Museums and the ‘Interstices of Domestic Life’: Re-articulating Domestic Space in Contemporary Ceramics Practice Laura Gray Abstract

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Museums and the ‘Interstices of Domestic Life’: Re-articulating Domestic Space in Contemporary Ceramics Practice
Laura Gray


Those museums that have formerly been private houses, albeit houses that are somewhat out of the ordinary, and whose interiors have been preserved, are a particularly interesting type of museum. They provide a unique art historical frame for the objects displayed within. The distinctive hybrid domestic-museum environment offered by former homes such as Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, High Cross House in Devon, Blackwell Arts and Craft House in the Lake District, has become of interest to certain artists working in the medium of clay. For some, the museum is also the medium1, with the result that the engagement between ceramics and curatorial practice concerned with ideas centring on the domestic has become an important theme in contemporary ceramics. This article investigates how Edmund de Waal, Clare Twomey and Anders Ruhwald have used multiples, installation, and site sensitivity to address the relationship between contemporary ceramics practice and domestic space, or the idea of domestic space, as a frame for, and a participating element in, their work. This article is a revised and extended version of the paper ‘No Place Like Home: Curating Ceramics in House Museums’, delivered at the 45th Annual NCECA Conference in Florida, April 2011.


Edmund de Waal, Clare Twomey, Anders Ruhwald, domestic, exhibitions

Ceramics and Domestic Space

There are two main strands to the history of displaying ceramics in domestic space prior to the twentieth century: the porcelain rooms of palaces and stately homes; and the more familiar type of domestic space in which most people encounter ceramics– the kitchen dresser, the mantelpiece, ornaments clustered on tables and shelves. Drawing attention to the princely palace or stately home as a site for the display of ceramics serves only to remind us that historically, there have been instances where high status examples of such work, porcelain particularly, have been exhibited in high status domestic space, an environment also considered eminently suitable for the display of paintings and sculpture. Such palaces, of course, served a public, even a state function, as well as containing more private domestic space. In the modern and post-modern periods, the home has been both an important and an undervalued location for encountering art, particularly ceramics. Important because domestic space is the traditional site for encountering ceramics, and undervalued because of an understanding of domestic space as a female sphere, functional associations, the financial value of objects, and the small scale required for display in the home.2 Nonetheless, certain artists working with clay have chosen to reengage their practice with the domestic – either in terms of the exhibiting site or through engagement with ideas. This article endeavours to understand how and why artists working with clay have sought to return their work to a domestic context or create an association with a type of location that through the modern period was constructed as the antithesis of serious art.

The exhibition A Secret History of Clay: From Gauguin to Gormley (Tate Liverpool, 2004) touched on ideas relating to ceramics and the domestic. Amy Dickson, who worked on the exhibition as assistant curator explained in an interview conducted in 2010 how ideas around the domestic were explored in the exhibition:
traditionally the ceramic vessel is an object that is of the private sphere of everyday domestic life and this show was showing it as a public practice, so I think it was also about this clash between public and private spheres. And the last room was very much about taking it back to a sense of the private and a consideration of how the practice fits with that.3
The final room of the exhibition, which showed a Cindy Sherman tea set, ceramics by Jeff Koons, ceramic brooms by Richard Slee, and a version of Edmund de Waal’s Porcelain Wall, presented ceramic practices that had reengaged with the domestic environment, but prioritized the concept of the domestic over the physical location of the home. The restitution of the domestic as an element in a strand of contemporary ceramics can be seen to indicate a practice that has developed beyond the straightforwardly functional, even when works reference the domestic and take the form of theoretically utilitarian objects such as de Waal’s vessels or Sherman’s tea set. Though these works might reference domestic objects or the home, they behave squarely as art objects, rather than things to be used.
Tanya Harrod suggests that ceramics have, as participants in the fluctuating relationship between art, craft and the home, ‘over the centuries, carried all kinds of high and low art references into the domestic space’.4 Colin Painter writes in the catalogue for his exhibition At Home With Art (Tate Britain, 1999), that ‘distinctions between the functional and non-functional are often blurred. It is in this combination of roles and meanings that art can become part of life’.5 This article sets out to demonstrate that the work of Edmund de Waal, Clare Twomey and Anders Ruhwald takes advantage of this blurring and combining of roles to test and experiment with the expected role of ceramics in relation to the domestic.
The Separation of Art and the Home

