This project has been moving through different phases; research, exploration,  conception, development, model and mould making, slip casting, firing, photography, discussion, reflection, slip casting of black parian, firing, photography, reflection, and lastly the discussion of how to communicate the work in the final showing in the ‘show’. At this point I decided to try to write the beginnings of reflecting on what I was intending to explore and happened in the process. I feel there are a few loose end to tie regarding visual poetry and interpretation, that would benefit from some reflection and discussion.


My work explores the value of ‘place’, through the language, traditions and geology embodied in vernacular structures.  I’m exploring site-specific methods of working that utilise ‘place’ as a physical site and structuring ways to reflect both tangible and intangible qualities of places, qualities that create a ‘genius loci’.

I’ve used a series of projects as ‘case studies’ to explore and develop a framework that I can take onsite with me, to structure a way of working, and in this project, The Timber Ponds, I explored the vernacular structures of the ponds and language relating to the nature and essence of the intertidal zone itself.

I spent several days onsite where I photographed and sketched the ponds and some of the individual, water eroded timbers.

I researched previous sources for vernacular language relating to intertidal zones after failing to find much of interest written about the ponds when in their primary use. Sjusamillabakka – MacFarlane’s Twitter word of the day in April 2018 –introduced the Norn term for the intertidal zone. This led to finding the source for this, ‘Shetland Words’, A dictionary of the Shetland dialect, A & A Christie-Johnston. The Shetland dialect is  know as Norn.

The dictionary contains a glossary of tabu terms in Norn, relating to the unspoken, including the sjusamillabakka, the intertidal zone. The tradition of using tabu words relate back to the placating of pagan gods. The ‘haaf’ deep-sea fishermen of Shetland, fished in hostile conditions where they believed they couldn’t speak the land names for particular people, animals or objects – this is a practice seen in many other activities in challenging environments such as mining, where many communities also wouldn’t speak certain words, for example for rabbit or pig, animals seen to be in league with the devil, thus summonsing bad luck.

The Norn tabu word for the intertidal zone, where the fishermen would collect their bait before leaving for sea, is the sjusamillabakka, meaning between the sea and shore. I wrote initial keywords relating to this liminal, unspoken space of intertidal sands and mud. Suggesting borders, contrast, shadow, reflection, shifting space, wet and dry, water and wind erosion. Reflecting on the space the timber ponds occupy, within the ebb of the tide, where you can neither fish nor farm.

The timber ponds emerged for me as holders of space, the spaces between the posts and the form that this takes. The boundaries of the ponds change between high and low tide, filled with water at high tide, and with undulating mud and seaweed at low tide.  The constant is their relationship to each other and the negative space they create and bound together. Enclosures of space as well as water. This relates to the Japanese concept of Ma – an intangible concept relating to the conscious awareness of the unseen, a consciousness of the spaces between objects. An experiential place created in the imagination.

From the series of elevational sketches, I began to draw over the form of a couple of the timbers to look in detail at the edge profiles to explore how to abstract and represent elements of the form. I wanted to avoid a direct representation of the timbers in ceramic form, I wanted to create forms that would contrast with the eroded wildness of the place, and connect with the intangible, negative spaces.

I abstracted four of these hand drawn lines to each become the edge of a geometric form, a rectangle that was similar in proportion to the spaces between the timbers. The idea was that these forms would face each other creating the space between the sketched timbers. As the Shetland fishermen named the unspoken, the work aimed to make visible the unseen. Enclosing space rather than water.

The ceramic objects were then brought onsite at different times and used to further explore and reflect on the nature of the site through a series of photographs. The panoramic photographs showed the contrast between the wild expanse of the place and the geometric architecture of the forms, which in the smaller scale photographs framed views into and from the site.

The reflections in the water from the white parian pieces were so striking I decided to make representations of them in black parian. When the black pieces were then brought onsite to photograph, they almost merged into the site, especially when they were wet and covered in sand. The white pieces stood out and contrasted and framed views and reflections of the place. The white parian became luminous and contrasted against the deep black of the seaweed and eroded timber. I chose parian as a neutral, reflective self glazing material.

The photographing of the work onsite has helped me see the ‘place’ differently, helped me explore the site in different ways. The process enabled a deeper level of interaction with the place, the textures of the sand, timbers and seaweed, the sounds and smells of the seawater, the speed of the tide approaching, sinking sands, colours, the quality of light, the changing direction of the sun, the timing of low and high tide, differing weather conditions.

I set out in this project to develop the use of language to translate a sense of place into a physical form. As previously discussed at the end of the last project, while reflecting on this question: how we can make and remake landscape in words, marks, shapes and sounds across art forms, it had prompted me to ask the questions:

Would it be relevant to explore Ceramics as a container for language?

Could the vernacular language I collect be contained within the surface of the ceramics rather than on another surface for example paper?

Could the ceramics be visual poetry?

I would propose that the work could be described as a container for language; taking the starting point from the concept of Ma and of tabu, making visible the invisible, unspoken and unheard.  And the process of representing this. The act of photographing the work onsite enables me to see unseen elements of the place, the intervals or spaces between the structures, the pauses. The work acted as frames to view, as a lens to see the unseen.

I used language to structure a way of conceptually reflecting the nature of the vernacular structures. I created a form that abstracted elements from them.

To answer the question in this instance; could language be contained within the surface of the ceramics? I felt that although the work would facilitate this as it was simple enough in form, that to add any text to the surface would alter the essence and simplicity of it.

Does that stop the ceramics being visual poetry? Can they be visual poetry without containing letters?

I am currently reflecting on these questions again at this point in the project and have been throughout. I am reflecting on issues relating to the ‘audiencing’ of the work. I’m in the process of deciding what to communicate, do I need to communicate a glossary of terms similar to the Moss project or has language informed the making in this project to the extent that an additional layer of text may be unnecessary. One thought is to ‘hide’ text within the photographic prints, it may only be visible on closer inspection.

Work and thoughts in process.


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