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Show RCA 2019

Jennifer Hawthorn

Show RCA work

Major project:

Retained Gestures

My work, Retained Gestures comprises of two films and the clay remnants that emerge from my interaction with the material. The inspiration for working performatively with clay comes from both a fascination with how the material cracks and folds when worked, and a need to be more physically involved in my making process.

I have been exploring simple movements, and how my struggle with the clay is communicated, causing a level of empathy, I have involved my sister in the work; to heighten the feeling of care between the viewer and the art.

For one of the films I have utilised my desk, a space which has caused me anxiety, due not being very productive when sat at it, surrounded by makers. I have transformed the desk for myself, into a playful, productive space. I have used my desk as a plinth for the clay, to enable the viewer to make more of a connection between space, action and material. 


  • I am a ceramic artist whose work includes both performative and object orientated outcomes and processes. 

    My practice has always been informed by an attempt to be physically involved with the clay. Previously this has manifested itself by hand-building figures that reflect the human body. I used differing approaches from using the hand as a surface to build on, to creating large scale sculpture which abstracted parts of human anatomy. 

    The involuntary, unconscious reactions of the viewer have fascinated me since my undergraduate studies in Cardiff, where I used installation art to argue that certain elements within a given environment will trigger the unconscious and cause the viewer to be more aware of reality,

    During my time at the Royal College of Art, I have had the opportunity to expand my making vocabulary. I have experimented with the forms and outcomes. I believe this enables me to explore this relationship in a more engaged and empathetic manner. The act of manipulating clay is now centred within my practice to satisfy a need to be more immersed in the making process. Using film, I capture performative gestures, which exist alongside the physical clay outcomes.

    Within the process of creating the performative gestures that are now central to my work, I explore the relationship between myself and the clay; the weight of the clay, and how it forces my body to do certain things. I create simple movements, such as standing or dropping the clay, and focus on the small subtle ways in which the surface changes – caused by my touch, gravity, and the way the clay sticks in certain places. I do this in order to emphasise the moment between me, the artist, and the material; and the complexity of this relationship.

    I create situations, in which I physically exert myself, to make the viewer feel empathy; drawing on work incorporated into my recent dissertation, about how the spectator in art is often made to pay attention through the use of human struggle. I have studied the work of Elaine Scarry, 'To have pain is to have certainty; to hear about pain is to have doubt'. This argument proposes that, in order to ensure a greater engagement from the spectator, artists must ensure their work generates a level of pain – to give them a chance to feel empathy towards the subject. I discovered that through working with a large amount of clay, and exerting myself, I could elicit feelings of empathy from the viewer.

    Through manipulation, the surface of the clay can be made to look like animal hide, scar tissue or old skin. The forms are often corporeal, retaining the shape of my shoulders, or a moment when my limbs have reached out; the clay is a way for me to leave physical traces. 

    To expand and develop my performative vocabulary, I have been studying the Japanese dance form of Butoh, which emerged after the trauma of WWII, and is heavily influenced by German expressionism. It is a deeply meditative practice that requires intense focus on the body. This exploration has allowed me to learn more about moving my body, while expanding the ways I can interact with clay. Particularly, Butoh has enabled me to develop my focus on the way my body is moving with the clay in the moment.

    The performative gestures in my work are both central and meaningful, and the reason I create them is to see the effect of intuitive actions on the clay. The objects I leave behind are predominantly unfired, creating something that contradicts itself, by being both ephemeral and enduringly valuable. 

    I intend my work to evoke feelings of empathy, in order for the viewer to interact with the work further, by exposing my physical struggle with clay. People can empathise with tiredness and heavy objects. The resulting film and clay remnants of each piece have equal weight, and they speak to each other when displaying them, because the film explains the journey of the object and illustrates the human involvement; showing how my body is distorted by the clay. The raw clay object in turn demonstrates the effect my body has had on the clay.

  • Previous degrees

  • BA Ceramics, Cardiff Metropolitan University, 2016; Foundation Diploma, Leeds College of Art and Design, 2013
  • Experiences

  • Workshop facilitator for the following events and charities, 'Our Place' based at The Dusty Forge, Cardiff, 2016; 'Beyond Borders', event welcoming refugees and discussing asylum, Penarth Pier, Penarth, Wales, 2016; 'Creating your Future', workshop demonstrating opportunities in the arts, secondary schools, South Wales, 2016; 'Hey Clay Day', cob building workshop, BBC Get Creative, Cardiff School of Art and Design, 2015; 'Vicarious Wednesdays', large scale clay workshop, Cardiff School of Art and Design, 2015; 'The Battle of the Red and White Dragons', cob building at Green Man Festival, 2015; 'Arts and Crafts Workshop', The Donovan S. Webster Trust Fund, 2012–2013; 'Clay in the Classroom', St Urban's Primary School, 2012
  • Exhibitions

  • Photography Project Space, Royal College of Art, Battersea, London, 2019; Miscellany, Preston Fitzgerald's, London, 2019; Beyond the Body, RCA Battersea, London, 2018; Ceramics and Glass Work in Progress Show, RCA Battersea, London, 2018; The Body Electric, RCA Battersea, London, 2017; RESIDENCIES; Tracks in the Flats with Alexandra Engelfriet, The Dollard, Netherlands, 2018; Butoh Retreat with Marie Gabrielle Rotie, The Dale Peninsula, Pembrokeshire, 2018; Large Scale Clay, Erasmus placement at Gothenburg University, 2015
  • Collaborators

  • Jennifer Hawthorn, Catherine Hawthorn
Royal College of Art