Conor Wilson

PhD Work

Writing_Making: Object as body, language and material

The structure for my research has emerged from an interaction with three sites – home, studio and exhibition space. Each site generates a different form of encounter between body, space and material, which is explored through a series of writing, making and display experiments. 

The central ethos of Ceramics (and all Applied Arts disciplines) is that knowledge can be gained and meaning generated through a direct engagement with materials - the development of specialised material knowledge and specialised embodied knowledge (i.e. skills) shapes the way we interpret and produce the world. While my project is grounded in making, the research process has led to the development of methods that pursue the ‘what if?’ of writing as making and making as writing; a play between word-based thinking and material thinking. What can one activity tell us about the other and what might this comparison contribute to new ways of thinking about making and materials?

A turn away from language and the human mind as the dominant (or only) determinants of reality can be identified within many disciplines including Philosophy and Literature, reflecting a growing (re)acceptance of objects as having agency in the world. Graham Harman’s work in Object Oriented Ontology develops Heideggerian phenomenology by doing away with the distinction between subject and object and extending the definition of object to include things that might previously have been thought of as natural phenomena, composite objects, or subjects (e.g. a storm, an exhibition, a person). What Harman retains is Heidegger’s sense of objects as being withdrawn - we can never fully know them, but the attempt to know other objects is the ‘strife’ of reality, the attempt to know the world.

My aim is not to produce well-made, ‘original’ objects, but to draw attention to the intimate engagement between body and material that is making; to rethink the value of this specialised material knowledge through attention to facture and new thinking on subject-object relations.  Reflecting Timothy Morton’s identification of rhetoric as a means of contacting the ‘strange stranger’, my project explores facture as a means of thinking the body as a (strange) object within a mesh of strange objects. 

Supervisors: Alison Britton and Jonathan Miles


  • conor wilson
  • PhD


    School of Fine Art


    Ceramics & Glass, 2010–2014

  • Materials and facture - the way something is made - are not neutral. The decision to produce slowly, by hand, in an increasingly industrialised world is political. Rather than develop ‘new’ materials, or processes, the aim of my research is to develop methods that allow a rethinking of old materials and processes. How might Craft concerns intersect with those of other disciplines? How might language open up the relationship between body and resistant material? The difficulty of this relationship is accepted and embraced. I produce slowly and I produce little, allowing me to reflect on the significance of what I am doing and the resources being used. What is made is made - there are no seconds, no waste.

     My principal research method is copying. This allows me to concentrate on the relationship between body and material without clouding the water with the fiction of originality. I start with seemingly simple things and try to open them up to perception, to “retard perception and render it reflexive”, in the words of Niklas Luhmann. The starting point for the final exhibition is one bag of porcelain. It is hollowed out (laboriously) and as many cup copies as can be made from the insides will be displayed with the excavated block.

     The documentation necessary to practice-based research has become, to an extent, the work itself. Photographic and written records of making become the basis for speculative forays into moving image and creative writing. Feedback loops are set up: make - record - write - display - make. This exhibition is part of a loop, an attempt to explore display as a means of thinking and generating dialogue about facture and embodied knowledge, about media and their supports.

     My ultimate aims are to generate cross-disciplinary dialogue about the value of making, to develop new ways of interacting with potential audiences and to identify thinking that might be engaged with to expand the boundaries of craft practice.  For a while now, I’ve been puzzling over how the practicalities of making a living might intersect with the possibilities of gift exchange. All the cups produced will be given away, carefully.

    Exhibition blog at

  • Degrees

  • BA (Hons) 3D Design (Ceramics), Bristol Polytechnic (UWE), 1991, 1st Class; MA Ceramics, Cardiff School of Art & Design, 1992
  • Awards

  • Jerwood Makers Prize 2010
  • Conferences

  • digit_digital: Ceramic surface as site of meaningful conflict, ‘Parallels and Connections. International conference on postgraduate research in ceramics and glass’, National Glass Centre, Sunderland University, 2011; “You can use clay, but you can’t do ceramics”: Some thoughts on why Ceramics isn´t Sculpture, 'Ceramics and Sculpture: Different Disciplines and Shared Concerns', National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, 05.07.12 ; Object_Text_Object (with Amanda Game), London Conference in Critical Thought (New Materialities), Royal Holloway, University of London, 07 June 2013.; Writing_Making, 'So Far, So Good' (RCA Research Conference), Royal College of Art, 10.01.14