with Emily Butler
‘There’s a very basic primal quality of clay, which I want to convey, particularly through my videos. Thinking about ideas of slime, you get a sense of ASMR, so you get the puckering sound of the clay, the sticky sound, moving the clay about. That’s sort of quite abject. It’s about the idea of body boundaries and how clay sticks to the body, it’s very different from an object or a liquid or something like that. It extends the body.’
Listen to the full interview here:
My name’s William Cobbing. I’m an artist working in a studio in Fish Island. I work with clay and ceramic, in video and sculpture.
What are you showing as part of The London Open 2022?
I’ll be showing a series of the videos and the ceramics I made at the European Ceramics Centre. The reel starts with Will.je.suis, which is the first video in the series I made in March 2020. This was really a response to the beginning of the pandemic, where everything was closing down. I normally work with a group of assistants or performers, but effectively this was just me on my own in my studio, with a bag of clay and my camera on a tripod. I set that up to video myself peeling off a layer of clay and paint with coloured paint oozing out to reveal an abstracted eye and mouth holes, spewing gooey, gunky paint. That carried through into the ceramic sculptures I made about a year later, quite cartoony, humorous abstracted masks, with sort of elongated tubes or tongues. These are very much about the idea of an interiority spewing forth, a kind of abject blurring the boundaries of the body with those ones.
On the one hand, there seems to be an interest in clay as a material, the kind of abject properties of clay and the idea of creating a figure. On the other, you’re looking at ceramics’ cultural use, for decoration, but also for fundamental human needs. Can you tell us about these dualities?
In terms of ideas of, as you say, primal Golem, that’s really important to me. There’s a very basic primal quality of clay, which I want to convey, particularly through my videos. Thinking about ideas of slime, you get a sense of ASMR, so you get the puckering sound of the clay, the sticky sound, moving the clay about. That’s quite abject. It’s about the idea of body boundaries and how clay sticks to the body, it’s very different from an object or a liquid or something like that. It extends the body. Then thinking about fired ceramic, I also try to subvert that as well. I also bring humour into those ceramic objects. At the European Ceramics Centre, I did a residency where I learned a lot of ancient techniques for glazing, like Chinese celdadon glazing, and also tried spray-on glazes to subvert the craft form and make it a bit more punk, strange or experimental.
You developed these clay performances on your Instagram account and gave them funny serial the titles. Can you tell us about the importance of humour in your work?
Humour’s central to what I do. And thinking about something like the myths that Eskimos have a hundred words for different types of snow. In terms of humour, there’s so many different nuances and variations. I think about ideas of physical humour, absurdity, in slapstick, but also deadpan, the idea that my work is quite minimal and undemonstrative in a way. The humour almost comes through seemingly unintentionally, or maybe sort of passively, more subtly gleaned in a physical way.
You mentioned that the videos came first, during lockdown, and later on you developed the masks. Can you tell us a bit more about their relationship?
There’s a good example of the crossover between the fired ceramic and the clay performances. The crossover point is the flat mask-plates. There’s a really very shiny glaze on those, with eyeholes. And so they actually work as art objects, so I put those on the wall. Those are also affixed to concrete masks in my videos, which I then wear and then I chip away at, so they break. There’s a form of iconoclasm in there, but also humour in the sense of the absurdity of breaking one’s face, breaking through to another layer.
Will.je.suis, 2020, 4K single-channel video, 01:10 mins
View sculpting and glazing at the European Ceramic Workcentre EKWC in The Netherlands, July 2021 below:
Works in the exhibition:
4K single-channel video
4K single-channel video
4K single-channel video
4K single-channel video
28 x 17 x 21 cm
29 x 19 x 19 cm
36 x 33 x 10 cm
29 x 22 x 12 cm
38 x 15 x 5 cm
19 x 14 x 6 cm
28 x 19 x 22 cm
38 x 28 x 8 cm
23 x 14 x 6 cm
30 x 18 x 20 cm
23 x 18 x 4 cm
44 x 44 x 17 cm
William Cobbing (b. 1974, London, UK)
2010 PhD Fine Art by Practice, Middlesex University
2000 De Ateliers International Artists’ Institute, Amsterdam
1997 BA Fine Art: Sculpture, Central Saint MartinsCollege of Art & Design, University of Arts London
Selected exhibitions: Human Conditions of Clay, Chapter, Cardiff, and John Hansard Gallery, Southampton (2021-2); A Letter to the Future, EKO 8 Triennial, UGM, Maribor (2021); Human After All: Ceramic Reflections in Contemporary Art, Keramiek Museum Princessehof Leeuwarden (2020-1); Feÿ Arts Festival, Château du Feÿ, Bourgogne (2019); Haptic Loop, Cooke Latham Gallery, London (solo) (2019); The Ground We Have in Common, Gallerie delle Prigioni, Treviso (2019); LER!, Museum Jorn, Silkeborg (2018); Further Thoughts on Earthy Materials, GAK, Bremen, and Kunsthaus Hamburg (2018); Terrapolis, French School, Athens (2015); Transactions of the Duddo Field Club, MIMA, Middlesbrough, and Hatton Gallery, Newcastle (solo) (2014); What’s Love Got To Do With It, Hayward Gallery Project Space, London (2014)
What makes London’s art scene so vibrant? What are the concerns of the next generation of artists? What insight does their work offer in challenging times?
