It was while Fleur was living in Canada in 2001 that she began to appreciate hand crafted utilitarian ceramic objects. The daily ritual of pouring from a handmade teapot and drinking from a hand built cup enriches the dining experience.
She particularly enjoys making objects that can be used in the home. Clay has a wonderful knack of reflecting the hand of the maker and the environment it is made in. Fleur is drawn to objects that provide that individual recognisability, especially those essential objects that are instrumental to our daily rituals. A certain discipline is required to solve the challenges presented when making an object ergonomic, consequently she loves the quiet place in her head that making usable objects sweeps her away to.
Fleur began exploring narrative in porcelain in 2005 after her daughter Heidi was born. Her work is a canvas to archive those magical childhood moments which continually unfold in the lives of both of her children, yet also allow her to reflect on her own childhood.
In 2009 Fleur began making an island village of porcelain houses, an imagined urban landscape for a children’s book. She wanted each house to feel lived in, loved and architecturally possibly impossible.
The following series evolved from cutting, reshaping and morphing leather hard slip cast porcelain bottle forms.
‘What To Do With The Detritus’
Slip cast porcelain with hand built inclusions 2002 Canada.
Fleur grew up in a place where the landscape was so vast it felt like it never ended, rolling hills of wheat, sewn together like a patch work quilt that laid across a vast flat land. Obsolete and rusting pieces of farm machinery would occasionally sprout like mushrooms to break the monotony of what seemed like one enormous golden blanket. From the verandah of her families old homestead the shimmer of a far off pile of discarded bottles would catch the eye. This fascinating conglomerate of glass, metal and plastic, perched on the edge of an encroaching salt lake spans six generations and is often referred to by the Schell family as the ‘Bottle Tip’. When walking carefully across the pile of partially buried bottles, their changing colours, form and material convey the passing of time as if turning the pages of a history book.
This graveyard of quiescent relics comes to life under foot while carefully navigating through the jumble of tinkling and clanking bottles. Suddenly these sounds conjure images of past generations toasting by candle light, at a time when these bottles stood proudly listening in the center of the table, new loved and full of 'the good oil'. The more contemporary bottles resting on the of the tip have an obvious change in form and quality and an increasing lack of distinction. The newer piles of bottles and cans have evolved into a plain and artless collection, which have sadly lost their identity as their transient labels have perished in the elements. The classic bottles of yesteryear that proudly display raised molded glass labels preserve an era in cultural history when the glass bottle was seen as a precious object and their decoration an art form.
Fleur referenced musical instruments in her clay work since her post graduate visual arts degree. Making objects that emit sound, are tactile and encourage interaction begun in 1997 and continued until 2005.
In 1997 while undertaking post graduate studies at The university of Tasmania Fleur began exploring the possibilities of sound through ceramic media in a way that encourages audience interaction on an audio, tactile and visual level. The intention was to break down the division between artist and audience, changing the audience’s role from passive receiver to initiator. The principal aim was to create cast ceramic forms that were capable of generating sound, and which, through their aesthetic and textural quality, invited an intimate tactile response. To this end, Fleur aimed to produce sharp full forms, which were immediately commanding in their presence and possessed the characteristics of musical instruments. On the surface she wanted to integrate mechanically and musically inspired appendages of clay, metal, wood and string.
Fleur began by researching artists who work in the field of interactive sound art. In particular, artists who have dealt with ambient sound (everyday, background sound) in a spontaneous way. A theme, which recurred throughout this research, was the difficulty in differentiating between noise, sound and music. Noise differs from sound only to the extent that the vibrations which produce it are confused and irregular. Every noise has a pitch, some even a chord, which predominates among its irregular vibrations. Distinguishing between ‘sound’ and ‘music’ is impossible and one does not exist without the other. It was also from this research that she considered the possibility of recording the sounds produced by the work and combining them with pedestrian noises (noises generated by man-made machinery).
Fleur then experimented with ceramic forms, which were cast from various utilitarian objects to create hollow resonating chambers capable of producing sound. A variety of plaster moulds, clays, glazes, and firing temperatures were used and initial sound testing was carried out in an attempt to understand and control the diverse sounds that these hollow forms produce. Found mechanical objects were modified and incorporated into the clay pieces to function as compartments and supports to the ceramic forms and to encourage an interactive element of curiosity for the audience.
Porcelain was chosen as the ceramic medium because of its whiteness, seductive tactile quality and the highly polished finished that can be attained. Accordingly, the forms were left unglazed. The pieces were high fired to enhance their resonating quality and also to attain strength and durability, taking into consideration that they were to be handled. The use of quotations from the Braille alphabet on the surface of the work, in the form of fine raised dots, is to emphasize the importance of touch in the pieces. The found components comprise mostly metallic parts from household appliances, cars and musical instruments which emphasize the synergy between ambient noise and ordered sound. The stands have been chrome plated to create an alluring polished surface and one of the porcelain forms has been designed to fit snuggly into the curves of a performer’s body. Upon completion of the sculptures for her Honours degree Fleur collaborated with musicians from the Hobart Conservatory of Music to play the pieces and record the sounds that they generated. The recording was then mixed with relevant pedestrian noises to create a soundtrack to be played during the Post Grad exhibition at The University of Tasmania in 1997.
