Steven Claydon

Like a Potted Vessel


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Not on display

Steven Claydon born 1969
Hessian, wood, powder-coated steel, aluminium, plastic, copper, Roman vessel and rubber
Object: 2040 × 1050 × 1050 mm
Purchased 2010


Like a Potted Vessel 2009 is a composite sculpture that brings together a series of different objects. A plastic barrel, used for transporting olives from the Mediterranean to northern Europe, has been coloured to simulate earthenware and supports a small Roman vessel. Both these objects would once have had a utilitarian value, however in this arrangement they are presented as cultural artefacts, situated within a rectangular steel structure which acts as a frame or display case. A low, hessian-covered hexagonal plinth supports the work. Claydon has juxtaposed a mass-produced, inexpensive object that reflects contemporary society with a handmade object representative of an earlier time or cultural heritage. The work aims to examine the relationship between craft and art, functional object and art object, and explores shifts in perception about the value of an object according to rarity, time and technological innovation. The artist has observed that much of his practice is concerned with ‘how the nature of a thing operates culturally, in terms of historical venerability within a contemporary art gallery; how an object might become an artefact, and how an art object can operate in this way through the stewardship of an institution’ (Claydon in International Project Space 2008, p.11).

In his work, Claydon draws attention to the fact that culture can be manipulated by those who exert control over it. The arrangement of what at first may appear to be an arbitrary collection of objects, all of which come from different cultural spheres and periods in history, acts as a comment on the mechanisms behind the construction of a national cultural history. Claydon often highlights the artwork’s institutional framing conditions and the fact that art acquires a historical value when it enters the museum. In doing so, he questions the idealist concept of art, the classificatory systems imposed upon it and the construction of a cultural history to contain it – all of which were reinforced by the institution of the museum as it developed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Instead of forcing knowledge into a continuous chronological development, presenting a set image of the past, Claydon aims to establish an engagement with history which is relevant to his own context. He has commented:

I want to make clear that there are always multiple fugitive trajectories that ignite from an object, and to try and make any reading is laudable but flawed. It’s an impossible situation, so I think that by trying to make connections that might be extremely cursory, but which at the same time are extremely well researched and loaded, and which have some historical precedence, does more or less the same thing. It’s about creating equivalence. I want to create an equivalence where perhaps there is none, or in order to ask a question whether it matters if I’m creating or posing a connection, and how that affects anything in the world; the connection might appear to exist anyway, regardless of things considered in the public arena, or in the gallery. It really starts to affect every aspect of culture.
(Claydon in International Project Space 2008, p.18.)

Further reading
Catherine Wood, ‘Steve Claydon’, Frieze, no.93, September 2005, pp.152–3.
Steven Claydon: The Ancient Set, exhibition catalogue, International Project Space, Birmingham 2008.

Carmen Juliá
June 2010

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