From the early twentieth century, in the wake of the Arts and Crafts movement, domestic space was repositioned ‘as the antipode to high art’.6 Christopher Reed quotes Russian artist Alexandr Rodchenko as saying, ‘the art of the future will not be the cosy decoration of family homes’.7 Reed goes on to suggest Dada and Surrealist artists too, with their fascination with the uncanny habitually ‘appropriated the accoutrements of domesticity in ways that undermined connotations of homey comfort, while the theoreticians of these movements sustained the anti-domestic rhetoric of earlier modernists’.8 So where does the powerful modernist rejection of the domestic, and objects with domestic connotations, leave ceramics, particularly vessels, whose suggestion of function makes the home a natural place to encounter them? If serious art has been banished from the home, what does this mean for the status and perception of ceramics that continue to use vessel forms and so persist in their domestic associations? Even the human scale of most vessel-based ceramics is sufficient to align them with the domestic. Mark Rothko, echoing Rodchenko, announced in the New York Times that his art ‘must insult anyone who is spiritually attuned to interior decoration; pictures for the home; pictures for over the mantel’.9

In answer to the call from some artists, including Rodchenko and Rothko, for art not be brought into contact with the everyday (often the scale of works inhibited display in homes), and as part of the desire to find a new kind of space for encountering art, the stark modernism of the ‘white cube’ gallery emerged in the 1920s and 1930s. In America, 1929 saw the establishment of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. MoMA’s founding director, Alfred Barr, did not select the paintings for the museums inaugural exhibition, but he did install them. Barr covered the walls with a natural coloured cloth and eliminated the salon style of hanging paintings. This type of installation looks rather unexceptional now, as this manner of presenting paintings has become so conventional that its significance is completely invisible. But the exhibition contributed to the introduction of a particular type of installation that came to dominate museum practices, whereby the language of display articulates a modernist, seemingly autonomous aestheticism.10 MoMA’s 1934 exhibition Machine Art is an example of the simple, spare, pared-down aesthetic which became, and remains, the standard environment in which to view art. This type of presentation of art was a part of the new methodology of display. The development of ‘white cube’ spaces for the display of art facilitated a severance of art from the domestic elements that had previously been found in exhibition spaces (such as seating, or the ‘country house’ approach to the display of artworks which incorporated richly coloured walls and dense hangs of paintings). Yet, despite the stark, white spaces of the modern art gallery having become synonymous with the display of art that has ‘intellectual significance’, artists working with clay have, over the last decade, returned to the domestic environment. Ceramics, after attempts in some quarters to distance the medium from its domestic associations, returned to the home. Artists such as Clare Twomey and Edmund de Waal, with an artistic practice that engages with installation, and the site-sensitive or site-specific, have, on a number of occasions, chosen house museums as a site for their work. In such instances, the house museum not only offers a frame for the work, but becomes part of the work itself. Though in England the concept of the public visiting great houses to see their art collections while the owners were away isn’t new, what has changed is the way that artists are actively using the space in which their work is located. The work does not sit passively, but has an active relationship with the environment that it inhabits.

Contemporary Ceramics and a Reengagement with Domestic Space

The distinction between the ‘thing’ and the ‘object’ is the pivot on which an understanding of the role that contemporary ceramics can play in a domestic setting turns. Louise Mazanti writes of the difference between thing and object, arguing that:

