Image: Plate (Unicorn), 2021 © Simon Bayliss
We-Ha-Neck! (A harvest supper) – a ceramic installation by Simon Bayliss
15th October – 24th December
The exhibition presents a new body of ceramics by St Ives-based artist Simon Bayliss, which explores the idea of an intimate harvest celebration, with ceramic stools, plates and jugs staged around a triangular table. At the core of the installation is Bayliss’ take on the traditional harvest jug – a type of jug made in North Devon for serving drinks during rural celebrations. Originally trained as a painter, Bayliss still looks to contemporary painting for ideas and inspiration, and using coloured slips to decorate pots is a way for the artist to continue exploring his painterly sensibilities.
The ceramic stools that form part of the piece are based on designs by Michael Cardew, an English potter who learned his craft in North Devon and who began designing stools in Nigeria in the 1960s. Bayliss’ interest in Cardew extends to the extraordinary story of his personal life in Africa and his queer sexuality. Making the stools has enabled Bayliss to think about both Cardew’s colonial power and the huge influence African art had on his pottery, raising questions of how to acknowledge the trickle-down of black influences with sensitivity and cultural respect.
The pink triangular plinth which stages the work, is a reference to Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. Chicago was an important icon of 1970s feminist art, and The Dinner Party comprises a massive ceremonial banquet arranged on a triangular table with place settings commemorating important women from history. The pink equilateral triangle also acknowledges the symbol used by the Nazis to denote homosexual men in concentration camps, and it has since been reclaimed by LGBTQ+ communities as a positive symbol of identity.
As well as crafting pots, Bayliss has a long history of making rave music. The dance track accompanying the ceramic installation uses found samples from ‘Crying the Neck’ festivities, which have traditionally taken place at harvest time around Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. As the last clump of wheat is cut and held in the air, the gathered crowd shout “What-ave-ee?”, and the harvester replies “A neck! A neck! A neck!” There’s a parallel here between the ‘neck’ of wheat and the neck of a jug, providing a link back to the harvest jug and the initial inspiration behind this new body of work.