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Fiona Fell, Ceramics in collaboration - Ceramics, plastic and digital media

Fiona Fell's ceramic work offers up figures in clay that give priority to the internal gesture, contemplating the emotive forces that determine life's destiny on both a grand and minute scale. Working with Lyndall Adams, since 2005, Fiona Fell collaborates with Adams to find connection in the installation of reload: one night stack at the Grafton Regional Gallery (May to July 2011). Here vitrified clay figures reflect in the surfaces of polished aluminum and are absorbed by transparent glossy plastic. Fell explores a process of collaboration where the procedures of art making are shared, interrupted, redesigned and re-negotiated as part of the sustainability of her practice.

Fiona Fell

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Fiona Fell, Ceramics in collaboration - Ceramics, plastic and digital media

Reload: one night stack, an exhibition at Grafton Gallery from May to July 2011, is the consequence my collaboration with Lyndall Adams, my third since 2005. In this manifestation, we attempt to reload aspects of our work, while stacking decisions made by both makers.

I see collaboration as a process where the procedures of art making are shared, interrupted, redesigned and re-negotiated, a form of modus vivendi1 if you will.  Be it in the studio, a residency or in teaching practice, it has been my passion over the last ten years to explore the possibilities of collaboration.  This collaboration has involved dialogues between my own discipline of ceramic sculpture, and artists working in performance, animation, digital art and video.  I am interested in exploring the relationships and underpinnings in the collaborations with ceramic sculptural design.

Engagement with the collaborative process has enabled me to step outside of my secure zone, the familiar ground in which one operates. This has facilitated an awareness of what outcomes are possible when working in conjunction with a collaborator from outside one’s general area of practice.

 Association and development of various projects have allowed me to gain skills and knowledge not normally associated with my chosen field and has shifted the way I approach my art practice.  It is part of how I negotiate and re-negotiate the sustainability of my practice.

Figurative sculpture, narrative and uncomfortable strangeness
Making figurative sculpture for me is a constant negotiation of changeable terrain, sometimes under a deluge of unpredictable forces and natural disasters. 

Within each work, when following the material process of manipulating clay through to vitrification and the various surface treatments employed; I attempt to capture a particular poetic moment.  This moment is often not a pleasurable moment but an uncomfortable strangeness that forms a voice of its own and has an urgency to be told. 

I attempt to use surface rendering and the manipulation of the physical property of material to expose deeper perspectives via a narrative. The narrative is often a murky reminder of our own faults, our own humility, weaknesses that transcribe into the importance of measuring our own scars of passage. 

Plastic and aluminium: hope and redemption in the every day
In contrast, my collaborator, Lyndall Adams, in the Reload: one night stack exhibition, responds with stories of hope and redemption or stories where hope and redemption are imagined or imaged. Adams creates a schism between images, surfaces and patinas (her own and mine), allowing the viewer to arrive not at a single medium or image but at continual mediation between images, producing stories that bridge the gap between media. 

Sourced from everyday materials such as plastic and aluminum, Adams uses commercial processes usually associated with industrial manufacturing to apply printing techniques Adams’ arts-practice speaks to the day-to-day running of the lived body in a state of flux, defined and redefined by changing practices and discourses.  Her practice is reliant on loaded images and materials that have multiple meaning and readings. 

I am trying to capture the complexities of everyday emotional life by my choice of images.  Figures resonate with me.  The images I use are from a time I do not remember.  They are images encumbered with cultural baggage available for various readings.  Fiona’s works on the other hand are raw emotional fields.  They respond to my imagery not by continuing along a linear and possibly idyllic life path for my protagonists but to their ultimate failure and distress.
(Lyndall Adams, Reload: one night stack exhibition, Artists’ Statement, 2011)

Much has happened in our lives recently.  Lyndall finds herself in Perth, on the western coast of Australia, uprooted from the waters of Lake Wooloweyah, near the Clarence River in northern New South Wales and with directional vertigo, looking east to her old life and west to the Indian Ocean.  I found myself in a sudden state of insecurity with job and home changes, alone after a break up - with only my  work once again to make sense of my world … picking thorns from my foot … unravelling the matted felt … time to start again.

I joined Lyndall for a month over the summer of 2010-11.  The distance between us had taken on new meaning. Working in a call and response conversation across this vast land each of us contributed to create characters seesawing in conversation with themselves … spinning out of control … pondering the oceans vastness … picking at our scabs … swimming in the rain … and trying to reconnect with a world in turmoil. 

