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The Student Ceramicist Suspending Time In Clay

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‘Art has always been a release for me,’ explains Bell Carver. ‘I find myself in a state of flow that I don’t experience anywhere else.’

During Melbourne’s sweeping lockdowns last year, the young ceramicist identified a similar continuity running through her time, where hours melted into days and weeks became indistinguishable from months. Capturing this perfect unity between time and space became the focus of her most recent body of work – a series of ceramic sculptures for which she won the inaugural Shelley Simpson Ceramics Prize, a new award for emerging student practitioners, named after the founder of iconic Australian ceramics brand Mud Australia! As the award’s inaugural recipient, Bell will receive $10,000 in prize money, and a 3-month paid internship at Mud Australia.

‘Prior to last year, my work was mostly functional and wheel-thrown,’ she says. ‘I loved making cups and bowls and was beginning to experiment with how glazes could change the finish of a piece.’ Now, Bell’s organic, fluid sculptures sit firmly on the conceptual side of the medium.

Two hemispheres of bone-coloured clay are joined at the edge, crossing over each other like a three-dimensional Venn diagram. This precisely plotted shape suspends the action of separation in a single porcelain moment, like a spliced orange frozen in time before the segments could break apart completely. Bell chose this curious form perfectly balanced between organic and geometric to represent the passage of time in 2020 – simultaneously cleaved and conjoined.

When the pandemic hit, access to the RMIT studios was not possible, and Bell was forced to work at home, where her studio set-up was sparse. But her creativity adapted well to the whittled field of available materials. She began improvising without a wheel, experimenting with new techniques like sculpture and hand-building. The resulting smooth, spherical shapes now represent a new direction for her practice.

Winning this inaugural prize means that Bell can now make some studio updates!  ‘The prize money means that I now have the opportunity to create a more useable studio space by purchasing some equipment, such as a pottery wheel and maybe a small kiln,’ she says. The new beginnings of a self-sufficient practice!

Keep up to date with Bell’s works on Instagram here.

Bell at home, where she spent most of last year during lockdown. Photo – Becca Crawford.

Bell is the recipient of the inaugural Shelley Simpson Ceramics Prize, which includes $10,000 winnings and a 3-month paid internship at Mud Australia. Photo – Becca Crawford.

When access to her studio was restricted because of the lockdowns, Bell used her humble home setup to start experimenting with different processes and techniques, eventually arriving at the more conceptual side of her practice. Photo – Becca Crawford.

At the start of her studies, Bell was more focussed on the functional side of her craft, making bowls or cups. Photo – Becca Crawford.

Now, she is loving the sculptural side she has newly discovered. Photo – Becca Crawford.

Her distinct forms came about while she toyed with the idea of how to represent lockdown and the way time moved differently while we were under restrictions. Photo – Becca Crawford.

The two creamy hemisphere slip neatly apart along an invisible central axis, inviting rumination on the divisive but synchronised passage of time. They even resemble two sides to the earth. Photo – Becca Crawford.

‘Time had become almost an abstract concept when suddenly we weren’t racing around in our day-to-day lives. Rather, it just flowed from one hour to the next,’ says Bell of her 2020 inspriation. Photo – Becca Crawford.

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