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In the next stage of our enduring partnership with the British Ceramics Biennial, SOCIAL SUBSTANCE is a 6 week programme of events responding to clay as a social, communal, material force, through a solo exhibition by William Cobbing, a weekly performance programme in our window and down at the Spode Rose Garden, and regular communal clay workshops.
For more details of the Performances, click HERE - and please look out for more details of the workshops.
This project is joined by partners The Portland Inn Project, facilitated by AirSpace director Glen Stoker and funded by Arts Council England.

To see FEEDBACK From the exhibition click HERE

To see Partner and Artist Testimonials click HERE


William Cobbing presents a series of new video, sculpture, and performance, exploring a playful and ambiguous interaction between people immersed in mounds of formless clay. The ceramic objects and tv screens that populate the gallery invite us to consider how we tell stories with clay, and how it feels to interact with this earthy material through senses of touch and sound, both physically and digitally. The experience of the works is akin to the messy interface of sticking a lump of mud on to the shiny screen of a mobile phone.

In videos developing from ‘The Kiss 2’, the raw clay connects the performers, extending body boundaries and merging individual identities as they make and remake themselves. The figures are caught in an endless transitional moment, as if in limbo, repeating the same apparently aimless grasping and prodding of the material. What, if anything, are they trying to make? Or is the act of making without a conclusion enough? These earth-clad people are caught in an ouroboros loop of transforming themselves. We are invited to move through the space, piecing together our own narrative from these brief performances.

The clay is a character in itself, being an equal player rather than a passive subject to the creative process. Conversely, the performers often adopt a languid or deadpan demeanour, allowing the material to assert its agency over them. The state of plasticity of the clay as a slimy material allows for this drama to unfold. It sticks to the performers head and hands, disrupting the sense of body boundaries. Simultaneously attractive and repulsive, it can engender a conflicting set of emotions. The sound of the performer’s breath can be heard through their clay enclosure, with the internalised and claustrophobic sensation of the material being transferred through the digital screen.

The ceramic sculptures draw much of their sensibility from the videos, with a reciprocation between the two forms. Ceramic head cavities evocative of caves have undulating eye and mouth holes burrowing into the back of their craggy interiors. These are reminiscent of the ‘’ videos where a wire cutter slices through the clay face to reveal brightly coloured gooey substance that spews out. The rich use of colour in the videos and ceramics references the humour and excess of the vibrant polychromatic glazes of Minton Majolica, produced in Stoke-on-Trent in the Victorian era.

There is an elusive and incidental humour to the work, as if it is leaking out at the edges; the slapstick quality of clay falling to the ground with its accompanying ASMR splatting sound. The material used is lowly earthy clay, with the humour being low too. Emerging from the lumpy fallible nature of our bodies is a realisation that we’re brought down by gravity and end up in the mud.

In the videos individual identity is effaced, with the protagonists becoming hybrid forms somewhere between themselves and the material. This immersion in clay allows the performers to become mutable, with the videos showing two or more performers merged under the singular mass of clay. For example, in ‘Screensaver’ the idea of communality and connection between people and ground is forged through being part of the same undulating muddy terrain. Individual autonomy is subsumed into a larger mass of clay and limbs. Rather than seeing ourselves as separate from the mass of earthy material below our feet, the works invite us to consider our deep and enmeshed connection with it.


Starting from a sculptural sensibility, William Cobbing’s practice encompasses a diverse range of media, including ceramic sculpture, video and performance. For the past twenty years he has created surreal performative pieces that show the protagonists engaging in repetitive, almost compulsive and absurd cycles of manipulating formless clay surfaces. His work alludes to concepts of entropy, underlining the extent to which earthly material is irreversibly dispersed, giving rise to a definitive blurring of the boundaries between the body and landscape.

