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Think About It - introducing conceptual ceramics

Excerpt from - Ceramic Review 206 March/April 2004 p. 36, Jo Dahn

Clay Body

A receptive audience is important to Philip Lee. Towards the end of his BA course at Westminster University1, Harrow campus (1998-2001), he moved away from object production and, using slip and stains2, started imprinting his naked torso onto an earthenware3 slab or a piece of paper. While this can result in an object, it is the process that concerns him, not the outcome. Raw, wet clay can be seen as a primal material; smeared on the body it evokes at once a return to childhood innocence and - in a middle-aged man - a transgression of socialised masculinity.

Lee sees himself as 'addressing the taboos associated with exposing the male body' and has experienced a personal sense of liberation through his work. His efforts recall early feminist performance. When a naked Carolee Schneeman and friends wrestled and writhed with chicken carcasses (and the rest) in Meat Joy (1964), their idea was to celebrate the flesh in a kind of proto-feminist erotics. A similar sense of letting go is apparent in the videos that record Lee's ritualised actions. In the past he has exhibited folded slabs imprinted with torsos, but these are signs of his performances, rather than resolved objects in their own right. Are they then de-materialised? It is hard to say. At any rate, they are not essential to his practice. For Lee, clay has become a means of exploring and expressing masculine subjectivity. Paradoxically, at the same time the viewer is invited to objectify the male body: to imagine its collision with the material, to witness its exposure.

Images published with the text are similar to those on the Slab II page of my website.

[For another even shorter reference, concerning the performance on 15th September 2005 of Slip VI, in the Journal of the Association of Jewish Refugees see also: Slip VI]

Please note that there are two minor inaccuracies in the Dahn article, one of which is of importance only to a ceramicist. Footnotes below:

  1. Usually called the 'University of Westminster'
  2. Technically, I used a vitreous slip, runny clay and glaze mixture with mars violet raw pigment, rather than 'stains', which are very different.
  3. The clay I used was Earthstone Original which is a commercial 'stoneware' clay rather than 'earthenware' - essentially the former can be fired to higher temperatures. It is malleable and does not crack so easily as is dries.


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