objects perform a role as aesthetically and formally privileged artefacts independent of time and situation…The thing, on the other hand, belongs to the mundane world of function, actions, drifting meanings, attachments and situations.11
She continues, considering object and thing in relation to perception and interpretation,
in the first case the object controls the situation, in the second, we determine the use and destiny of the thing. The identity of the object is much more insecure than the identity of the thing.12
In this instance, Mazanti is shaping her ideas in relation to the work of Anders Ruhwald, for whose exhibition catalogue her essay was written. The key difference that Mazanti identifies between object and thing is the source of meaning and whether that comes from within or without.
The meaning of the thing is defined by context, situation and subjects. The object rejects this fixation. It allows possible meanings, but keeps an enigmatic layer to itself. In short; the thing is a ‘thing’; something we know – the object is a stranger; a piece of art.13
The work of both Edmund de Waal and Anders Ruhwald explores the difference between thing and object, and in doing so, disrupts expectation, including the expectation of the conceptual boundaries of artist practice that uses ceramics as a source of meaning and material. The use of domestic imagery, association or location further destabilises the expectations that surround ceramics, particularly vessels. As the work of de Waal demonstrates, the vessel has returned to the domestic environment, but it is a changed vessel, and it is occupying the space on its own terms. There has been a transition from thing to object that allows pots to sit in domestic space but speak the language of sculpture, rather than the language of craft and utility. In the case of de Waal, domestic space has become the site for a more sculptural ceramics practice, a practice that undermines distinctions between sculpture and functional objects.
In the aftermath of the modernist insistence of the separation of the home and the display of art, de Waal has successfully reasserted the domestic environment as a legitimate site of encounter with his artistic practice. This repositioning can be seen as having two stages: firstly, encouraging a rethinking of work in clay as part of the mainstream of visual art, and secondly, returning to the domestic environment with this work, not with, for example, what Reed refers to as the ironic detachment of the Pop artists (Roy Lichenstein’s ceramic dinnerware), but with a careful consideration of the space, light and history of the setting, and the movement of the viewer around that space. Edmund de Waal and Clare Twomey have thoughtfully and effectively used the public-private space of house museums for their installations. The installation-like nature of their work uses to advantage what Gill Perry identifies as the fluid nature of the viewer’s experience when encountering installation art, in contrast to ‘the clearly defined object in the white cube’.14 In a domestic space, even one that has become a museum, more layers of meaning are possible. Encountering their work in such setting is not simply about attractive placement. For de Waal and Twomey, the museum becomes part of the medium. Largely as a consequence of de Waal’s success in working in this way, the engagement between ceramics and curatorial practice that occurs in the practice of those artists that use the house museum has become an important strand of practice in contemporary ceramics, particularly for those artists who work in the vessel/installation/sculpture continuum.

Twomey is less focused on the vessel form than de Waal, though one of her most powerful works to date, Monument (mima, Middlesborough Institute of ModernArt, 2009), was made up of a towering heap of domestic ware, which demonstrated not only the powerful effect of massed objects, but the sense of disquiet that seeing broken plates and cups could cause. Monument was testament to the continued relevance of the vessel in a greatly expanded ceramics practice. Twomey has also created a number of works specifically for house museums. In 2009 she was commissioned to create a work to form part of an exhibition that celebrated the tercentenary of the birth of English lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson. Twomey’s work Scribe was displayed as part of the exhibition House of Words at Dr Johnson's House. Beneath a layer of pale blue dust there lies books, paper, quills as if the users of these writing materials have abandoned them at a time of great activity, and have simply never returned. This installation that Twomey created in the garret room of the house pays homage to the six assistants who supported Johnson in his work on his Dictionary of the English Language. The thick layer of blue dust that covers the books, feather quills and stacked papers was created from Wedgwood blue Jasper clay.

[Fig. 1 Clare Twomey, ‘Scribe’, The House of Words, Dr Johnson’s House, London

Summer 2006. Photographer - MJ Kelly.]

Twomey has used blue Jasper clay in her work before, as dust and to make objects. This particular type of clay opens up the work to numerous possible associated meanings. There are shared associations between Wedgwood and Johnson, two great figures of eighteenth century England, who both came from the Midlands. The poignancy of abandoned writing materials left, Miss Havisham-like, to accumulate dust. And the dust itself, creating an association with a struggling ceramics industry, mothballed factories and lost skills. Twomey’s dialogue with the house does not acknowledge the space as a domestic environment, though it was, for a period, both home and workplace for Johnson when compiling his Dictionary. Where de Waal would have perhaps pursued an engagement with architecture and space, Twomey engages with the memories contained within the building. A connection with the ephemeral made with an ephemeral material. Though she does not ignore the history of the building, Twomey’s work uses the house museum and its history as a starting point for the exploration of more universal strands of thought, such as memory and the passing of time. Her use of dust, butterflies, flowers and birds as motifs in her work evidence these themes, which display a Keatsean preoccupation with transience and permanence. A recent installation by Twomey, A Dark Day in Paradise, which is made up of thousands of ceramic butterflies, was created for the Royal Pavilion in Brighton in 2010. Twomey’s three thousand black-glazed ceramic butterflies swarmed, hovered and rested in the decadent interior of the dining room of this exotic royal pleasure palace, built in stages for the Prince Regent, later King George IV, between 1787 and 1823.