He has shown internationally in museum and gallery exhibitions, including ‘A Secret History of Clay’ at TATE Liverpool 2004, ‘Gradiva Project’* at The Freud Museum and Camden Arts Centre 2007, ‘Man in the Planet’* ViaFarini DOCVA Milan 2010, ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ Hayward Gallery Project Space, London 2014, ‘Transactions of the Duddo Field Club’* mima Middlesbrough and Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, 2014, ‘Terrapolis’ (Whitechapel Gallery and Neon) French School, Athens, 2015, ‘CLAY! / LER!’ Museum Jorn, Silkeborg, Denmark, 2018, ‘Further Thoughts on Earthy Materials’ GAK Bremen & Kunsthaus Hamburg, 2018, 2020-21, ‘Human After All’ Keramiekmuseum Princessehof, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands 2021, ‘Human Conditions of Clay’ Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, and John Hansard Gallery Southampton, 2021-22, ‘London Open’ Whitechapel Gallery, London 2022.
*denotes solo exhibition

Cobbing studied BA Sculpture at Central St Martins College of Art and Design (1994-1997), where he worked with ceramics, and de Ateliers International Artists’ Institute in Amsterdam 1998-2000 where he started working with video and performance. He exhibited ‘Eating my Teeth’ at TATE Liverpool’s survey exhibition ‘A Secret History of Clay’ in 2004. His clay videos were included in numerous exhibitions over the following years.

In 2013 he was awarded the Norma Lipman Fellowship at Newcastle University, over the course of the year he returned to working in ceramic sculpture as well as clay video. The resulting works were exhibited at the touring solo exhibition ‘Transactions of the Duddo Field Club’ at mima Middlesbrough and The Hatton Gallery, Newcastle in 2014. He was then included in several museum exhibitions about contemporary ceramics practices, including Terrapolis’ (Whitechapel Gallery and Neon) French School, Athens, 2015, ‘CLAY! / LER!’ Museum Jorn, Silkeborg, Denmark, 2018, ‘Further Thoughts on Earthy Materials’ GAK Bremen & Kunsthaus Hamburg, 2018, 2020-21, ‘Human After All’ Keramiekmuseum Princessehof, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands 2021, ‘Human Conditions of Clay’ Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, and John Hansard Gallery Southampton, 2021-22.

He had a residency at the prestigious EKWC European Ceramics Workshop in The Netherlands in 2021, where he produced a series of ceramic sculptures, which were exhibited in numerous exhibitions, including The London Open at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2022. In 2022 he curated ‘Dirty Work’ a group exhibition of international contemporary artists working with ceramics at The Art Station in Saxmundham, Suffolk.

If clay is often the substance with which WILLIAM COBBING communicates his practice, undoubtedly performance and film is its method. Complementing Cobbing's solo exhibition, SOCIAL SUBSTANCE, we are hosting a series of weekly, weekend performances in response to the exhibition. A mixture of invited artists and performers selected from an Open Call, this programme - often in abstract ways and mixing the humour which courses through Cobbing's work with more serious concerns - seeks to prod and poke at the world of ceramics and further animate the materiality of clay.

The performances take place in 3 settings, the main gallery space at AirSpace, our window exhibiting space and our garden project, The Spode Rose Garden. Times vary - so to avoid missing out, please check carefully. All performances are FREE to attend.


OPENING NIGHT 22 September, 2023 8.30pm
Airspace Gallery
William Cobbing, So You
A performance in which the two protagonists engage in a slapstick way of making, with absurdly extruded shapes, oversized noses and ear-like forms. Modelling blindly, the focus is on a kind of haptic symmetry, with the portrait forming as an equivalence of the size of the artist’s hand, and impressions of fingers. Over time, the portrait forms, as the sitter, and the audience watch the story unfold.
I: @william.cobbing

30 September, 2023 1-3pm
Spode Rose Garden
Naima Khan, Fragments and Remnants
Fragments and Remnants is symbolic of Khan’s upbringing in apartheid South Africa. Terracotta tiles are meditatively formed from fragments before being assembled in a grid formation. Coloured slips are applied by hand and foot, layering heritage, history and a cultural aesthetic onto a series of representative objects.
I: @naima_nimsy

