Hazel Smith

Clay Conversations

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Credits: Joanna Still (ceramics, photography), Hazel Smith (text, video creation), Roger Dean (sound)

Clay conversations arose out of collaborative conversations I had with British ceramicist Joanna Still. After several meetings and exchanges, Joanna created some ceramics which evoked various forms of communication, for example a clay book, a calendar, and an abacus, but which also had an abstracted connection with the objects to which they refer. I wrote several short poems in response to Joanna’s ceramics, conversations we had, and textual material she sent me (such as a newspaper cutting about Haitians eating clay plates because they could not afford food).  My poetry also drew on experiences I had independently, which seemed to connect with the project, such as a visit I made to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

I then started to experiment with the video program Final Cut Pro, and with a variety of techniques and processes such as split screens, superimposition and merging of images, and a range of filters for image transformation. Besides the images of the ceramics, I worked with photographs and emails resulting from Joanna’s travels in Zambia and Ethiopia, where she was sponsored by Voluntary Service Overseas to conduct workshops with local communities.  These were very inspiring and suggestive, and seemed to fit well with my own increasing interest in a cosmopolitan poetics,which moves between different cultures in the same work. I adapted some of the poems I had written for the video, often fragmenting and reorganising them in new ways to optimise integration with the visual images, and to exploit the possibilities of the split screen dynamic.

To accompany the video (presented here as a quicktime video), Roger provided a recorded soundscape: it reflects both the violence and love with which clay and ceramics are treated. With one short exception, all the sounds here are found sounds directly involving clay and pots. Several are recordings of Joanna at work, others are of stone/pot interactions recorded by Roger, while a significant selection of the sounds are taken from the freesound online sonic database maintained in Barcelona. Notable amongst these recordings is a five minute recording of clay gradually distributing itself as it hydrates in a body of water, made with an underwater microphone by KG Jones. We would also like to acknowledge, in keeping with the Creative Commons license which applies, the use of material from Benboncan, Heigh, homejrande, NoiseCollector, Robinhood and volivieri.

Clay Conversations, which runs for just over 10 minutes, was first presented at a performance by austraLYSIS at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in December 2009.

Brief Biographies

Hazel Smith is a research professor in the Writing and Society Research Group,  University of Western Sydney. She is author of The Writing Experiment: strategies for innovative creative writing, Allen and Unwin, 2005 which was shortlisted for the Australian Publishing Association Awards for Excellence in Educational Publishing and Hyperscapes in the Poetry of Frank O'Hara: difference, homosexuality, topography, Liverpool University Press, 2000. She is co-author of Improvisation, Hypermedia And The Arts Since 1945, Harwood Academic, 1997, and co-editor with Roger Dean of Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts, Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

Hazel is also a poet, performer and new media artist, and has published three volumes of poetry, three CDs of performance work, and numerous multimedia works.  Her latest volume of creative work, with accompanying CD Rom, is The Erotics of Geography: poetry, performance texts, new media works, Tinfish Press, Kaneohe, Hawaii, 2008. Formerly a professional violinist, she is a member of austraLYSIS, the internationally active sound and intermedia arts group. She has performed her work extensively in the USA, Europe, UK and Australasia; has been co-recipient of numerous grants for austraLYSIS from the Australia Council (including a key organization grant 2000-2004); and has had five large-scale commissions from the ABC. Hazel was the founder editor of infLect, an online international journal of new media writing based at the University of Canberra (2004-6), and is now co-editor with Roger Dean of soundsRite, a journal of new media writing and sound, based at the University of Western Sydney. Her website is at www.australysis.com

Joanna Still was a student at Harrow School of Art in 1974 and has received grants from the Crafts Council and Southern Arts.  Joanna’s work has been exhibited at numerous venues including Southill Park, Bracknell; Countryworks Gallery, Powys; Graham and Green, London; Primavera, Cambridge; Stafford Art Gallery, Staffs;  Designers Guild, London; Rufford Craft Centre, Notts.; Country Living Fair; Collection Gallery, Ledbury; Chelsea Craft Fair; Yew Tree Gallery, Stroud; Loes & Reinier, Deventer, Holland; Black Swan Gallery, Frome; Victoria and Albert Crafts Council Shop, London; Alpha House Gallery, Sherborne; New Art Centre, Roche Court, East Winterslow;  Joanna Bird, London; Bircham Gallery, Norfolk; The Flint Gallery, Norfolk; Eskandar, London, Paris and New York; Sladers Yard, West Bay, Dorset; Rabley Drawing Center,  Marlborough, Wiltshire.

Roger Dean is a composer/improviser, and a research professor in music cognition and computation at the MARCS Auditory Laboratories, University of Western Sydney. He founded and directs the sound and multimedia ensemble austraLYSIS. His creative work is on 30 commercial audio CDs, and he has released numerous digital intermedia pieces. His 400 research publications include seven books in the humanities. Previously he was CEO of the Heart Research Institute, Sydney and then Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Canberra. See more about his creative work at www.australysis.com