Artist Mella Shaw has been named as the winner of the British Ceramics Biennial’s £10,000 Award, the UK’s largest prize for ceramics. Her winning work, Sounding Line is a large-scale sculptural installation exposing the overuse of marine sonar and its devastating effect on deep-diving whale species. It is currently on show at the British Ceramics Biennial in Stoke-on-Trent, until 5th November.
Mella Shaw is a ceramicist and an environmental activist who uses themes of balance, tipping points, fragility and loss to raise awareness and inspire change. Sounding Line is about the mass beachings of whales happening across Britain due to the increased use of marine sonar to search for enemy submarines and new oil reserves. With permission from Nature Scotland, she incorporated the bone-ash from the remains of a northern bottlenose whale beached on the west coast of Scotland to create a clay body. This clay was then used to create large-scale forms inspired by the shape of a whale’s tiny inner-ear bone. These have been wrapped in ropes with sonar pulses rippling through them, creating an immersive sensory work, which has already proved a hit with visitors to the Biennial.
Alun Graves, Chair of the Award selection panel and the V&A’s Senior Curator, Ceramics and Glass 1900–now commented:
Mella Shaw’s ‘Sounding Line’ is a truly exceptional and remarkable work, powerful in concept and majestic in execution. It represents in every aspect an extraordinary feat of making, rendering a work that is both poetic and sublimely beautiful, but also confronting and unequivocal in its message. Mella Shaw has realised a work of huge ambition, demonstrating the potency of ceramics and its ability to engage with the issues of our time.
Mella Shaw was selected from a 10-strong list of artists, all of whom have work currently on show at this year’s British Ceramics Biennial. The other artists are Rebecca Appleby, Ranti Bam, Copper Sounds, Rebecca Griffiths, Dan Kelly, Elspeth Owen, Carrie Reichardt, Jasmine Simpson and Nicola Tassie.
Four early career artists were also celebrated at the British Ceramics Biennial. Tim Fluck, Caroline Gray, Andrea Leigh, and Krzysztof Strzelecki were chosen from 25 artists exhibiting in the Biennial’s Fresh exhibition, which celebrates the new wave of artists working in clay.
Tim Fluck, whose ceramic practice embraces vibrant colours, dynamic shapes, and bold forms, will take up a residency at Staffordshire University; Caroline Gray, whose sculptural abstract works celebrate colour and form, will undertake her residency at Grymsdyke Farm, in Buckinghamshire; Andrea Leigh, who looks at civilian and cultural places that were destroyed in conflicts to inform her work, was selected by a group of year-7 students from Thistly Hough Academy in Stoke-on-Trent to undertake a residency at the British Ceramics Biennial Studio in the city; and Krzysztof Strzelecki, who uses ceramics to engaging with LGBT+ issues and takes inspiration from Christian iconography and ancient mythology, will undertake a residency at Guldagergaard International Ceramics Research Center in Denmark.
All the winning artists from Award and Fresh will be invited to present new work in the 2025 British Ceramics Biennial.
The eighth edition of the British Ceramics Biennial, a six-week celebration of clay in Stoke-on-Trent, runs until 5th November 2023. Free entry. britishceramicsbiennial.com
About the British Ceramics Biennial:
The British Ceramics Biennial is an arts organisation based in Stoke-on-Trent with a vision to make change through clay. It develops, sustains and expands innovative ceramics practice and improves lives together with artists and creative communities. This is done by delivering an engaging year-round programme of artists’ commissions, learning and community projects. All of which feed into a festival of contemporary ceramics that takes place in Stoke-on-Trent.
Initiated in 2009, the British Ceramics Biennial has grown to be the single largest contemporary ceramics in the UK, presenting new work by the UK’s leading ceramicists alongside work by international artists, in exhibitions and special events held across the city every two years. The Biennial works in partnership with organisations and individuals in the museums, cultural, industry, business, education, community and voluntary sectors across the city in the development and delivery of projects with a particular focus on public engagement.