Together we explored mark making - borrowed from each other’s arts-practice - to describe the vast distance we suddenly find between ourselves.  It was also an attempt to capture the studio processes we entered into. 

During a period of collaboration, debates surrounding self-portraiture and representation were unwrapped.  We intended to investigate the idea of collaboration between artists being somehow an issue of interactions between bodies, performance, emergence and becoming.

Working together, we found connection in the installation of reload: one night stack. .  We both explored commitment and conviction to the private moment, and re-imagined outcomes that expanded our individual fields of potential.  My vitrified clay figures reflect in the surfaces of Adams’polished aluminum and are absorbed by transparent glossy plastic. 

Collaborations of mixed media and new technology: select and save
Collaborations of mixed media and new technology are already a strongly established practice in the wider arena of contemporary arts. In academia, it is common practise for institutionally ensconced individuals to look beyond the restrictions of their chosen work fields and to deliver their wealth of knowledge into a larger landscape.

 The potential of interdisciplinary practices results in numerous negotiations and outcomes creating new arenas for discussion surrounding art-making processes. A significant outcome is an enhanced ideological and conceptual framework that enables the making of new objects.

As ceramic artists, we collaborate with the earth, fire and water. There are constant negotiations with each stage of the process to produce the object. Through many years engaged in these negotiations I have come to question the ontology of these objects and ask (as many have before), how we may arrive at the object with more ambiguity and how processes such as collaboration assist in opening up our own field of potentiality.

What seems to be an incongruous relationship between new media and the hand-made has re-ignited my interest in the material of clay and the making of forms.   Consequently, I aim to realize the potencies of all of these collaborative aspects and fuse them together as a vitrified entity that takes the form of a wiser object, an object that brings life back into the process of its making.

In 2010, when I collaborated with Adams in a show, ‘select and save’ at the Tweed Regional Gallery, New South Wales, we explored mark-making in various media as well as investigating domestic and industrial materials that mimicked the architectural spaces of the gallery, with a focus on clay marks and coils.

Through digital manipulation, Adams created a backdrop of landscapes, made of clay marks and coils, a landscape in which clay rain drives a young woman from her home creating clay coil barriers too hard to climb, or falling from the sky in an attempt to impale the silhouette of the ceramic figure.

Tension is created between the figures.  The works are simultaneously playful and overwrought, creating an uneasy anxiety in the viewers as they attempt to unravel the nature of the relationship between figures.  The use of the coils in the installation exposes the actual method of making the clay figures.

Autonomous objects, fragmented and modified in ‘EVENTual BodieSpaces’
A masters paper I completed in 2000, EventualBodieSpaces, whilst consolidating the essential nature of my work, also gave me the opportunity to question a broader range of issues related to the genre of figuration in ceramics.

The single autonomous object started to cause me conflict, and dealing with the intense internal narration and emotive forces in my work demanded attention. I had once again been challenged to create dialogue between objects and be concerned with spatial dynamics. I also questioned how a space could be opened up through the object to offer a richer experience for the audience. These enquiries have become a by-product that I now bring to collaboration

EVENTual BodieSpaces was a series of works and related papers that focused on the reciprocal relationship between the performative body in and around an affective space that I created in 2000, accompanied by an installation of porcelain figurines in a structural environment at Object Gallery, Customs House, Circular Quay, Sydney.  I investigated the fragmentation of the figure. I asked the questions, ‘What happens to meaning when the body is fragmented or modified by architectural elements and structural devices?’

Shown in 3 different spaces, one space showed thirty-five figures on a 12 metre single shelf on a wall. Reminiscent of an ancient language of gesture and narration, the work explores a new form of gesturing using negative space. It looks at the way the body houses emotions and the memory of events. In the second installation space, departing from plinths, sets of industrial scaffolding, trellises, and planks created a spatial sequence that constituted a specific environment to construct narrative, as a direct result of the interactivity between the figures and the space.

The work The Only Ember provides an example of how concepts concerning narration and the role of the fictive body are employed in my work. This piece was made as a response to the refugees of Kosovo who had returned to their homes after the fighting to find their houses destroyed and burnt to the ground.

The Only Ember is significant as a transitional piece as it divides the body into spaces that suggest a building or site where significant drama has taken place. The figure is constructed like the exoskeleton of a house that has just burnt down. It is held together by a small golden figure standing inside the skeletal form; the burnt chair is the only remaining piece of furniture.  In this example, the figure becomes a vehicle for telling stories in the way it uses key symbols as a narration device in combination with surface. The visual devices I have used to open up the forms, assessing the inside volume of the pieces, help to introduce psychological fragmentation as a major component of the work.

