An insight into Subversive Design

Back in June 2013, I was invited by the Creative Programming team to get involved in programming and managing some of the Subversive Season events. It has been an exciting venture and has offered a very valuable opportunity to talk to a range of artists, designers and makers about their contribution to and interpretation of the exhibition. I was keen for the events to offer an insight into the curatorial theme, the artists’ intentions and the creative processes that the exhibition incorporates. The result was Wear if you Dare!, An insight into Subversive Design and the upcoming Subversive Ceramics workshop with Carole Windham.

Wear if you Dare! workshop
Wear if you Dare! workshop

Inspired by the work Medical Heirlooms by Tamsin van Essen, local textile artist Sandrine Case proposed making and manipulating underwear that subverts perceptions of sexiness. Medical Heirlooms is a series of ceramic pots inspired by seventeenth century drug jars used by apothecaries. The artist manipulates and interrupts conventional ceramic processes so that the jars mimic symptoms of various hereditary diseases such as syphilis, osteoporosis and psoriasis. Tamsin van Essen talks about the stigma attached to such diseases and her fascination with the viewer’s simultaneous sense of attraction and repulsion to the objects she makes. During the Wear if you Dare! workshop in mid November 2013 participants used latex, wax and needlework to sabotage brassieres, knickers and Y-fronts creating grand, grotesque and fetishistic interpretations of ‘provocative underwear’. This bespoke set of undies would no doubt provoke a mixed response if the makers dared to wear them!

Wear if you Dare! workshop
Wear if you Dare! workshop

An Insight into Subversive Design took place in late November 2013. After a tour of the exhibition with Curator Stella Beddoe there were a series of short talks by four of the exhibiting artists; Julian Walker, Carole Windham, Jonathan Boyd and Simone Brewster.

Julian Walker speaks with care about the disruptive dynamics at play in his series of Interventionist embroidery. He describes how unpicking, interrupting and adding to samplers engages him in a dialogue with the original maker that is unreciprocated. A sampler is a piece of embroidery produced as a demonstration or test of skill in needlework. The oldest surviving samplers were constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries. The work was initiated through a project for the Embroiderers’ Guild so Julian has from the beginning faced ethical criticism and questioning about the works and the potential destruction of heritage. Julian explains that there is an added complexity to the ethics. Samplers are historically produced by young girls, and he is all too aware of the uneasy sense of violation that the process of unpicking and stitching into the samplers creates.

Carole Windham is a ceramic artist whose roots are in the Pop Art movement of the 1960s. Carole is fascinated by psychoanalysis – her piece Venus with a Penis is one of a series of works that depict Freudian theory. Her piece Claire – also on display in Subversive Design – portrays the female alter-ego of ceramic artist Grayson Perry. Carole speaks about the process of interviewing Grayson in 2002 and the resulting series of works. She goes on to explain that her interest in Grayson was part of a wider project in which she portrayed a number of contemporary artists. The project was an enquiry into what she defines as a division between ceramics and fine art.

Jonathan Boyd conveys his fascination with language, words and stuff. A maker and jeweler from Glasgow, Jonathan sees making as a means to sharing his experiences and thoughts. He describes how the spoken word, overheard conversation, poetry, literature, the body and the objects associated language all inspire and inform his delicate yet complex and bold works. He questions and asks the audience to answer whether he is being intentionally subversive or whether that comes through the process of creating.

Simone Brewster shares how the invitation to exhibit at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery led her to recognise the subversive quality in her work. She describes her pieces as intimate architectures and questions whether the subversive quality of her work is due to while seeing what everyone else sees, is she asking a different question?

The third and final workshop – Subversive Ceramics with Carole Windham –  takes place this Saturday 8 February. There are three tickets left so come along if you can!

Lindsey Smith, Freelance Artist, Educator and Project Manager

Subversive Ceramics workshop


Ceramics workshop with Carole Windham 10-4pm Art Room

Meet maker Carole Windham and get hands on as you learn ceramic drawing and decorative techniques such as sgraffito, incising and applied decoration. All work will be returned fired for you to keep.

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