Appalling Manners by KELLY / MARHAUG

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Copyright all photos: Bjarte Bjørkum Copyright Appalling Manners: Bjarte Bjørkum, afterword: Rita Marhaug Translation afterword: Eleanor Clare Proof reading: Eleanor Clare, Traci Kelly Design: Jane Sverdrupsen and Rita Marhaug Fonts: Bodoni, Arial, Spode Imperial by Jane Sverdrupsen Contact:

KELLY / MARHAUG is part of Topographies of the Obsolete Topographies of the Obsolete is an Artistic Research project 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. The 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. Several residencies in Stoke have accumulated individual artistic projects from which the overriding project has developed. The project is funded by the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme. Published and funded by: Bergen Academy of Art and Design (KHiB) 2015

Special thanks to: Bjarte Bjørkum, Anne Helen Mydland, Neil Brownsword, Jane Sverdrupsen, Alan Shenton.


Their manners were appalling. Of course, no one noticed at first. The mere age, style and presence of the dinner service inherently granted that conventional manner should be prevailing. Anything else would be unheard. This prevented all to perceive what unfolded before their very eyes as anything but good manners. They would just strike a knowing pose and project their own politeness onto them. Then they would endure. Then, eventually, and much to their own shock and distaste, they would notice. Their self confident and overknowingly pose would wither and crack. Their glazed complexion would crack. They wanted so much to distrust their own eyes, to distrust their own perception. The rituals had been corrupted. Or maybe the rituals had been wrongfully reconstructed. As if the rituals themselves had been excavated in fragments, and the reconstruction had either not been completed or been totally misjudged. It was as if there were a line of ritual that had been approached from either end. And in the end it was unclear which was which. Or if one end would meet the other at all. There was a sudden great confusion as to whether manners could be applied to the rituals anywhere along the line. Were manners connected to the refinement of inherited rituals, or were manners connected to the guesswork of the reconstruction of rituals? No one knew for sure. Suddenly the confusion spread from ritual to material, as if there were no inherent chronology of the different steps in the production line. One would not know what came first, the glaze or the sediment, the decal or the serving of dinners, the mould or the drying, the burning of the dry forms or the grinding of bones, the throwing of the clay or the breaking of the cup that would 8

fall from those precious little hands when confusion struck those precious little heads. For a while it didn’t matter what went where or what went wrong. If the moulds would be 9



sat on. If the slip would replace the tea. If the fumbling hands would replace the wise hands. If the blindfolded would replace the craftsman’s eyes. If the breath of dragons would replace the furnace of the kiln. If the salesman’s office would replace the site of the archaeologist. If the dismantling of the production line would replace the building of the factory. If the main entrance would replace the main exit. If the dust would replace the water. All of a sudden everything appeared to be the main entrance, and nothing appeared to be an emergency exit even ever so slightly. Then the revolution broke out. People were having slip and biscuits at noon. They flapped plates and juggled cups. Wet clay was served as gravy. Pigeons were buried in soup tureens. 12






Milk was poured from non-dried jugs. Designers started to breathe fire. Children demanded their parents to behave. Blowing of dust became a virtue. Walking on pigeon droppings became the rites of passage for the young. Dragons started shitting in clay outtakes. Clay and boulders replaced each other as the preferred material for throwing. There was even a nationwide urge to replace the furnace of the kilns with frost. The objects would nevertheless give the appearance of metamorphosis. And who really knew how long a fired object would last before it started to melt anyway? Frozen dinner services could even appear to be the preferred standard at evening parties now that the climate started to change. Frozen could be the standard of the future. This would mean competitive advantage over the Chinese. Global markets could open. Not to mention how attractive the revitalised frozen blue service would be on hot summer days. Eventually things calmed down, but where manners and inherited social systems so far had limited the different approaches to accepted ways of using dinner services, things seemed to have loosened up. There seemed to be no end to inventive approaches. Striking poses in order to build a moral faรงade that could resist any attacking impoliteness were suddenly of no use. If a guest chose to linger for a while on the moulds that had produced the dinner service for the evening, that was fine. In some social settings it even became the standard. In other settings the host, blindfolded, would fumble for the cups in the cupboard, and more or less successfully distribute them to his likewise blindfolded hostess. Throwing a cup from wet bone china while pouring hot tea 18

and milk over it was soon commonly acceptable. Eventually the different social classes developed specific approaches to the objects, the materials and the different stages in the production of the different bone china objects. In the end you could tell exactly what social class a person or a group of people belonged to just by observing his or her or the entire tea party’s approach to the various stages in the production of the cup that would contain the tea. The way you sipped your tea no longer mattered. Nor how you nibbled your biscuit. For the higher social classes, it soon became com-il-faut to