[Fig. 2 Clare Twomey, ‘A Dark Day In Paradise’, The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, 8 June 2010 – 16 January 2011. Photographer - Matthew Andrews.]

Not wholly gorgeous to encounter, the glistening black butterflies are transformed into something more unsettling as they crawl over the fruit on the dining table. Twomey has described her concept for this piece as being that a swarm of unsavoury but very beautiful butterflies have landed in the pavilion and they’re judging it in some way. Twomey also explained the cloud of butterflies as a romantic image, which have become part of the inescapable, and at time overwhelming, romance of the building.15 Her idea was to try to embed them, to give the impression that they’ve always been there and unsettle the visitors who are unsure whether the butterflies are part of the historic interior: an enterprise that could only have taken place in a building with as extravagant an interior as this one. Twomey described the pavilion as a very difficult environment to make for because the interior of the building is so overwhelming; making competing with the decoration for the visitor’s attention almost impossible. Nevertheless, the building, with its particular history and associations, allowed her work to have a dialogue in a very particular language that only exists there, in that building. And it is that particular dialogue, the collaborative element, different in every one of the house museums that makes such places rich collaborative partners for contemporary ceramics practice.

Edmund de Waal: Interventions in domestic space

Edmund de Waal’s invitation to exhibit his work at High Cross House in 1999, led to an architectural intervention, or installation, of a kind that was new for ceramic practice. High Cross House in Devon, completed in 1932, is a modernist house that was built for William Curry, the first headmaster of Dartington Hall School. At the time of de Waal’s project it was open as a visitor attraction, but now is available to rent as a modernist holiday home. The opportunity to engage with the Le Corbusier inspired environment of High Cross House, complete with Bauhaus furniture, allowed de Waal to extend ideas that were already present in his ‘cargo’ works – groupings, repetition, concealment and revelation.

De Waal began to make work that he called cargoes in order to question the assumption that it was not possible to be a serious contemporary artist and make pots.16 He called these groups of pots cargoes to emphasize the fact that they were groups, they were multiples - not just the single pot - but also that they were in transit in some kind of way between different cultures – between East and West, but also between art and craft, between sculpture and ceramics. Part of his experimentation with the cargo works was to start putting them in interesting and diverse places, trying to work out why groups of vessels, groups of pots had particular kinds of energy or resonance when they were in particular places. De Waal has said that he was really just trying to experiment with the life of pots, and this idea took hold so that his practice became about making things for places:

It wasn’t just about plonking them on tables, it was more about the discovery of them in those places, so I put them in cupboards or on the ground or high up so you could only just get a sense of them. I was really just trying to experiment with the life of pots, and that’s really taken me over. I now feel that that is my practice: I make things for places.17

The installation at High Cross House was the beginning of this manner of working, which has become so central to de Waal’s artistic practice.

Instead of using High Cross House as an attractive modernist backdrop for his work, De Waal became interested in using the house as a whole, less as an unusual exhibition space, but as a collaborative element with the porcelain. It is this collaboration between domestic space and the vessels that draws out the sculptural qualities, the ability to make references beyond form and material. In the kitchen, an open cupboard reveals a line of porcelain vessels. A single tall, lidded jar sits on the fireplace in the living room.

[Fig. 3 Edmund de Waal, ‘Cupboard Cargo’, High Cross House Modern Home: An intervention by Edmund de Waal, 1999. Photographer - Sara Morris.
Fig. 4 Edmund de Waal, ‘Trophy Pot’ High Cross House Modern Home: An intervention by Edmund de Waal, 1999. Photographer - Sara Morris.]

Pots are where you would expect to find them in a house. But they have the cool stillness of marble sculptures. The possibility of function is simultaneously suggested and denied. With the careful placing of vessels de Waal invites the kitchen cupboard to become a showcase and the fireplace to become a plinth. Michael Tooby writes of these pots in the exhibition catalogue, saying that:

their ‘site specificity’ is their domesticity within the furnished modernist house, de Waal exploiting the irony that, in becoming a public gallery, the commission to make site specific pieces enables him to relocate his ‘craft’ in the realms of both ‘art’ and ‘architecture’.18

These are pots, with the suggestions of utility and function that we could expect to find with pots, and though they are being encountered in what was once a home, they assert themselves as works of art through their placement, through their dialogue with the calm modernism of the architecture of the house.

