Making Space:Sensing Place

In October 2009, along with artist Thurle Wright, I was awarded a Making Space:Sensing Place Fellowship; part of the HAT: Here and There International Exchange Programme, managed by A Fine Line:Cultural Practice. The Fellowship includes residencies with Britto Arts in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with Arts Reverie in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, with The V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London and with The Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire. Working and collaborating with artists and craftspeople from the UK, Bangladesh and India, responding to the collections and spaces we encounter and sharing these experiences through a touring exhibition and educational workshops.

This blog, which is still developing and being added to, is a record of my experiences during the MS:SP Fellowship. Steven Follen.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

A trip to Dhamrai - Lorries and Jewellery

Today was a special day…. up early and off to explore Dhamrai, a village famous for its metal working traditions, Once a centre for metal casting, there are now only a few families who continue to work in this way, producing high quality cast brass artefacts. The plan was to visit some of the local workshops, Dhamrai metal casting centre, then on to visit a nearby museum in its early stages development - set up to preserve the boatbuilding traditions of Bangladesh. We would then a visit to a jute factory and then the home of the Bengal Arts Foundation.

Enrourte to Dhamrai we stopped at a gas station to fill the ‘micro bus’ with natural gas. Many of the vehicles here run on this, which is considerably cheaper than petrol and apparently produces less pollution. All the motor rickshaws in Dhaka city used to run on two stroke petrol engines but have now been replaced by the CNG rickshaws.( although most of the rickshaws outside of Dhaka are the two strokes that are no longer allowed in the city) Lorries, buses, cars - all use the natural gas.
Like the lorries of India, the Bangladesh lorries are richly painted with all manner of themes, many support the brick and construction industries, shifting raw clay from the riverbanks to the brick kiln sites and the fired bricks to the building construction sites.

The land between Dhaka and Dhamrai is covered in brick kilns and workings, the alluvial clay is used to make the bricks, and the kilns are literally built around the stacks. Some of the chimneys are beautiful forms bulging slightly at the base like some of my early vessels, others are stepped, square section constructions. The brick production period is seasonal, large tracts of the fields are covered with water during the wet season, leaving just the chimneys standing proud of the water. I decided I would like to come back to see more of the brick fields and brick production.
Having ducked, dived and dodged our way along the highway to Dhamrai to the constant sound of vehicle horns, we turned off the main road into a smaller lane that didn't look like a road. We wound our way past a rice mill, and when the lanes were too small for the 'micro bus' we jumped out and began to walk.
We walked down increasingly smaller tracks then alleyways until we came across a jeweller working on the veranda of his house. At the same time, all around the houses, potters made and dried bowls.
We observed and asked questions about how he worked, the processes he used and what he made. The jeweller produced work for sale in Dhaka - gold plated wedding pieces.
See an interview here: Jeweller Interview (In Bengali)
The work is made in a series of stages: To create the three dimensionality of the piece both wax and plaster are used to support the metalwork as the design develops.A mixture of bees wax and parafin is used to create a soft material to support the wire work. The wax is warmed in the hand and then pushed into a plaster mold to get the required low relief to the wax.
Simple components are made in bulk and sit on the bench ready to be applied to the wax.
The jewellers main tool at this stage was a pair of tweezers, which he used to straighten and bend pieces of wire. When the wirework is complete, plaster is cast over the work and when set, the wax is removed. Fine soldering joins all the small components together and then the plaster is removed and the piece cleaned in sulphuric acid to remove any remaining traces. The work is then cleaned and plated.
See the process here: Wire work.I was interested in the way that he coiled thin fine wire to make the rings and he kindly demonstrated the process. A length of fine brass wire and a length of copper from electrical cabelling are both straightened using pliers. The copper is wrapped by hand around the brass wire for approximately 2 cm. The wrapped wires are then sandwiched and rolled between a wooden board and a block of wood until the copper is fully wrapped around the brass.
See the process here: Coiling the wire.