This triennial exhibition showcases a cross-section of the most dynamic artistic talent from across the capital. Established in 1932, this much-celebrated open submission show features 46 London-based artists working across painting, sculpture, moving image, installation and performance.
Since the last London Open in 2018, the city has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, demonstrations demanding racial and climate justice, and widespread questioning of institutions and their structures.
The London Open 2022 traces the ways in which artists have witnessed and responded to these events with resilience and heart. In times of hardship and crisis, and when exhibitions were cancelled and moved online, these artists experimented with new sites of production and means of dissemination, from the kitchen table to the back garden.
The exhibition is loosely structured as a journey from the personal to the social, moving from individual to collective concerns, the cathartic to the poetic, the political and the environmental.
The artists were selected from over 2,600 entries by a panel of experts including collector Maria Bukhtoyarova, artist Shezad Dawood, curator and art historian Christine Eyene, gallerist Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja, with Whitechapel Gallery curators Emily Butler, lnês Costa and Wells Fray-Smith.
Gallery 1, Downstairs
The relationship between our bodies and the material world kickstarts the exhibition. Rafał Zajko‘s wall-based reliefs appear like hybrid beings, processing the gluten found in wheat and barley flour, leaving us unsure if this is for machine or human consumption.Likewise, Madeleine Pledge‘s stretched fabrics and ceramic boots imply absent bodies and their physical role in manufacturing.
Materiality and belief systems intersect in Candida Powell-Williams’ handmade objects. A unicorn and swing inspired by medieval tapestries are fenced off by a trellis, prompting questions about the divisions between what is mythical and real. Alicia Reyes McNamara‘s paintings feature non-binary, shapeshifting figures drawn from various mythologies, from Meso-America to Ancient Egypt, to consider alternative notions of time and embodiment.
Gallery 9, Upstairs
This gallery features works that delve into the impact of technology, algorithms and quantification on our lives. In his series The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free 2019, Ben Yau looks at the parallel rise of Neoliberalism and the CIA’s role in sabotaging the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, bringing together both economic data and declassified documents.
Set in a parallel present reminiscent of sci-fi films such as Blade Runner 2049, The Underlying by Ami Clarke considers the implicit role of capitalism in environmental disaster.
Meanwhile, Rory Cahill and George Mackness offer a walk through a dystopian, corrupted digital landscape of the future, with an immersive soundtrack. They consider: what does a digital wasteland look like, what happens there and what is its afterlife?
Gallery 8, Upstairs
The artworks in this gallery reflect on family, identity and community. Seema Khalique travelled to Bangladesh to photograph two communities of transgender people called hijras. In this behind-the-scenes series, she questions the prejudices they face, revealing the economic hardships they endure alongside the strong network of mentorship and care they create.
Pioneering photographer, curator and writer Sunil Gupta took photographs of his neighbourhood on Walworth Road during lockdown. This work celebrates the increased relevance of our localities during the pandemic, as well as reflecting on the processes involved in created photographic images.
On three vintage TV monitors, Hussina Raja‘s short narrative films look at the subject of migration to the UK from post-Partition India, tracing the continued experiences of displacement and exploring nuanced notions of identity.
The works in the last part of the show focus on our relationship to and impact on the environment. In Agrilogistics (2022), Gerard Ortin Castellvi films in an automated greenhouse, in which the growth of tomatoes, tulips and chrysanthemums is controlled by cameras and sensors, in order to question the future of food production.
Having spent lockdown excavating her back garden, Maria Roy Deulofeu meticulously records each layer of soil like an archaeologist, collecting artefacts and ecofacts, before assembling a kiln to fire hand-thrown urns with the different layers of clay. The process is recorded in a video shown alongside the objects. Finally, a flock of parakeets cast in lead are scattered on the ground in Patrick Goddard‘s Blue Sky Thinking (2019).The parakeet exemplifies a non-native species increasingly common in London parks and hints at a mass extinction event, highlighting mankind’s role in the impending climate disaster.
See the full list of works here.
An illustrated catalogue is available to purchase from the bookshop.
Artists have generously made limited editions to coincide with the exhibition to support the Gallery’s education programme.