keep a complete stock of everything needed to produce even the most extravagant part of any dinner service, almost from the clay outtake itself, to the shipping boxes. At the most dignified occasions the prominence of the guests would be measured by the degree of extravaganza they could display when approaching even the simplest cup of tea. And by no means would their efforts be met with shouting or hoorays or extravagant celebration or applaud. Everyone would knowingly strike a pose of graveness; the slight contra-post, the slight supporting of the chin with the tip of the thumb. The almost unnoticeable nodding of the head. The self confident and almost silent muttering of the single most prominent of words; the ‘yes, yes, yes’ and the ‘yes’. 22

However, changes weren’t limited to raw material and chronology. Even the simplest tea party could be slightly postponed and relocated well out of normal reach at extremely short notice. Re-announcements were frequent and old ladies too often found themselves in a bewildered whereand-when state of excitement, even after church. Would the congregation gather for tea in the congregation house or in the closest derelict bone china factory? Or maybe in a pub or in the midst of a meadow? No one really knew until the very last minute, sometimes not until the last second it seemed. Housewives wouldn’t know where to serve afternoon tea until a message boy at the door announced time and place. Supper could be served anywhere and anytime. Sometimes the moulds themselves were on the table, leak-






ing soup on a soaking tablecloth. Children would suck soup from the corners of the tablecloth. Tablecloths were then tailored to suit the events, as were the tables and chairs. Eventually entire rooms were designed specifically to suit the new and at times extremely extensive and laborious tea rituals that somehow and unexplainably seemed like a completely necessary activity in order to keep up one’s social appearance. The most laborious tea parties of them all involved the entire process of making all the cups, saucers, plates and teapots necessary from clay and bone powder in a factory that was designed and constructed for the occasion. Soon confusion was complete. Doubts rose as to whether the historical records of the tea ritual, as well as the established history of the development of the pottery industry was correct. Critical voices claimed the history of the pottery industry was nothing but propaganda written by the pottery industry itself, just as the historical records of the tea leaf probably had been forged by the East India Company in an attempt to glorify themselves, much contrary, it was thought, to likely hidden historical facts. The history of the pottery industry, and the history of the British tea ritual had to be re-written, as no one could neither confirm nor falsify the historical records so far. This resulted in endless academic debates, where no one seemed to be able to agree. Professors and historians tried to calm down with a nice cup of tea in the midst of the theoretical battles that ravaged the country, only none of them could really remember in what way this nice cup of tea was to be drunk in order to provide said calming effect. This, in turn, resulted 28




in a more practical approach in order to reconstruct the development of the tea ritual, as it was thought that the maximum calming effect of tea had to occur at the peak of the development of the tea ritual, which led to even more confusion, as the more elaborate rituals had to be more developed and therefore more calming in their effects than the simpler and probably less developed rituals. Some, who were called heretics, claimed that maybe the simplest was the best, only no one could agree on what was the simplest ritual. Would it include both a pot and a cup? Was a saucer a necessity? Some voices claimed the pot and the cup was what started the decline of simplicity, and that the pottery industry merely had forged their way into the economics of tea with their ever costlier and ever more elaborate 32

styles of both pot, cup and saucer. Others pointed to the obvious fact that the lowest classes in society enjoyed (even though some claimed they in their near classlessness hardly could be said to be able to enjoy anything at all) their tea every afternoon in simple tin cups. Maybe simplicity was to be found even beyond this? Maybe even simple manners could be reconstructed by going all the way back to the pretea days. Maybe one should just start with the tea bush. Bjarte Bjørkum

Bergen, February 2015



AFTERWORD This publication is a result of five week’s intense work at Spode Factory, Stoke on Trent, UK, between September 2012 and November 2013, where Traci Kelly and Rita Marhaug produced visual commentary on the experience through a performative methodology. Themes running through the work relate to the site: the current factory ruin and the past production of ceramics. The artists worked with specific historical material, in order to bring to light more universal and existential motifs through live performance, performance for video and photographic tableaux. During these weeks, Bjarte Bjørkum’s role in both the documentation and production of KELLY / MARHAUG’s live work and photo-video work was of central importance. He closely followed their processes, gaining an overview of the results - from the first to the last residency at Spode. During these intense weeks, the duo and the photographer were confronted with family crises and influenza; yet they did not stop. Other challenges pertained specifically to the location: collapsed sections of the building, lack of electricity, leaks and freezing temperatures in March. Again, these apparent obstacles did not hinder the unfolding of ideas and work. Besides the camera, Bjørkum an aptitude for words. It was a natural choice to ask him to write a text in addition to the photography and video documentation; pure and simple. KELLY / MARHAUG began working as a duo at Spode. 35