07 October, 2023 2-4pm
AirSpace window
Luca Bosani, Clay’s investigation
Bosani assumes the role of interrogator working for Private investigation company TLSB. Presenting ‘Clay’ as a subject rather than a material, Bosani digs deep into the character of Clay asking. “Can we really manipulate clay at our will?”, “What are the underlying narratives between human touch and our psyche?” and “What if clay is not only an artistic material but an enemy or an obscure character to be surveilled and interrogated?”
I: @luca_bosani

14 October, 2023 2-4pm
AirSpace window
Mulgrew invites you to observe a real life artisan potter at work in her genuine studio recreation. Observe the artist's creative process live in action, commission pottery works in real time through an interactive high tech digital communication system and leave with your very own piece of pottery. No money will change hands!!
I: @MorvenMulgrew

21 October, 2023 12-4pm
AirSpace window
Josh Woolford, Cascade
Transdisciplinary artist Joshua Woolford builds upon their ‘Cascade’ body of work with a durational performance that explores the personal, familial, and cultural histories held within clay. Their performance draws inspiration from the overlapping material cultures of the Arawak, Taíno, Kalinago, West African, and European peoples across the Caribbean. By drawing on these artifacts and repositioning them in direct relation to each other, Woolford confronts the violent histories of settler colonialism and the trafficking of enslaved people which is evidenced through the geographical proximity of these previously disparate forms.
I: @jshwlfrd

28 October, 2023 2-4pm
AirSpace window
Jake Wood, #ClayGains
Jake Wood invites you to experience his new performance work #ClayGains! The performance draws upon Wood’s wider practice, concerned with debunking ideas of fitness, work and exercise. Wood is a competitive bodybuilder and fitness model and will perform a typical leg day workout, using lumps of clay as the weight.
I: @jake_wood_artist

04 November, 2023 7-9pm
AirSpace gallery
Mavis & Mabel, Potteraoke
For our end-of-exhibition social, join hosts Mavis and Mabel for the latest episode in the world renowned pottery/karaoke mash up. Choose a clay related song from the specially themed Potteraoke list and sing your heart out while throwing a pot on the wheel. The winner takes home a very special prize.
I: @annafrancisart / @rebeccamariadavies

Throughout William Cobbing's SOCIAL SUBSTANCE, alongside the weekly performance programme, we will also be hosting weekly creative workshops, all offering skilled responses to Cobbing's exhibition themes.

The workshops are open to ages 14 and upwards though those aged 14-16 must be accompanied by a guardian.
The workshops are all FREE to attend, though booking is required in some instances. Please click on the links for booking information.

Sculpting Stories
Caitlin Kiely & Clem Rousset
October 8th
FREE tickets HERE

Working with an archive of visual material which is both closely and abstractly associated with the clay as a material, participants will treat the images as a raw material in which to think, with which to sculpt, and to tell stories through. Themes in the exhibition such as the merging of forms and identity, connectivity, narrative and relationships will offer a range of lenses through which to see, connect and make associations with the images.
Whilst sifting through the image archive, we will do a word association exercise in relation to a selection of the images. This will support our participants to form more abstract / personal connections and observations.
From this we will explore the process in its own right and how what we do with the image becomes a visual demonstration or investigation. Whether that be the sequencing of images or the process of adding, layering, cutting, extracting, removing, assembling, scrunching up, folding out.

Each participant will leave with their own Zine
This workshop is open to ALL skills and abilities - and ALL materials will be provided.

My Body in My Hands
Sam Lucas
October 15th

A facilitated drop-in workshop where visitors of any age would be given some terra cotta clay and encouraged to create a palm sized form exploring and describing how it feels in their body. This can be as naïve, humorous, poignant, or sophisticated as the individual chooses. There is a catalogue of the objects already made to show the previous creations. With the visitors permission, the object will then be photographed in their hand and uploaded onto Instagram with the hashtag #mybodyinmyhands and #exploringtheneurodiversebody and added to the curated online gallery @theweightofbeing. The artefacts can be taken away or they will be fired them and added to a final iteration as an installation at a future date.
This workshop is open to ALL skills and abilities - and ALL materials will be provided.

