Saturday, February 15, 2014

Packing and shipping ceramics; ultimate safety ensured.

Shipping clay pots, bone china vessels and clay sculptures to exhibition venues, locally and aboard, is a very nervous and costly undertaking. Ceramic artifacts are extremely fragile, delicate and complex art works to pack and transport. But as ceramists, disappointments comes with the trade, we learn to cope with numerous disasters in mastering the craft. 
From the outset we have to master complex construction techniques, our patience tested during the delicate drying phase and the tense firing phases. As ceramists we have developed thick skins, learning to realize your ideas in terms of ceramic techniques and methods. Your vocabulary of forms, shapes and surfaces, is tried and tested in the studio, but ultimately realized during the firing phase. 
4 Slip cast decoy ducks to be shipped (ceramic Installation).
Patience is what it takes, all the way from concept to end product. Opening the kiln after an arduous long wait, is what ultimately breaks or makes a ceramist; the process shapes you into realizing your ceramic dreams and aspirations. One’s nerves are particularly tested when packing large-scale, delicate and fragile clay sculptures into the kiln. 
Constantly contemplating ways and means to minimizing the risks. Press-moulding large-scale sculptures with hand built extensions, is arguably the most agonizing for this particular ceramic artist.

Packing and shipping the work can be the most soul destroying experience – all that work ruined in an instant - smash, even if fragile is plastered all over the container. Packing the work requires serious planning and a zero defect approach. There is only one way, suspending the ceramic work in a foam rubber cocoon, supported by a firm and well constructed, easy to open and secure wooden crate. 

No pressure must be asserted on the work from the container in any way whatsoever. Unmoved, untouchable, and with the ability to take small bumps and knocks, the work lies cushioned in the container, every step of its journey. Often the work is not sold (to be returned to the maker) or has to travel to another exhibition location, a container with an easy to open and close lid, is therefore required.

My first encounter of packing and shipping large-scale press moulded with hand-built extensions, ceramic sculptures, came many years ago (late eighties) – the shipping of two of my works, titled the Mother of Prostitutes (image above) and the joy of a hypocrite lasts but for a moment. (image on the left), destined for France. I collaborated with Stuttaford Van Lines to pack the work. The work arrived safely at its new destination and was subsequently shipped off to Spain in the same containers, when the owners were relocated there a few years later. 
My work titled, and the ship sails on (ceramic installation with projected animation), is being shipped to Taiwan for the 2014 Ceramic Biennale, opening in May. The work was collected yesterday.
I required the services of an Industrial Designer, Jed Aylmer, to design and construct a custom-built shipping crate for the works safe journey to the Yinge Museum in Taiwan. He developed CAD renderings of the lightweight, yet strong container, with easy to remove lid. This was necessary to determine the thickness of the various layers of material for the construction; foam-rubber insulation and wood respectively. 

The size of the ceramic work, determines the bulk of the crate and the thickness of the various protective layers, that make up the construction of the shock-absorbing cocoon. It is important that the foam-rubber layer is thick enough to withstand small knocks and bumps when the work is loaded onto the truck and the container for shipping, and again when it is unloaded at the destination, and transported to the museum. 
The crate has to be strong enough to withstand the handling during transportation and shipping.  Looking at the images ones feel confident that all risks are minimized, to ensure a safe journey for the ceramic components of the installation. The necessary signs were painted on to the crate (template made); the lid and the sides, to ensure the message of fragile is clearly visible.

The lid is screwed on, holes drilled and nuts glued in position, to ensure the lid can easily be secured and removed. The bolts and nuts are sunken, to ensure they are safe from being damaged during transportation and shipment; friction of one crate on top of each other can cause damage to the mechanism.