Performance: Butoh and Noh Theatre, Andrea Robbia, Foundling (1487) and Michael Girard, Dancing Baby (1997)
A work period and residency in Toki, Gifu prefecture, Japan as an International Guest Artist in 1997, brought me close to Butoh and Noh theatre where ghostly deities and animistic traditions made a continuing impression on me. Butoh, which is generally considered to be a performance art, also speaks of body as fiction. This concept is extended to embrace notions of culturalbodymemory and addresses the issue of how narrative is manifested through the interactivity of the corporeal and the metaphysical.

Butoh philosophy rebels against the domesticated body. Rather than restricting the body to the routines and spatial constraints of an interior, its aim is to create a form that can embody the emotional forces that determine our lives on both a grand and minute scale.

Around this time, on a visit to Italy, in the late-nineties,   I was re-acquainted with the work of Luca Della Robbia and  a piece by his wife, Andrea, Foundling in Swaddled Clothes (1487), positioned above an entrance to an apartment at via Tournabourni in Florence, Tuscany.

From this image I was overcome with a sense of continuity as only a year or so before I attended a series of art and technology workshops where Michael Girard, the designer of the animation Baby Dance 1 introduced his new work in 1997. The dancing baby and Robbia’s Foundling display obvious similarities in the way both infants exude an adult awareness of stance and movement. The classical and virtual examples of Della Robbia’s Foundling and Baby Dance 1 reinforce the need to re-evaluate images and the spaces that define them.

The example of the dancing baby, which finds its context in a virtual space, led me to explore the computer and 3D programs as a tool for designing figures. This trajectory led me to look at both contemporary directions in installation as well as how figurative ceramic elements have been integrated into architectural contexts.

Symbiotic relationships and new thresholds
Every artist is loaded with an embedded logic that defines his or her practice. The collaborative process may turn out to be a dirty word where each party can become defeated and disrespected, like in any relationship, if not handled well. Communication, coordination and co-operation are sensible guidelines to adhere to and if they are followed by inquisitiveness and respect for the collaborating partners practice then; a symbiotic relationship is the result.

For me, collaboration with interdisciplinary practice has resulted in numerous negotiations and outcomes, and opened up new arenas for discussion surrounding my art-making processes. A significant outcome has been an alternative framework that sustains my practice.  It has enabled the making of new objects within an enhanced ideology that I might not have realised if I had not negotiated and engaged in that collaboration.

I intend to continue this practice utilising collaborations as an integral component to my design process in the making of ceramic sculptures.

Each new show or, dare I say, body of work, hopefully marks another shift in my learning and provides me with enough challenges for the future in negotiating the complexities and richness that this field has to offer.  I consider my practice to be at an exciting threshold where I can move between the making of figurative works that have conviction to the private moment and collaboration with other artists that engage with processes of re-imagined outcomes.

My committed relationship to a commercial gallery in Sydney, Watters Gallery, with a show coming up on 5 October, allows me the opportunity to return to the figurative work, the wiser object , which is informed by the possibility of new surfaces, new narratives, dialogue and relationships to other pieces. 

My response to Lyndall  Adams’ images, of her silhouettes, has allowed me to explore metaphorical landscape which will be the base from which I will present the new show.


Fiona Fell is Co-ordinator of 3D, Ceramics and Sculpture, School of Art and Social Sciences, Southern Cross University.

 Fiona Fell is represented by Watters Gallery, Ryley Street, East Sydney.


This paper was based on earlier research, statements and presentations for:

  • Lyndall Adams & Fiona Fell: reload: one night stack, Grafton Regional Gallery, 25 May – 3 July, 2011
  • Fiona Fell, From one place to another: Lugging molecules, Australian Ceramics, 50/1 April 2011
  • Lyndall Adams & Fiona Fell, ‘select and save’ at the Tweed Regional Gallery, New South Wales, 2010
  • Fiona Fell, Collaboration as a design tool for ceramics sculpture, Australian Ceramics Triennial, Sydney, 2009

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1. modus vivendi – a situation where you are forced to work with each other.

2. The emphasis on “between” in this context relies on Merleau Ponteau’s notions that any understand of the word " between" only has meaning if it is from our experience as embodied subjects (Noë and Thompson, 2002).




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Updated: 27 November 2015