‘reflection’ on world in one city – artist in training programme

The ‘World in One City’ project explores themes surrounding cultural identity, place, heritage and feasting. Bringing together food and clay, throughout the weeks, the Burslem Jubilee group have reflected on the new community they have found themselves within. The participants have also been learning some of the history of Stoke-on-Trent and have developed new skills in ceramics. The Jubilee Group represents 40-60 adults living in the city who await decisions on their visa or immigration/asylum status. I have worked on this project in the past and I am so pleased to have been involved in the project once again as part of my Artist In Training Programme with the British Ceramics Biennial and Arts Connect.
The sessions are led by ceramic artist Jo Ayre, who develops all content for the sessions, and decides what the group will be creating each week. Jo’s project aims are to teach the participants ceramic skills, to give the group an understanding of clay, to give them a sense of well-being and to provide them with a connection to one another and to the wider community of Stoke-on-Trent. Weekly conversations with the group determine what will be created in future weeks. Jo considers the importance of the participants being involved in decision making and on what is created each week, this gives a feeling of ownership and pride.
After meeting the group in week one, we began by discussing food and culture, and developed these conversations by using clay as a tool. This was a great way to break the ice, and to introduce the group to the material that they will be using each week. Jo’s calm attitude and composed way of working made the group feel at ease in their new surroundings and her clear instructions were key in the participants’ understanding of the material and processes.
Each week, lunch was provided by the B-Arts, Bread In Common team, who have worked with the Burslem Jubilee before. The contributors brought in their own food to be shared. Jo planned for all of our sessions to be based around eating together and spending time in conversation, as this provides a comforting, familiar environment for everyone, it also gives them the opportunity to share their life experiences and cultures, which will inform the work we eventually create to be exhibited at The British Ceramics Biennial.
Jo and I also discussed with the participants ways of cooking food outdoors. The group sketched out stove designs and came up with a collaborative design. Then we created the stove using bricks and clay, and used it the following week to cook our food. This was a real team effort! Jo sees the importance of collaborating and working as a team, as the key aims for project is for the group to establish the conditions for the building of relationships and the learning of new skills.
During the sessions, Jo arranged visits to local ceramic factories, Emma Bridgwater and Middleport Pottery. It was eye-opening for the group to see how a modern running pottery works. This was incredibly important for the group to gain an understanding of their new city, not to mention seeing the importance of the skills they have learned during the classes, giving their work valuable context.
Each week, Jo has guided the group to create various wares that will be used in our celebratory feast, this is an event that will be taking place in Hanley Park, all ‘World In One City’ participants will come together to share food and their experiences with each another and the general public. It will be fantastic for the group to use the pieces they created in this context and it will give the group a chance to socialize and feel a sense of belonging. Projects like ‘World In One City’ are hugely important. With recent negative press, projects like this can change attitudes towards refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.
It is extremely important for these groups to engage, interact, build communication skills, form positive relationships and to have a place to feel safe. All of these key points are extremely important through Jo’s planning and preparation.
While researching other similar projects happening elsewhere in the UK, like PlatformaPlatforma, Arts on The Run and Exodus that generally reference traditional and contemporary arts. I have noticed a key difference between those projects, and Jo Ayre’s with The British Ceramics Biennial and ‘World In One City’. Using clay is significant, as Stoke-on-Trent has such a huge potteries heritage. This immediately gives the participants a connection with the new city they find themselves living in. Working in clay can be incredibly therapeutic and creating something which can be utilized, with your own hands, from scratch is an incredibly rewarding process.
I feel very grateful to be part of such a wonderful project. Assisting Jo with her work has been really insightful and inspiring for the improvement of my artist practice. I have learned a great deal from her work methods and her communication skills, with all the people involved in the group. Her work is explorative yet tailors to the groups needs. Working alongside Jo, and the participants themselves has been a fantastic experience.












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