In 1999, around the time of the project at High Cross, de Waal was interviewed for an article in the journal Ceramics Art and Perception. He is quoted as saying, ‘the whole lazy approach to how ceramics are used, displayed and revealed within our cultural spaces is an important issue that has to be addressed’.19 With the project at High Cross House, de Waal was taking up this concern directly, and display and revelation still persist as strands of thought in his most recent works that make use of closed doors and opaque glass. At High Cross house, a domestic space transformed into a museum (and back again), ideas of privacy and display, private and public, could be tested through the placement of pots. De Waal, writing about his intervention at the house describes how, ‘thinking through where to make pots for in the house made me think about the key places and interstices of domestic life and how these areas change when a house becomes a museum’.20 De Waal’s installation also challenges the modernist separation of home and art, which persists in the idea of the white cube as the ideal space in which to show art, and the modernist desire to see distinction between categories of art.

De Waal continued his concern with the aesthetic of display eight years later with an exhibition held across two galleries. Beginning at Kettle’s Yard, the exhibition then moved to mima, where the same works adapted to the very different spaces of the then newly opened gallery. De Waal’s relationship with Kettle’s Yard was already established and long standing at the time the installation took place, having spent time at the house during his time as a student at Cambridge, ‘even when I was reading English I was making pots, and spending time in Kettle's Yard looking at pots and looking at paintings, and the two things really went hand in hand’.21 The home of Jim and Helen Ede from 1958-1973, Kettle’s Yard is another example of a space that has been by turns domestic and public. The house was conceived with the students of Cambridge in mind, and the Ede’s open house policy meant that students were able to come to the house and view the collection Jim Ede had created during his time as a curator at Tate during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1966 the house and contents were given to Cambridge University and its role as a gallery was formalised, though the character the Edes brought to the house was retained.22

Mima took some of the pieces that were made very specifically for the house at Kettle’s Yard such as A Reading Silence which was a group of pots placed in a bookcase. What de Waal had done was to remove his favourite books, books that he would read when he was a student at Cambridge and used to visit Kettle’s Yard. The books he removed he replaced with his pots. James Beighton discussed the challenges of curating a work made specifically for another space:
When it came to mima all you had was a gesture of the bookcase, which was just corner shelves, and the vessels that represented the books that were taken out. But there was nothing to represent that books that were left there so in a way it was kind of flipped on its head. The ones that were missing now were the books that were present at Kettle’s Yard. 23
For Beighton, modernism was a central aspect of the relationship between the two spaces. Kettle’s Yard:
manifests modernism, and domesticity in early modernism. And mima perhaps manifests where modernism went, which is the white cube spaces. But it was fundamentally about thinking what are two very different spaces and how can we trace the poetry of that dialogue between the object and space, across those two different spaces.24

Anders Ruhwald: Bringing the domestic into the white cube

Ceramics has been moving out of craft galleries into white cube spaces for at least three decades (Fast Forward at the ICA in 1985, The Raw and the Cooked at Modern Art Oxford in 1993, the inclusion of ceramics at Tate St Ives as reported in ‘Ceramics at the Tate’, Ceramic Review no. 144, 1993). The presence of ceramics in white cube spaces, which are more usually designated for the display of ‘fine’ art, was part of the repositioning of ceramics as a medium with sculptural potential that The Raw and the Cooked aimed for. Anders Ruhwald, while choosing to show his work in conventional contemporary art white cube environments (Lemberg Gallery, Detroit; Gregory Lind Gallery, San Fransisco; Drud & Køppe Gallery, Copenhagen) elects to disrupt the crisp, serious aesthetic by introducing domestic touches such as ribbon curtains, carpets, and visible plug sockets into these spaces. Ruhwald considers that, ‘the implication of a domestic setting thus activates a situation that potentially opens up a reading of the work where we engage with the objects at a one-to-one level’.25 Finding the relationship between audience and sculpture limiting, Ruhwald prefers instead to encourage interaction on a material and practical level, which he does through reference to familiar, functional objects.