Slabbed and Slipped
Camille Biddell
October 22nd
FREE tickets HERE

In this workshop, we will be using textured plaster moulds taken from around Stoke-on-Trent to create experimental slabs with coloured slips and terracotta clay. Participants will be taught how to use the moulds, build surface texture, apply slip and oxides, and make slabs. This technique is intrinsically playful and loose, and participants will be encouraged to experiment with the materials available.
Participants will take inspiration from William Cobbing’s exhibition Social Substance to create form with their slabs. They might decide to work collaboratively or individually, creating a new exhibit of sculptures we will reflect on at the end of the day.
This workshop is open to ALL skills and abilities - and ALL materials will be provided.

Set In Charcoal
Daby Obiechefu
October 29th
FREE tickets HERE

Join multidisciplinary artist Daby Obiechefu for a 2-hour workshop, where you will be guided through a therapeutic journey of stress and tension release, whilst creating imagery with charcoal. A sensory experience, interacting with the space and each other, using art as a form of expression and communication. Set in Charcoal aims to inspire and promote drawing, mark making and shadows as an enjoyable practice, in hopes to allay nervousness and fear that some people might have with drawing. This workshop is inspired by William Cobbing’s solo exhibition Social Substance, where we will be exploring the notions of storytelling with materials and interactions with senses of touch and sound.
This workshop is open to ALL skills and abilities - and ALL materials will be provided.


Cait and Clem are two friends and artists who once shared a studio and still share a common love for the land around them, as well as for publishing and storytelling.
Caitlin Kiely (she/her) is a practice-led-researcher based in Birmingham. Her practice connects with industrial landscapes through a human feminist lens, by the way stories are unearthed, imagined or told. She is also an educator working across a range of university courses.
Clem Rousset (they/them) is a French graphic designer,art director and educator based in London. Their practice as a designer focuses on printed media and aims to convey information in a bold and friendly manner.
Instagram - @caitkiely @hereth_stuff

Sam Lucas is a ceramic artist, who creates ambiguously figurative forms. She does not make pretty things; her work explores the idea of being in the body and social awkwardness, being, rather than being seen, with vulnerability, uncertainty, and a dark humour. Her practice is driven by her own personal experience and observations of others.
After completing the MA ceramics at Cardiff in 2018, she was a finalist in AWARD 2019, the headlining exhibition at British Ceramics Biennial, and this work was exhibited with Taste Contemporary Gallery at Art Geneve 2020. Later in the year she was selected for the Crafts Council Hothouse programme and in 2021 she began undertaking an AHRC NBC funded part time practice-based PhD at University of Sunderland in ceramics and wellbeing. Sam’s research is exploring diversity in bodily experience and how creativity, especially in clay can be used as a coping strategy.
Instagram - @sam___lucas

Camille Biddell makes sculptural pottery rooted in traditional ceramic processes that are reimagined playfully, nodding to their origins whilst questioning the ideas of functionality and ritual. She advocates using clay as a catalyst for conversation and collaboration and is driven to use its heritage to pose social and environmental questions. She engages with complex and layered notions of identity, socio-economics and rewarding interpersonal connections.
Camille is currently a diploma student at Clay College Stoke. She studied Fine Art at Edinburgh College of Art and was part of the Open School East Associate Programme in 2020-21. She has exhibited at Edinburgh Arts Festival, Folkestone Triennial, Land Art Mongolia Biennial, Turner Contemporary and San Mei Gallery.
Instagram - @camo.pots

Daby Obiechefu is a multidisciplinary visual artist. Her practice is primarily inspired by emotions, thoughts and experiences; aiming to challenge perceptions, ideas and thought processes through the creation of immersive and intriguing depictions/environments. Experienced in realism, digital and traditional painting, videography, performance, installation and sculpture, Daby often incorporates some of these mediums within her projects, based on their suitability and ability to convey the concept efficiently. Being curious and observing the world around her, plays an integral role to develop her concepts. These concepts start with questions, wonders or interests that she will then unravel through visual cues and sometimes auditory, which structure an idea and starting point. Human figures are mostly present in her work to connect with the viewer by introducing a familiar attribute.
Instagram - @dabart._

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