Part 5 – Parallel Project – Her Bed – Ceramic sculpture

I wanted to make a ceramic version of ‘Her Bed’ for a number of reasons; 1. The installation would only ever be on display for very limited periods. 2. Having a ceramic version would allow me to have a mini permanent display. 3. I wanted to explore the different emotions that both versions would evoke. 4. I welcomed the challenge of forming a complex sculpture in clay and putting it through the glazing and firing processes.

The Physical materiality of clay and the resultant effects of glazing and firing is also very evocative and has a language and story of it’s own. The bed is proportionately fairly accurate, and even the colouring a convincing memory of the cream or blue metal beds that were in the prison.

Her Bed – Ceramic version – Bed skeleton – Niki Gibbs

I have learned that Ceramics was a really well-attended class in the education department at HMP Holloway. The women would love making items that they could send out to their families and found working 3-dimensionally in clay very therapeutic. This sculpture is also a homage to all the women that benefited from the ceramics class and the tutors that facilitated them.

Her Bed – Ceramic version – Niki Gibbs

I have been attending ceramic classes for the past few months, principally to learn how to throw, mainly because I find playing with clay very therapeutic and satisfying. The classes are mostly throwing, decorating and glazing, but I have some clay and have built this sculpture at home. This has entailed crafting each piece individually, packing and transporting it 20km across London in a backpack via bicycle, and assembling it during the class. I have had to take some additional 3-hour classes in order to complete this project, and even then I had to work at some pace, quicker than I would have liked in order to finish it before the classes ended for the year.

Her Bed – Ceramic version – Niki Gibbs

The most amazing thing about this sculpture is that it so far has survived! It is fiddly and very delicate. The bed frame had to be fired with custom-made supports as the clay will distort and sag during firing. I had to paint a suitable thin ‘Danish’ glaze on rather than dip it because it would have become too saturated and stressed.

Ceramics – work in progress

This image shows some thrown wall hanging plant pots that I have made in the class, with the mattress and a few items that will form part of the final sculpture. The mattress was fired before I had made a ruffled sheet or blanket, so I improvised with the blanket as I was trying to leave at the end of a class and am considering making some fabric sheets as a mixed media sculpture. Either way, the fact that it is modular means that there are many options open to me in the future.

The items on the cabinet are based on the items that I got for the ‘Her Bed’ installation and include; a bottle of squash, a mug with cutlery, a milk carton, a yogurt carton, a plate and bowl, and a book to go on the shelf. The plates are glazed in turquoise glaze, the other items were all dipped in a white glaze before being painted with underglazes which provide stronger colours and the ability to create detail.

Her Bed – Ceramic version – Bed end and cabinet detail – Niki Gibbs

I have made a small safe to be placed under the bed, a cabinet with cutlery, crockery, and a book, a milk and yogurt pot to assemble on top, and a mattress, pillow, and blanket. I am glad that I made this sculpture as an assembly because the bed frame itself is quite haunting and skeletal on its own.

Her Bed – Ceramic version – Medication Safe detail – Niki Gibbs

Once all the separate pieces were fired, the logistical challenge of transporting it home across London was then to be faced. I cycle the 20km to the class, and this time I had to get an estate cab home with the bed carefully packed in it’s shoebox, clutched on my lap. It survived better than I did as I really suffered travel sickness throughout the journey! It was just too fragile to risk putting it in my rucksack to carry it home, all the palpations that it has caused me and the ceramicist tutor during all the firing processes were worthy of the rather hefty cab bill!

The sculpture was set up on an ironed sheet against a green wall to evoke some sense of being in a room, with some lighting to cast some shadows. The shadows really add a sense of narrative to the image. I have been thinking that I could add other items to the sculpture in the future and even sew fabric sheets to convey a more messy scene. Women were expected to keep their beds made and their rooms tidy, so this sculpture is quite an honest depiction, I quite like the idea that the sculpture could have many incarnations.

Niki Gibbs

28th November 2021

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