The Long Shadow of Time

I started with Palissy, although it all started long ago on the other side of the planet at the edge of a swamp. Pools of frogs, reptiles and snails not unlike those famous plates. I was given tiny porcelain objects, gifts stamped Limoges France, with Fragonard transfers, weirdly dressed people to my child’s eye, accustomed to living on the far edge of a European colony, dodging snakes on a regular basis. 50 years passed, I was in France, late autumn, dark and cold, and as the wind caused the trees to lash around the wooden chalet, I read into the night about the master of faience and the Huguenots and the terrible wars of religion. What beasts we are us humans, but even beasts are not as cruel. Humans, at the time of starting this project, waging wars and persecutions that were in no way different to 16th century France. There is no double that these stories impact on how my work develops, the creative process a conduit for experience, a way to reflect beyond words, a permeable phenomena, gathering, and re-representing knowledge in ways that are so mysterious it’s hard to know who makes the work in the end. 

Porcelain. Translucent white, a metaphor for purity? Perhaps. As wet clay this material is as soft and flexible as fabric, and after studying the French paintings of the mid 1700’s, ribbons began to pour from my hands, frivolous luxuries that fluttered on the clothes of the doomed privileged. The Huguenots were central to ribbon production, but I read this long after the ribbons were fired. And parallel the forests came alive.

I was surrounded by trees. When I woke in the morning they were there, stern, present, usually dripping with rain, leafless, their great feet planted deep in the earth. Opening the door I would inhale their breath, the power of their capacity to give drafts of life-giving oxygen. It was the trees then that became the metaphor for the martyred, themselves killed on mass to fire the kilns to create the white gold. The rivers clogged with their bodies, transported by the natural flow of the water, their ash, what happened to that? I don’t know. 

There were other trees when the gifts were given in that other world, trees that also no longer exist, torn down to make way for suburbs and shopping centres with all their glittering products to fill the multiplying houses. It was there, for reasons mysterious, the dinettes had made their way around the planet and came into my possession and imagination. I brought them home to Limoges with their long shadows, and they opened a door for me to contemplate the nature of humanity. 

Helen Britton. Limoges. April 2023.