"Topographies of the Obsolete: Exploring the Site Specific and Associated Histories of Post-Industry"

Topographies of the Obsoleteis an Artistic Research project (KU Prosjekt) initiated by Professors Neil Brownsword and Anne Helen Mydland at Bergen Academy of Art and Design (KHiB) in collaboration with partner universities/institutions in Denmark, Germany and the UK.  Our main collaborative partner is the British Ceramics Biennial, who invited KHiB to work at the original Spode Works factory in Stoke-on-Trent, to develop a site specific artistic response as a core element of their 2013 exhibition program. More than 40 international artists and theoreticians have participated in this multidisciplinary project with a program of seminars, publications and exhibitions. Three residencies have accumulated individual artistic projects from which the overriding project has developed.

The project focus centres upon the landscape of post-industry, more particular; that of Stoke-on-Trent, a world renowned ceramic capital that bears in its city evidence of fluctuations in global fortunes. The original Spode factory, situated in the heart of Stoke-on-Trent, was once a keystone of the city's industrial heritage which operated upon its original site for over 230 years. Amongst Spode's contributions to ceramic history include the perfection of under-glaze blue printing and Fine Bone China. The factory's industrial architecture dates from the 1760's to the late 1980's, with spaces associated with all aspects of the design, manufacture, retail and administration in close geographical proximity. In 2008 Spode's Church Street site closed, with most of its production infrastructure and contents left intact.

The original Spode site offers multi-faceted scope for creative interpretation through its socio-economic histories, industrial architecture, production- and material remnants.

Artistic strategies encompassed mapping the site through various media, object appropriation and re-contextualisation, lens-based work through to performative gesture. Through three periods of artistic research and development on site, distinct and interconnected strands of discourse have formed the project:

The Socio-Economic Post Industrial Landscape as site

The Globalized Landscape of Ceramics

The Human Topography of Post-Industry

The Topography of Objects/Archives and the Artist/Archaeologist

The Topography of the Contemporary Ruin

These strands have been treated more as questions, as relevant starting-points for discussion in terms of highlighting the project(s) in established theoretical and contemporary art contexts. The project is addressing the validity and actuality in the different approaches to investigate if these (familiar) strands are relevant and have a potential for new understanding and knowledge. Its methodology draws upon the rhetorical method [1] of identifying 'a landscape' and different 'topi' to ensure a multi-perspective approach. This method is suited to the project's diversity and to identifying the rhizomic relationship between the individual and the overriding project.

The project is on-going until 2015, and is funded by The Norwegian Artistic Research Program, Bergen Academy of Art and Design (KHiB), and partner institutions; The Royal Danish Academy of Art; Muthesius Kunsthochsule, Kiel; Bucks New University, Nottingham Trent University, Sheffield Hallam New University and Newcastle University.

Research outcomes from the project will continue to inform a programme of seminars, publications and exhibitions.


An additional insight into the work and processes that led up to the results in the exhibition "Topographies of the Obsolete; Vociferous Void" is provided in our blog

Walkthrough of the exhibition "Topographies of the Obsolete: Vociferous Void" at Spode original factory site



[1] Aslaug Nyrnes: 'Lighting from the side' Sensuous Knowledge, Focus on artistic research and development, no.03,