Friday, September 21, 2012

Nike Dragon Sauce

 Thanks to Kristina Gehrig- Material Designer - Footwear, and Brett Holts- Track and Field Product Line Manager- at Nike what was a slim chance became a reality within 2 days when I had the idea I would love to get my hands on some Olympic trainers to pursue a concept  about the methodology of designed pattern and relief on modern trainers and how that relates to preindustrial methods of pattern and design transferred between mediums. With the Olympics here in London it seemed like the perfect time to move the idea forward. I didn't have much luck finding anyone with contacts here in London so I asked my partners son's girlfriend who is a designer for Nike in Oregon if there was any chance of getting some olympic trainers. Well this girl moves fast and literally within 2 days Brett who was in London representing Nike 2012 Olympic Track and Field Innovation emailed me to set up a time to come to my studio at the V&A and bring me the goods. Needless to say I was jump up and down excited and blown away with the generosity of Nike and the exuberance these young talented designers had for what must have seemed like a pretty quirky request.

Despite the extraordinarily fast response by Nike my ideas had to simmer for a bit because of the immediate demands on my time in the studio for the video projects. But meanwhile there was an opportunity to get the ball rolling by relating the concept to a  young peoples workshop I had scheduled    on looking for dragons in the V&A's collection and coming back to the studio to create dragons in clay. As soon as I saw these amazing designs for the first time in person it became clear the elements would be perfect inspiration to create some super "Flyknit" dragon skin.

In order to recreate pieces of the patterns in the medium of clay I needed to take 'sprig moulds' directly off the shoes that the clay could then be pressed into. The issue then became how to keep the shoes in good condition while getting impressions of the incredible variety of relief on the soles and uppers -each having a distinctive character and methodology and most importantly story behind the design.
This required an upgrade of my silicon based molding putty to one that I was turned onto by a collaboration with V&A conservator Hanneke Rammaker who is part of an astounding conservation department here. I  tried a small sample she brought me and indeed it completely released from the fabric so I ordered my own- of course it had just sold out so it took about a week to get it in which was another crimp in my tight timeline here- it was well worth the wait. This flexible high tech putty added other layers of manipulation that could be used to transform the patterns into clay.

So the dragon workshop became the first manifestation of my trainer pattern pursuit and it would be 7-10 year olds pursuing it for the first time. I made a large pot inspired by the anthropomorphic form shared between two pieces from the V&A collection a 13th century London Jug (best pot ever made), and The Auspicious Cloud of the Oriental 2010 by Laurence Xu.
Left to right-Nike Flyknit Racer, Zoom Victory Elite, Zoom Superfly R4, Zoom Long Jump ( I also got a pair of Zoom Rotational but since the bottoms are completely smooth save the swoosh I didn't pull those out)
In the background are 2 amazing works from the V&a collections a 13th century London jug maker unknown and Laurence Xu's The Auspicious Cloud of the Oriental
A group of young people from Triangle Adventure Playground/Metropolitan Housing Association and the amazing dragons they created! 

some executive decisions needed to made and a few finishing touches, Reino Liefkes senior curator of ceramic and glass, Kate Quinlan curatorial intern and art student at the National College of Art and Design Dublin, and Tracy Friend also a maker and my wonderful assistant for the day. 

I have had some interest in the methodology used to create pattern and relief on English white salt glazed stoneware. I chose two great examples for my cases both are block moulds meaning the thickly cast or press molded positives that are made from the original moulds taken from the original model. One for a sauce boat and one a shell like teapot.  These blocks were fired high with very little salt as to keep the surface relief crisp for subsequent moulds to be taken as the old ones ware or perhaps these were used in the industry to sell to various potteries as ready to cast models for production moulds- any thoughts?

So what do Nike Olympic trainers and 18th century English white salt glaze sauceboats have in common? The connection I was seeing between these patterns and 21st century trainers is where it can get tricky and complicated but it is clear in this case a picture may be worth 1000 words.
Zoom Superfly, sauceboat block mould and my porcelain test sprigs off the trainer heel. 

Silicon rubber mould bisque porcelain impression bisque London clay impression.

Yes London clay so this story will continue in my next post so stay tuned

Friday, September 7, 2012


I have purposefully avoided any news at home on politics but had to hit the pause button to hear the President Barrack the House last night at the DNC!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Quiet On The Set

The first video shoot  revolved primarily around the making of a delft puzzle jug which I described preparations for in an earlier post. In addition we filmed the beginnings of making an 18th century agateware pectin shell teapot literally from start to finish. Those who are familiar with my 'experimental archeology' may know the article in Ceramics in America 2003 Rob Hunter and I coauthored that features my work on the rediscovery of this technique.  The example I chose from the V&A collection I exhibit alongside an 8th-century Chinese agate wine cup to illustrate's Rob's observations that the 18th-century Staffordshire technique was clearly derived from Chinese antiquity. Leave it to the V&A to have more than one example of each of these objects to make the point!

While on the subject of my cases I want to acknowledge the highly professional label installation that took place about a week after the installation of the objects. Clearly Phil Collett and Keith Hartnell take their jobs very seriously ( no really they do) and for me it really was kind of a big deal - well done!

The puzzle jug video went semi well -excellent actually- the videographer Jurriaan Booij has been amazing and I love when the caliber of work that has gone into the preparation and making is matched or exceeded with the artistry in filming and/or photography. I have had the pleasure of that experience many times doing photo shoots for CIA with Gavin Ashworth who also shoots my contemporary work.
We did have some drama when at a critical moment the pot fly's off the wheel, pretty funny but made the last bit a little tricky. The sacrificial puzzle jug can be seen on the table a 'bit' worse for wear.
Jurriaan Booij the videographer, the sacrificial puzzle jug is in the background
The first part of the agate video begins at the beginning so I found myself unexpectedly charged with needing to create original models for the teapot, spout, lid and finial to cary out a start to finish approach  . Meanwhile all the various metallic oxides, dry clay formulas (which are hard to come by) had to be found ordered and delivered and then made into the varied clays of iron, manganese, and cobalt then tested and reformulated and tested again fortunately I got it in 2 attempts. The blue ball clay available here made a nice addition and the red iron oxide seems much better that what I get in the US.
Of course a glaze formula had to be made- enter in the last 5 kg of gerstley borate in the country from Bath and I needed to replace a very stable but low temperature frit I use in the US that there is no direct equivalent for here. Challenges abound but again what I could do much more directly in the studio provided me with new insight into the ceramic materials industry here and how the vast historical footprint of potteries in Britain is clearly evidenced in the approach to manufacturing raw materials which always influences the approach to making.

This image is a hint into the eureka moment we had while filming which I will 'unpack' in an upcoming post.
The lovely agate teapot from the V&A's collection in my case.