Birdie Slipware – Deception at the V&A

Photo portrait of Tracey holding her book Kitsch, Birdie holding two satsumas and Ruth not holding anything!
Poster for Birdie Slipware is here exhibition at the V&A 2013 in the style of the David Bowie is here posters.
Birdie Slipware is here exhibition poster

Introducing Birdie Slipware, contemporary fine art ceramics practitioner

Birdie Slipware is the self proclaimed enfant terrible of clay. In 2014, the Victoria and Albert Museum hosted her first major UK retrospective featuring acclaimed contemporary masterpieces such as Pyramid of Sprouts and Little Brown Jug. Audiences queued for this once in a lifetime chance to see so many of Slipware’s pieces in dialogue together for the first time.

A long queue of people waiting in the V&A sculpture gallery.
Queues were a constant feature of Birdie’s sellout show.
Pastiche of Art forum magazine featuring Slipware's pyramid of sprouts.
Pyramid of Sprouts on the cover of Art Forum magazine

Birdie is horrified when a food bank opens on the Fulham Road. After a period of time spent looking and thinking, she fires up her kiln and goes to the rescue. She believes art, particularly her art, can help those who can’t help themselves.

Birdie Slipware’s life is a tromp l’oeil. A deception on deception…

Birdie is gesturing towards her head while her handsome besuited butch husband passes her some pills from her handbag.
Birdie’s long suffering husband Aston looks for Birdie’s valium.

The back story

I LOVE old fashioned ceramics. The more camp, the more kitsch, the more over the top the better. I also LOVE tromp l’oueil and I LOVE my friend and academic  Professor Ruth Holliday. So I was completely delighted when Dawn Hoskins and Zorian Clayton of the V&A LGBTQI group V&A invited myself, Tracey Potts and Ruth Holliday to respond to the exhibition Deception on tromp l’oeil ceramics. Ruth and the aptly named Tracey Potts talked about their book Kitsch – the cultural politics of taste.

Photo portrait of Tracey holding her book Kitsch, Birdie holding two satsumas and Ruth not holding anything!
Potts, Slipware and Holliday

Ruth and I collaborated closely and had lots of chats about the gorgeous pieces in the exhibition and how class, taste, kitsch, camp and ceramics intersected.

The character Birdie Slipware came from Ruth’s suggestion:

“Why don’t you make yourself into a tromp l’oeil?”

It’s amazing during making a piece when suddenly everything falls into place and it becomes easy. From that point on we were howling with laughter as Slipware came to life.

Potato necklaces, pyramids of sprouts

Birdie’s wonderful artworks were the creations of my friend and collaborator Lucas Mckenna. More howls of laughter as Lucas worked on the pieces. I’ve always been a bit of a seat-of-knickers-Nellie when it comes to preparation and no matter how prepared I am the best ideas often happen at the very last minute. Like just before the show starts. Given I often only perform my material once this can be annoying.

Long shot of the gallery with Birdie standing next to a grinning Lucas
Birdie with Lucas Mckenna and Ruth Holliday

Anyway, my dear friend Lucas was always the other way. He worked in advance and was always well prepared. So Lucas starts making the props in very good time for the show. All of the vegetables had been carefully varnished by him and we thought that would be enough to stop them rotting but alas no!

Lucas is all prepped and on good time but by the time it comes to the show the props had started to rot and they STANK! The smell from my potato necklace was particularly bad. In fact it took all my focus to stop meself from gagging during the piece. Pyramid of sprouts was looking a bit well rotten but often the greatest works happen by accident and Birdie Slipware incorporated the temporal materiality of the objects into her practisch. Slipware’s wonderful headpiece is made by Rhyannon Styles and her Le Courbusier glasses were a gift from the one and only Larry Tee.

The academics

Ruth proudly holds up her plastic pineapple while Tracey Potts looks at the cover of her kitsch book
Prof Ruth Holliday and her pineapple

Ruth and Tracey gave short extracts from their research around ceramics, kitsch, taste and class. Tracy talked about the class politics of ceramics manufacture and history. Ruth talked about queer, kitsch and deception.

The egghibition

Deception featured ceramics objects created to fool the eye of the user into thinking they are something else like a plate of food or that they are made from a different material such as wood. The pieces range from the early renaissance to the present day. They are mainly created in Europe and America with a few pieces from Asia. There’s a lot of tableware and ornaments. The cabbages steal the show if you ask me.

Objects from the Deception exhibition including ceramic vegetables, a turkey and plates of food. All the pieces are artfully created to look as life like as possible.
Objects from the Deception exhibition

Crew and Credits