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The enduring effect of Phoebe Cummings' temporary sculptures

Updated: Jun 29, 2022

By Anke Buchmann, 10 May 2017

A few month ago I was lucky enough to do an interview with Phoebe Cummings. Phoebe is a UK based ceramic artists. She was the winner of the British Ceramics Biennial Award in 2011 and recently has been nominated for the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize. She is known for her unfired side-specific sculptures and installations made from raw clay. Her temporary site-specific works last only the duration of the exhibition. Below is an excerpt of the interview she gave.

CS: Thanks Phoebe for taking the time to talk to me today. What I find very interesting in your work is that you create pieces that emphasise the moment, the temporary. I think it is an important counterpart to our consumer driven world, where so much seems to be about what we own. I myself try to create work that focusses on the experience and often struggle with the idea to create even more objects to possess.

CS: Could you explain a bit more, why you chose to create unfired pieces of work? Were there also pragmatical or ecological reasons (storage, firing costs, land-fill) What are the advantages for you? What are the challenges?


PC: It started out as a necessity after university, with me not having a studio, nor the money to make and fire but the wish to keep making. Now it became a conceptual approach - creating something that only lasts a moment, like a dance performance.

CS: Do you think that your audience gets a different experience from the raw and unfired work (compared to fired ceramics)?

PC: The visitors are confronted with the idea of momentariness and the idea, that things don’t last forever. Some feel that it is a shame, that they can’t buy or collect the work.

CS: You have no studio and work often directly on site. How do you prepare your work and do you prototype or test build the work at all somewhere? Do you sketch everything out, do you do experiment with new methods or do you leave most to the work onsite?

PC: On site I usually do 1 to 3 weeks set up. Preparation happens through mood boards to get the idea across, showing directions or similar styles. It is hard to sketch down what’s in my head. I am making the moulds beforehand and sometimes start preparing small pieces like press mould leafs, which I keep wet, stored in boxes.


CS: I was reading that your work spreads across art and design. Does a distinction between art or design matter to you at all?

PC: My work is inspired and influenced by design. I look at how design learns from nature or I look at historian ceramic design as well as decorative ceramics and let that inform my pieces. The results I create are then sculptural.

CS: In another interview you said*: ‘I’m interested in how making in suspended space alters the relationship between your body and the object.’ Can you explain more about this relationship?

PC: I am interested in placing ceramics in a new context. Usually it sits on a table, shelf or floor. But I want people to be able to walk around it, or along it or underneath it. I was wondering, how does it feel to have tones of clay above your head. I am interested in the performative aspect (for the audience).

Images: Anke Buchmann / Text: Anke Buchmann & Phoebe Cummings

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