The Lancashire factory of the leading manufacturer of architectural faience and terracotta, Darwen Terracotta, becomes an artist’s studio once more, as Hannah Leighton Boyce moves in. Her new work will be revealed at the National Festival of Making in June 2020as part of the festival’s headline commissioning programme, Art In Manufacturing.
Manchester-based artist, Hannah Leighton Boyce can be found one day per week at the Blackburn factory – often within the casting workshop or plaster shop at Darwen Terracotta. Observing the manufacturer’s highly-skilled craftspeople take out the previous day’s casts and pouring clay into new moulds requires being there at 6am. “It’s a lovely start,” says Hannah, “It sets the rhythm of the day and I like being in tune with the flow of the factory, it’s far better than starting out when the factory is already humming. By joining the early shift, I feel more integrated into the factory for the rest of the working day.”
Once her day in Blackburn is done, Hannah steps away from the factory environment and returns to her studio in Manchester to develop ideas. With space to process her experiences, she sticks photography and other sources of inspiration up on the wall, examining test work that she’s made and brought back from the factory, inspecting their material qualities. Like all Art In Manufacturing artists, Hannah is keen to see all of her partnered manufacturer’s processes and understand how things work.
Hannah’s work as an artist emphasises material, bodily and spatial concerns, both in the process and labour of production, and in the viewing experience of the finished artwork. Previous works have comprised of raw and manufactured materials, found objects and combinations of outmoded technologies within sculpture, drawing, sound and installation, as well as live works. Her choices of materials and process-led exploration is often informed by or made in response to a place, a residency, an archive or the site or gallery where the work will be seen. Her ideas and research are underpinned by interests in the physical and social properties and lives of materials and invisible processes, such as the transmission of energy and the passing of time.
Throughout 2017 and 2018, Hannah undertook research residencies at Glasgow Women’s Library, with resulting works using salt exhibited at Manchester’s Castlefield Gallery in 2018, touring to Glasgow Women’s Library in 2019 described by poet and novelist, Jackie Kay as ‘astonishing’.
“Ideas for this body of work developed whilst researching at Glasgow Women’s Library where I began to reflect on the collective body of the archive – the layers of histories and stories, the amount of work, the persistence, the blood, sweat and the tears. The research led me to thinking about the salt within our bodies and residue as an archive and initiated my exploration of salt as a material expression of sentiment, vulnerability and support.”
Hannah has been in residence at Darwen Terracotta since September 2019, becoming familiar to workers, their lives on the factory floor and the making culture of a company where the pace is dictated by the material properties of its products. Advanced technology combined with skilful, precise hand-finishing employed by craftspeople creates elements of traditional, terracotta restoration, bespoke architectural facades, abstract ceramic glazes and handcrafted faience tiles. Darwen Terracotta work with architects throughout the UK on new build and historic restoration projects including South Kensington Tube Station, The Natural History Museum and Grayson Perry’s House for Essex.
For good reason, the skills are cherished and the workforce justifiably proud. As Hannah has found out: “There is a limit to how fast the products can be produced which is dictated by the slip casting process, environmental conditions and drying times of the moulds and clay. Other production processes might be quicker, but the emphasis here is on the handmade and investment is within the skill of the workforce.”
In addition to joining the shift patterns and shadowing expert craftspeople, Hannah has accompanied the restoration team on a site visit to the prestigious London Road Fire Station development in Manchester city centre, observing the care and attention to detail set at the heart of restoration projects. The artist residency is guided by conversation, asking the questions that perhaps only arise through a long term artist residency, finding their way into as many typical situations, with as many of the specialists in the manufacturer’s team as possible.
Jon Wilson Director at Darwen Terracotta, said of the residency: “Darwen Terracotta has been a partner manufacturer with National Festival of Making since its inception in 2017, becoming one of the first to engage with Art in Manufacturing. We are delighted to be hosting Hannah, an inventive and highly skilled artist, in this new residency in 2020. Art in Manufacturing gives us a chance to connect with our local community here in Lancashire as well as opening our factory floor to exploring our heritage, craftsmanship and products. We can’t wait to see what Hannah, creates.”
New exhibitions, installations and performances created by artists undertaking Art In Manufacturing residencies since 2017 include James Bloomfield’s collaboration with Darwen Terracotta in 2017 Of Heart & Hand, Lazerian’s internationally-recognised Chromatogram installation at Blackburn’s former Cotton Exchange and Liz Wests A Subjective Mix at the same, historic venue. Unforgettable works opening up other abandoned or unusual spaces and connecting with communities include Martyn Ware’s Church of Rare Souls bringing dance back to Tony’s Empress Ballroom, Dawinder Bansal’s sparkling Making of a South Asian Wedding and Liz Wilson’s Digital work The Optical Mechanical.
The Art in Manufacturing is a co-commission between the National Festival of Making and Super Slow Way.