Medalta Museum is an historic site, a once thriving ceramic factory comprising now a museum, contemporary art gallery, artist studios and residencies. Penelope Stewart and Laura Vickerson were invited to participate in the International Artist in Residence programme during the month of July to build a collaborative in situ exhibition in one of the now dormant beehive kilns. Both artists have worked extensively with historic site locations. During a site visit they were inspired by the industrial kilns, and machinery, the extensive collection of moulds, the archives and general detritus of the moribund factory history.
house life refers to the agency and historic manufacture of the domestic objects and the large beehive kilns at Medalta. Stewart and Vickerson began the collaboration with conversations that explored the convergence and overlap of their individual practice’s. Re-current themes address notions of feminism, cultural memory, time and space with an interest in the symbolic nature of objects, domestic and postindustrial architecture and landscapes. They are interested in finding places to intervene, inhabit while activating the objects and the site.
The beehive for Vickerson conjures up ideas of the home as a centre of activity: a domain, historically, controlled by the female members of the household. Within the beehive, the activities centre on the matriarch: the queen bee. The focus of house life for Vickerson became the relationship of a female presence in conjunction with the architecture of both the beehive and the kiln.
Upon entering the site honeycomb components constructed from multiple hexagons of quilting fabric, old embroideries with floral imagery and dried flowers from Vickerson’s garden float just below the brick dome of the kiln. They appear as fragments, delicate and ephemeral, and suggest both home and the cycles of nature. Each hexagon has been dipped in beeswax creating a sculptural structure reminiscent of the honeycomb quilts created from scraps of fabric by the thrifty, industrious women of the household while the fragrance filling the kiln of beeswax laden pieces become sensory arrangements adding the sweet smell of honey to the environment.
Vickerson too is making reference to the history of these kilns as both locations of industriousness and temporary homes for those that rode the rails during the Great Depression of the 1930’s and who sought refuge in the warmth of these giant kilns.
Stewart’s fascination with the contents and context of the post-industrial site became her initial point of departure. Her inspiration came from the original site visit where she began to imagine the use of the factory detritus as building blocks and incorporating a selection of the 1000’s of artifact moulds in some sort of installation in the kiln.
Best known for her elaborate beeswax architectural structures Stewart set about creating a collection of beeswax and unfired clay cast objects inspired by the domestic moulds from the Medalta archive. These iterations became integrated into sculptural compositions, small monuments and still lifes’ alongside constellations of found objects placed on columns of plaster moulds. The stacked moulds play a central role and become elements of display highlighting their sculptural attributes, and modularity while transforming them into building blocks to create architectural constructions of horizontal and vertical spaces. The accumulated altered somatic objects are showcased as inhabitants of the space.
Vickerson’s delicate floating forms envelope the space in an ephemeral gesture while Stewart’s heavy columns and arrangements suggest a material movement, a potential transformation, a liminal moment. The collaboration is both a reminder of the kilns previous life and the creation of a new topography.
Penelope Stewart & Laura Vickerson