Silent Vessel 2001 – 2012

Raw earth, raw clay takes a shape through the movement of my hands. Thumb pressed into a soft rich red ball of earth begins to open out, revolving through the motion of my left hand and the pinion of the thumb of my right hand. The clay opens slowly into small palm sized bowl of soft damp earth, marked by palm and thumb emerging as unique signatures as maker and earth join together. The bowl continues to open under my gentle pressure as it revolves, the scent of earth fills my nostrils and the shape of the vessel emerges from the dream of its existence. I roll out thin coils of clay and begin attaching them round by round to the vessel, smoothing the sides and surface with old kitchen equipment, a tin spoon, a wooden spatula and a knife, an ordinary task has now begun. The vessel takes shape, egg shape, smooth, imperfect.

While the vessel is still soft and newly formed it receives its name, named through the pressing of old metal hard type letters into the surface. The words form in my mind as the pots are ready to receive them. Words of weather and object, memory and emotion, the quotidian is impressed into the surface of the earthy skin of each vessel. Once dry beyond the hardness of leather, they enter the fire of the kiln where the words become as fixed as stone, the vessels are then ready for their surfacing of glaze. One by one, these small meditations take form and grow in number over weeks and years, until they become a dialogue word by word, a story that is forever unfixed and moveable. They become a collective memory or Chinese Whisper, in which all can find a story for themselves as they change from eye to eye, hand to hand.

Hundreds of the vessels tumble and turn through my hands and through the kiln over time, until they begin to make themselves heard above the silence that each one has held for so long. It is at this moment that I become their vessel of interpretation, their advocate. I began to move with them and through them to tell the story I could not know before they call to me, in a language of their own.

Photos: Hilary Kneale

Re-invent, OVADA Gallery Oxford 2005

As I place the vessels over the wooden gallery floor, they begin to make themselves known to each other, sounds emerge as they touch as I place them here and there and they begin to settle in. I wait while they quieten. I sit on the edges of their community, eyes skimming their fluid poetry, skimming their shapes and their stone like hues. The words etched into their surfaces are memories taking shape as they come together. The essences of these stories stretch out from each vessel and ripple through the pools of remaining thought between them. All around is humming with what has been and what may be, a murmuring through the hollows in the vessels, through the new dialogues they now make, vibrating through my body and senses as I prepare to enter their landscape.

The landscape of the vessels opens up as I enter the small pathways between them. They hum around me in a welcome, ringing out as they touch together to make way for me, as many tones ring out from the vessels, as there are different colours of their skin, a hubbub arises as they comment upon my arrival. I crouch low, sit quiet in their midst, waiting for them to settle, breathing in their essences, my breath deepening in response. We are ready to converse.

Photos: David Davies


As I begin a dialogue with the vessels I follow the stories that they present to me through their placing. I respond and act out the words as they enter my immediate field, through them I enter the unknown. To some my response is physical, to some emotional, some call me to name them out loud, each vessel has something particular to say through my voice or through the physical responses of my body. From time to time a few of them speak at once and a cacophony of sound and movement arises between us.

Suddenly ‘FRIDGE MAGNET’ magnetises itself to my heart, ‘BUZZARD’ flies high on the tips of my fingers. I roll over and through the vessels spreading them and mixing their words into new dialogues they tinkle and sing in response. When ‘ULTIMATUM’ seizes my attention, I respond violently to its demand, in response, it crashes through the field of vessels and breaks against the wall, ‘ELIPSE’ calls me back to a gentle repetitive refrain.

The silent vessels keep me in their field until the stories that call to be told that day are spoken. The landscape of the vessels is forever changed and I am rearranged, new relationships have emerged, others have ended, some are broken beyond repair, the field has shifted. I quietly leave the community of vessels, they return to their habitual silence and settle into their new form.

Photos: Hilary Kneale

Camber Sands at Jurys Gap April 2nd 2011 6.30 am 4.30 pm

Ocean ripples and rolls gently landward covering the sand pulling at its surface. The water rolls, floats and jostles the pots out of their city skyline, their black mouths, gaping hollows, shout at the sky and readily suck in the small oceans that fill their vortices. Their turning becomes the oceans turning. I watch them go as they begin their travels into another element. I walk through the water between them as they surf between land and air and water. I bend to catch sight of each precious poem in clay as it turns its tongue to another language, each vessel becomes a tiny chamber in which the resonance of the ocean may speak. I no longer hear the dance of the words beneath the waves.

The hours slide by as I sit with the shifting places where ocean meets shingle, listening to the long pull of the waves that is sung by each tiny stone, a repetitive refrain that slips under my skin like an old, old song. My mind surfs remembered words on the vessels, as they shuttle beneath the waves, a collective in motion in the body of the sea. I move through the hours, time shifts with me at the edge of the ocean. The tide moves in its way and gradually exposes the land once more. A few vessels are visible on or in the sand, they have moved on, they are not mine, I do not touch them, I see them and leave them be, they are heading east in their own time, moving with the tempo of the wind and the sea.

First Published by Pelinore Press in January 2012
ISBN 978-0-9554270-7-7

Photos: Clawz Moon