[Fig. 5 Anders Ruhwald, You will see (installation view). Earthenware and mixed media, 2010. Courtesy Lemberg Gallery, USA. Photograph by Tim Thayer.]
Ruhwald writes of his frustration with the earlier conventional display of his work in the exhibition Keramiske Veje (Copenhagen, 2004), ‘the objects existed in the gallery space as traditional sculptural objects…People could observe them, but there would be no interaction at the material or practical level’.26 Ruhwald echoes de Waal’s frustrations with the limitations of display. Perhaps of particular interest is Ruhwald’s belief that the sculptural form and presentation of his work closed down rather than expanded dialogue with the viewer. Raised up on a continuous high plinth, and mounted on the wall, the objects in this exhibition are held apart from the viewer by the manner of their presentation. In contrast, the references to the domestic, both by setting, arrangement and the objects themselves that Ruhwald makes in his later exhibitions such as You Will See (Lemberg Gallery, Detroit, USA, 2010-11) and We float in space and cannot perceive the new order (Miyako Yoshinaga Art Prospects, New York, USA, 2007) place the viewer and the object in the same space, sharing the same ground.
Ruhwald explains his relationship with the domestic in an article in issue nine of Interpreting Ceramics, ‘I am interested in working with the ‘thingness’ of the ceramic object. My sculptures mediate the domestic sphere-not as the actual everyday item, but as a commentary on that item’.27 Ruhwald explores the complex relationship between material and form that is at the heart of testing whether vessels can be understood as sculpture, or as having a meaningful relationship with sculpture.
Ruhwald came to the field by making pottery, developing an understanding of ‘the potential of using functional forms to mediate concerns that lie outside the confines of pure utility’.28 For Ruhwald the term kunsthåndværk (literally art-craft) is defined by a studio practice that generates carefully laboured objects formally linked to objects of utility but rarely fulfilling that role practically.

In 2008 Ruhwald’s solo exhibition You In Between opened at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. Ruhwald’s approach to mima’s white cube spaces was not to revel in the status that such a setting could confer on his work, but instead to undermine this effect. This involved deliberately making gestures of domesticity, with the work itself and in the gallery, to offset the white spaces. Candle Light is made up of a simple shelf that has from one end a light bulb hanging down and at the other end a candle sitting on top. The candle is lit and over the course of the exhibition, over the course of each day, it burns down to nothing and another candle is put on and is lit at the beginning of the next day. Over the course of the exhibition wax falls down over the edge of the shelf and a pile of wax builds up on the floor. Curator James Beighton referred to this piece as ‘anti-modernist’, saying:

it is very squarely against our gallery spaces but that’s something that Anders was interested in, he was interested in the role of decoration, of domesticity in a modernist gallery space. And there were even gestures such as plug sockets…Anders wanted us to fix plug sockets onto the walls, domestic plug sockets, and they weren’t to be set into the walls, they were to be on boxes coming out of the walls.29
Beighton found the unconcealed plug sockets and cables trailing drawing-like down the wall, as simultaneously ‘decorative and uncomfortable’ in the gallery space. Decorative because the gallery had hidden plug sockets and cables that could have been used to power Candle/Light. The ugly, awkward plug sockets were unnecessary ornamentation, wanted only for the look that they could bring to the space, and the atmosphere they could confer on the pristine gallery.
[Fig. 6 Anders Ruhwald, ‘Candle/light’. Earthenware, Cord, Plug, Bulb, Socket, Candle, 2009. Image courtesy of mima.]
Beighton considered that, ‘the work was trying its hardest to upset the space’. With the use of gold foil Ruhwald ‘was interested in referencing the Wiener Werkstätte particularly, so the repetition of that grid structure looks back to Josef Hoffmann’s designs. But the use of gold also talks about Klimt and his use of gold leaf on his canvases’30. Ruhwald also used ribbon curtains to divide spaces, ‘the back gallery was carpeted with ribbon curtains dividing it in two. So Anders is recognising there that they are anything but neutral spaces and I think most of our artists have recognised that they are anything but neutral spaces’31.

Christopher Reed has demonstrated that for the European modernists, ‘being undomestic came to serve as a guarantee of being art’.32 As a result the domestic became a site of subversion, ‘a staging ground for rebellion’.33 If modernism suppressed a serious engagement with domesticity, some artists returned with a vengeance to the domestic as a field of enquiry during the shifts in art and design signified by the term ‘post-modernism’.34 This view is supported by the engagement of artists such as Louise Bourgeois and Mona Hatoum with ideas surrounding the home and domesticity, which they have unsettled and destabilised in their work.35While Ruhwald, Twomey and de Waal have not been attempting a destabilization of the idea of the home, they have been conducting their own quiet rebellion. The rebellion that they have staged in the house museum and in the exploration of ceramics in relation to the concept of ‘the domestic’ has been to continue to push the notion of clay as a transgressive material, a valid material for art, as well as craft.


