For this exhibition Jonathan Baldock created an installation of new work conceived during his Freelands Lomax Ceramics Fellowship at Camden Art Centre in 2017-18.
Comprising of precariously stacked ceramic columns, these works were inspired by the discovery, in 1974, of more than a thousand perfectly preserved cuneiform-inscribed clay tablets, ca. 2500 BC, in the ancient city of Ebia, Syria. This exhibition payed homage to these extraordinary artefacts, developing an alternative history of clay as a tool of communication and a carrier of language that defiantly stands the test of time.
Drawing from histories of labour, folklore and storytelling, Baldock’s experiments with glass, basketry and spinning highlight the decline of traditional making; skills lost due to technology that once transformed society, but now threatens our global demise. By bringing early human script into dialogue with emoji, the fastest growing contemporary language, Baldock explored communication employed by humans across time and cultures.
In addition, there was a series of new clay tablets of crudely modelled human faces or masks. Drawing on the most fundamental and universal of human images – two eyes, a nose and a mouth – they evoke both a primal icon and the hyper-charged ubiquity of the emoji – the smiley – that most contemporary carrier of meaning and emotion.
Borrowing its title from George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, the exhibition evoked an absurd and unsettling alternative version of the present for a future viewer to discover. Baldock reveals how language both elucidates and obscures; in his work language becomes an object that is at once intellectual and messy but ultimately, for all its slippery, inscrutability, something irrepressible and alive.