royal Tribes of Wales, 1799. This book is on display at Erddig in The Tribes Room so named because it is decorated with the Heraldry and Coats of Arms reproduced from Philip’s book. Upon his death the estate passed to his eldest son Simon Yorke II (1771-1834) and then onto his son Simon Yorke III (1811-1894). In 1846 he married his cousin Victoria Mary Louisa Cust (1824-1895), the youngest daughter of Sir Edward Cust. Their son Philip Yorke II (1849-1922), inherited the estate on their deaths and was succeeded by his eldest son, Simon Yorke IV (1903-1966). Finally the estate passed to his brother and the last remaining heir of Erddig, Philip Yorke III (1905-1978). [3] Both brothers remained lifelong bachelors and Philip Yorke III led a colourful life as a travelling actor, the manager of a band of players and a tour guide on the continent.

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Micro Residency, Artist Researcher, Archaeology Team, Erddig House & Gardens, Nr. Wrexham, Wales

Erddig House, West Front © Denise Startin

I have returned from the Yale Hostel at Erddig (which dates back to the 17th Century) where I  completed a 6 week Micro Residency as Artist Researcher (Interpretation) for the Archaeology Team. I will be posting the results of my time spent at Erddig and extrapolating links between art and archaeology in a series of blogs. I am currently processing the research of which there is a significant amount relating to A] Deep Mapping: Stories in the Landscape, B] The Map & The Territory, C] Documenting the Process and D] Visualising and Representing the Data. This process meant conducting research on and off site utilising the Erddig collection online, the collection in the house itself, field research in the landscape and the Erddig Archives in nearby Flintshire. In the meantime here is a brief overview of the landscape at Erddig, its archaeological monuments and the Archaeological Historic Landscape Survey.

The Landscape
The grounds at Erddig (pronounced Erthig) contain numerous features of Archaeological significance dating back to Early Medieval (5th-10thC) & Medieval times (up to 15thC). The earliest recorded man-made feature within the parkland is Wat’s Dyke which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It is currently dated circa 8th Century, although several articles I have consulted cannot seem to corroborate this. Wat’s Dyke is a linear earthwork consisting of a bank & ditch designed to erect a boundary around the land for the purpose of enclosure and defence. It is likely that natural features of the landscape were incorporated into the design of the Dyke allowing a high bank with a ditch to run along the length of a territorial boundary between Wales & England. Wat’s Dyke, approx. 64 kilometres in length, runs through the Erddig estate and along the remaining site of a Motte & Bailey Castle (circa 12th Century). The Motte & Bailey (also a Scheduled Ancient Monument) overlooks the Dyke to the north of Erddig House. The Motte, which is a raised earthwork would have consisted of a strategically placed wooden building perhaps 2 storeys high and the associated Bailey, on a different site nearby, would have served an administrative function i.e stables, outbuildings, forges etc.

Also of Archaeological significance are the Cup and Saucer Waterfall, by landscape  designer William Emes (1774). This cylindrical manmade vertical waterfall and Grade II* Listed Structure is the inflow to John Blake’s patented (1890) Hydraulic Ram Pump nearby (also a Grade II listed structure) which pumps water up to the house and gardens. Other key archaeological features include the Ridge & Furrow (signs of past agricultural use in the parkland) The Kings Mill & Mills Leats (water-mills with their “associated wiers and sluices 18th Century”) [1]. The Designed Parkland (or Pleasure Gardens), at Erddig is a Cadw “Grade I listed Parkland of international importance”. This means that the Erddig landscape is highly significant historically as well as archaeologically, Cadw state there are only approximately 10% of these sites with a Grade I listing*. The Designed Garden, is one of the finest examples (albeit an accurately and carefully reconstructed interpretation of the original design) of a formal 18th Century garden in the ‘Dutch’ style with later Victorian additions. The Archaeological Survey also includes features that have been lost from the designed landscape such as the The Dairy or China House and smaller outbuildings which were demolished due to their state of disrepair. [1]

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