I would like to thank Dr Jeffrey Jones, Dr Matthew Partington and Prof. Moira Vincentelli for their help and support with the development of this article. I would like to thank James Beighton, curator at mima (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art), Amy Dickson, assistant curator at Tate Modern, and Clare Twomey for so generously giving their time to assist with this research. Thanks are due to the editorial team of Interpreting Ceramics for their assistance and insight. Finally, I would like to thank Anders Ruhwald, Clare Twomey and Edmund de Waal for permission to use images of their work.


 See J. Putnam, Art and Artifact: The Museum as Medium, London, Thames and Hudson, 2009 (revised edition) and also E. de Waal, S. Kuhn, J Putnam, et al, Arcanum: Mapping 18th Century European Porcelain, Cardiff, National Museum Wales, 2005.

2 M. Vincentelli, Women and Ceramics: Gendered Vessels, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2000, p.128.

3 Author’s interview with Amy Dickson, assistant curator, Tate Modern, 2010.

4 T. Harrod, ‘House Trained Objects: Notes Toward Writing an Alternative History of Modern Art’, in C. Painter, editor, Contemporary Art and the Home, Oxford, Berg, 2002, p.70.

5 Colin Painter, At Home With Art, London, Hayward Gallery, 1999, p.5.

6 Christopher Reed, ‘Introduction’, in C. Reed, editor, Not at Home’: The Suppression of Domesticity in Modern Art and Architecture, London, Thames and Hudson, 1996, p.7.

7 Quote taken from Solomon-Godeau, cited in C. Reed, ‘Domestic Disturbances: Challenging the Anti-domestic Modern’, in C. Painter, editor, Contemporary Art and the Home, Oxford, Berg, 2002, p.39.

8 Reed, ‘Domestic Disturbances’, p.39.

9 Cited in Reed, ‘Domestic Disturbances’, p.41.

10 M. Staniszewski, The Power of Display: A History of Exhibition Installations at the Museum of Modern Art, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 2001, p.61.

11 L. Mazanti, ‘Life among objects and life among things’, in J. Beighton and A. Ruhwald, editors, Anders Ruhwald - You In Between, Middlesbrough, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, 2008, p.57.

12 Mazanti, ‘Life among objects and life among things’, p.57.

13 Ibid.

14 Gill Perry, ‘Dream Houses: installations and the home’, in G. Perry and P. Wood, editors, Themes in Contemporary Art, New Haven, Yale, 2004, pp.231-276.

15 Author’s interview with Clare Twomey, 2010.

16 Edmund de Waal, ‘Edmund de Waal Part 1: On Location’, transcript of an interview conducted for the V&A, available at (accessed 15.02.2011).

17 de Waal, ‘Edmund de Waal Part 1: On Location’, accessed 15.02.2011).

18 Michael Tooby, ‘Edmund de Waal’s Work in Progress’, in E. de Waal, E., and M. Tooby, Modern Home: An intervention by Edmund de Waal at High Cross House, Totnes, Dartington Hall Trust, 1999, p.20.

19 As cited in Jeffrey Jones, Studio Pottery in Britain 1900-2005, London, A & C Black, 2007, p.234.

20 Edmund de Waal, ‘Making Some Pots for High Cross House’ in Modern Home: An intervention by Edmund de Waal at High Cross House, Totnes, Dartington Hall Trust, 1999, p.7.

21 Edmund de Waal interviewed by John Tusa for BBC Radio 3 (accessed 15.02.2011).

22 (accessed 17.06.2011)

23 Author’s interview with James Beighton, curator at mima, 2010.

24 Ibid.

25 Anders Ruhwald, ‘Functional Languages’, Interpreting Ceramics, no.9, (accessed 14.02.2011), unpaginated.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Interview with James Beighton, 2010.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid.

32 Reed, ‘Introduction’, in Not at Home’, p.16.

33 Ibid.

34 Reed, ‘Domestic Disturbances’, p.43.

35 Perry, ‘Dream Houses: installations and the home’, p.256.

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