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Embodying Transformation

Christie Brown


In 1997 I was commissioned by the Women’s Playhouse Trust to make a body of work for the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station in London. This exhibition eventually emerged in the year 2000 after some delays, due to the very ambitious project the WPT was engaged in to transform this derelict industrial building into an art space. The exhibition was the most challenging body of work I had ever produced and the overall title of the show was Fragments of Narrative. This title encapsulates many of the ideas and themes which I continue to address in my ceramic practice.

My figurative practice relates to discourses from archaeology and psychoanalysis and the symbolic parallel between these disciplines. The archaeological process can be compared to psychoanalysis, in which layer after layer is carefully stripped away in search of a fragmented truth which can offer insight and knowledge or transformation and healing. Fragments of statuary and pottery shards provide us with information about the past. From the academies of the early Renaissance to contemporary museology the study of these archaic scraps offer knowledge, a way of learning, and provide us with stories about our ancestors, however incomplete these narratives may be.

Inspired by narratives that make reference to myths of creation, and objects from burial sites which embody rites of passage, my work connects to the viewer through the overlap between the personal and the universal. While exploring the transformative qualities of clay and the metaphorical associations of the casting process, it exploits the material’s capacity to receive an imprint, connecting to ideas about mimesis and the patterns of repetition in human life.

In many ways I view my practice as embodiments of transition from one state to another, of transformation and individuation, and I would like to present two series of work made over the last six years which illustrate these ideas.

After many years of making single decorative objects I found myself drawn to the idea of working within a themed series which began with The Cast of Characters between 1993 and 1997 when I was seeking new techniques that would develop the successful but potentially formulaic method of working that I had established during the 1980s and, more importantly, would facilitate a clearer form of expression for my ideas beyond the decorative and ornamental. Although still related in many ways to the work of that period, the pair of figures entitled The Philadelphia Twins (fig. 1), made in 1991, was a significant development in which two figures were conceived as one work and given a title that related to narrative and memory. From this piece The Cast of Characters grew (fig. 2), drawing on my dream world and referencing my early interest in theatre. The series aimed to establish a discourse with the overlap between personal and universal characterization through the use of the Jungian idea of the archetype as a collection of inner models which reflect shared behaviour patterns and form the content of the collective unconscious. In this series earlier Classical and Renaissance influences gave way to the study of more archaic cultures and an increasing interest in the significance of archaic artefacts. But my interest in the parallel between psychoanalysis and archaeology only really began in the specially commissioned exhibition ‘Fragments of Narrative’ at Wapping.


The commission was to make a body of work in response to this large industrial site by the Thames (fig. 3). The scale of the space was daunting and challenging. The structure of the main interior echoed a Romanesque church with high windows and columns, and the whole site was filled with the traces and memories of its previous existence as a place where steam power was generated to animate bridges and lifts. This was my first experience of making work that required a response to a particular site, and it enabled me to broaden out my ideas beyond the personal and subjective.

The outcome included three large wall installations and two groups of ceramic figures. The life-size figures, made either from red brick clay or stoneware painted white to echo the colours of the brick and tiled walls, were inspired by characters from myths of creation such as Prometheus and stories about animate and inanimate beings like the Golem, which connected both to the archetypal language of the material and to the original use of the space as a source of power. Prometheus (fig. 4) created the human race out of clay and defied Zeus to bring us the secret of fire. Golem (fig. 5) is a legendary figure from fifteenth-century eastern Europe, a large clay man made by a holy rabbi to help him to save his people from persecution. Golem lies on the ground and can only be animated by placing the name of god into his clay mouth.


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The Threshold of the Real: Canalizing the Body as Object Art

by Tessa Adams

Embodying Transformation

by Christie Brown

Heads and Bodies: Fragments and Restoration

by Jeanne Cannizzo

Partial Figures and Psychic Unease: an Artist’s Perspective

by Wilma Cruise

Presence and Absence: edited transcript of presentation

by David Cushway

From Fragments to Icons: Stages in the Making and Exhibiting of the Casts of Pompeian Victims, 1863–1888

by Eugene Dwyer

EVENTual BodieSpaces

by Fiona Fell

Material Evidence: Use of the Figurative Fragment in the Construction of a Social Sculptural Subject

by Sheila Gaffney

Things of Nature Unknown

by Edith Garcia

Mapping Figure and Material: Some Remarks on Fragment and Material in Modern and Contemporary Sculpture

by Arie Hartog

Giuseppe Spagnulo: Material > < Body = Form > < Idea

by Lisa Hockemeyer

Cut, Torn, and Pasted: a Female Perspective

by Charlotte Hodes

Cheating Time

by Doug Jeck

Watchers and Memory

by Alison Lochhead

Fragments and Repetition: Extending the Narrative of Sculptural Installation

by Virginia Maksymowicz

The Body Undone: Fragmentation in Process

by Babette Martini

Visualizing Mortality: Robert Arneson’s Chemo Portraits

by Mary Drach McInnes

Interrogating the Human Figure in Bridging the Ceramic-Sculpture Divide: Practice in Nigeria

by Tonie Okpe

Ceramic Sculptures by Wilma Cruise: Fragments and Feminist Transgressions

by Brenda Schmahmann

Figuratively Speaking

by Shelley Wilson

The Obsolete Body

by Gavin Younge

Touching the Body: A Ceramic Possibility

by Bonnie Kemske

Embodying Transformation • Issue 8