The artists met one another during the European Performance Art Festival (EPAF) in Warsaw in 2009. On this occasion, Rita did her utmost to obstruct the public’s movement through the designated mingling area for the duration of the event, whilst Traci was generous in offering skin: her own, and that of the dead pig she embraced. A closer collaboration became possible in Stoke-on-Trent with an invitation from the project leader and professor Anne Helen Mydland. The artists decided upon their tools, materials, and methodological approach early on. Right from the planning stage, the possibility to work closely with a photographer was a central concern. Besides his own art practice, Bjørkum has a very long experience of documenting performance art. Mydland was the first to see the importance of that. KELLY / MARHAUG would willingly have claimed exclusive right to Bjørkum’s expertise, but other artists at Spode Factory also had the pleasure of having their work documented by him. It is a rare thing for artists to be given such ample access to photographic expertise. It was precisely this, combined with the site’s dense atmosphere of tristesse and industrial romanticism, which wound up the creative tempo. The experience of life in North Stafford came to permeate the work: from the English breakfasts to the hotel’s wedding events held every other weekend. Kilometres of carpeted corridors, an unknown number of rooms; all in different layouts and with individual heating, has given the establishment three stars, and a mock gothic atmosphere. 36

The city’s worn down pubs provided varying lunch menus, while dinner was, and became, Indian: Sangham Balti, on either side of Kingsway, with or without alcohol. Weeks spent in the name of ceramics, visits to factories in disuse, ceramics museums and collections, previously revered education institutions, and not to forget the clay pit, gave each stay an intense sensation of past and present being kneaded together. Now they know that ‘bone china’ has its origins in Josiah Spode’s innovation of mixing bone ash into the clay. They also know that just one and a half hours’ train journey from London, it has become possible to buy a council house from Stoke-on-Trent City Council for one pound sterling, in return for certain residential obligations. Rita Marhaug

Bergen, February 2015




BIOGRAPHIES KELLY / MARHAUG is an artist collaboration between Traci Kelly and Rita Marhaug. Traci Kelly (UK) has a PhD from University of Reading whilst Rita Marhaug (1965, Norway) has her MA degree from Bergen Academy of Art and Design in 1989, where she has worked as professor in printmaking for many years, in addition to her BA in Art History from the University of Bergen in 1996. She is co-founder of member organization Performance Art Bergen. Kelly about her work: “ I am drawn towards making ‘things’ with other people - my collaborators, instigators and agitators - but sometimes I need my own space in order to make solo works, to journey and to reflect. Without hierarchy, my artistic practice bleeds across performance and still works, text and lens, curating and writing: multiple disciplines converge and interrogate one another as I seek different alliances in shifting configurations.” Marhaug’s practice: “My approach to performance is through the basic tools of the body, meaning little use of objects and other requisites. The everyday language of bodily behaviour and bodily normality is my basic source of inspiration to my work and the concrete body’s dimensions are often the theme in my action. I have used my experience from sports, my role as mother and work as artist over more than 20 years to develop individual performances.” Bjarte Bjørkum studied Nordic languages, English and Art history at the University of Oslo in addition to profound studies at Konstfack in Stockholm and Bergen Academy of Art and Design. He is now a technician in photography at Bergen Academy of Art and Design. Bjørkum describes his artistic approach: “I’m fond of obsolete rooms, as in unseen rooms. I like to investigate the photographic view of the non-beholder, which sort of links to the thing in itself. I also work with multitudes of objects taking over a room, creating patterns from an arbitrary starting point.” 40



English Rose, Chinese Robe 3 English Rose, Chinese Robe 7 Preparation 9 Office Afterglow 10,11 Preparation 12 Rose Slip 13 English Moulds, Chinese Robes 14,15 English Moulds, Chinese Robes 16,17 Grounded 19 Preparation 20,21 Laying to Rest 22 Laying to Rest 23 Mandarine Dust 24,25 Mandarine Dust 26,27 Office Afterglow 29 Grounded 30,31 Made in China Hall 32 Made in China Hall 33 Rose Slip 34 Slipping, opening performance British Ceramics Biennial 2013 38,39 Slipping, opening performance British Ceramics Biennial 2013 42 All photos by Bjarte Børkum exept cover photo from interior of Wedgwood Institute, Burslem by Rita Marhaug.

Developed and performed by KELLY / MARHAUG


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