INFUNDIBULA is a collection of sound funnels exhibited at Stride Gallery in Calgary, Alberta Canada during 2002.
The Following writing is by Amy Gogarty, a painter, writer and Craft Historian, who taught the history of ceramics at the Alberta College of Art and Design in the same year that Fleur was Artist-in-Residence there in 2001.
Sound, texture and form shape Fleur Schell's world. Unlike most of us, for whom the useful objects of the world present only their instrumental face, Schell possesses an uncanny ability to strip free those qualities and recombine them as abstract entities. A visit to the grocery store for her is as apt to produce an intriguing collection of shapely bottles as any desired comestible; trips to abandoned farm sites render treasure troves of steel milking machine udders or strangely twisted, rusting implements of uncertain origin. She commandeers children's toys to furnish components for bizarre noise‑making devices and squirrels away objects without immediate purpose for future consideration like a magpie. Invented textures inspired by the exquisite drawings of radiolaria, diatoms and segmented worms depicted in the Ernst Haeckel's Art Forms in Nature supplement those she finds. The sounds, textures and forms of the world serve as her raw materials, which she combines with the sensibility of a true bricoleur. Two things separate her assemblages from those of many others: most of her components are first slip cast in fine porcelain, and many of her strange objects produce sound.
Historically, porcelain is a mythical substance produced first in China during the T'ang Dynasty (618‑9o6 CE). It was fought over, sought after and collected by rulers from Persia to Britain through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, until a similar substance was developed in Germany in the i8th century. Today, it is compounded in various mixtures to create products ranging from table and sanitary wares to turbine engine heat exchangers. Porcelain's strength belies its apparent fragility, but it demands much from those who would use it. Its tendency to shrink, crack, slump and peel frustrates novices, but those who understand it respond to its pure whiteness, translucency, skin‑like sensitivity and bell‑like sound it makes when struck. These qualities derive from its fully fused body, achieved through great heat, and these qualities draw Schell to it. She has mastered techniques of throwing, slip casting, hand building and decorating this temperamental material, and she puts her skills to work constructing imaginative worlds.
Schell grew up in a sixth‑generation farming family in Western Australia. Her love of nature, respect for rural skills and native understanding of how things work combined with an education that opened both conceptual and technical doors for her. Her early education exposed her to an eclectic mix of Scottish and Hungarian traditions, respect for worn and rugged surfaces and objects of everyday use. In notes to an earlier exhibition, Preserved Sound, she writes movingly of her attraction to the beauty of old bottles, whose "moulded labels preserve an era in cultural history when the glass bottle was seen as a precious object and (its) decoration an art form. "In her own bottle forms, Schell expresses her admiration for the integrity, hardships and love of the land experienced by generations of family members who came before her. Graduate studies in Tasmania introduced her to new influences and technologies. Here she encountered porcelain clay and industrial techniques, which her earlier training had encouraged her to disdain. It was a fortunate meeting, as the clean, minimalist forms she learned to make married well with previously developed skills in manipulating metal and mechanical devices. Working with high‑fire industrial clay, she developed innovative ways of firing, smooth sanding and re‑firing her wares to produce elegant pure white forms. Rubbing selected surfaces with cobalt or copper oxides highlighted contrasting textures, and she often set smooth forms against rough, recycled supports. Moving parts introduced sound components, which stimulated interaction with viewers. While Schell is an accomplished musician, what really attracted her was the experience of unique, individual sound, which could be amplified and captured by her porcelain containers.
In the autumn Of 2001, Schell came to the Alberta College of Art and Design as an artist‑in‑residence. The clays of Alberta differ from those of Australia, which are among the oldest, most weathered and most pure forms of kaolin on earth. If the clays differed, the landscape was strangely familiar. Western Australia is dotted with thousands of abandoned mine shafts, which rise above the red sandy desert like ant hills on the horizon, reminding Schell of the multitude of oil rigs that sprout in fields from Alberta to Saskatchewan. Canada and Australia both suffer extremes of weather, and the wide‑open spaces of both countries are embedded deep in the psyches of their inhabitants. Much of her research reflects the on‑going experience of the uncanny, of similarity and difference, which she finds reflected in vivid dreams and dejavu. Exploration drives her forward to examine and reflect upon these sensations.
Multi‑sensory approaches to her work introduce not only sound elements, but also textures that beg to be touched. Textures convey the histories of objects in direct and tangible ways. Award‑winning work done in Australia included sentences in Braille applied with slip, which opened her sculptures to appreciation by the visually impaired. Conceptually, sound and containment are linked through association with structure and molding. For the visually impaired, sound serves to convey a physical environment, much as sonic waves are used by seismologists to delineate structures under the earth. The containing function of a room structures sound in ways that can be apprehended by those attuned to subtle vibrations, making "visible" the surface articulations of a containing environment. Our bodies are containers that modulate the air in our lungs, shaping it to speak. The process of molding a found object reproduces that object as a reversed or negative double. The mold in turn transmits its impression of the original only when cast, in a sense, liberating what would remain dormant as a form of speech. just as sound reveals the contours of a containing space to the blind, the blind mould bequeaths the form of its parent to its progeny, the cast object. In this, the mold functions as an intermediary, much as a negative in photography, reminding us that early photographers often selected casts of historical monuments and famous individuals for their subject matter. Notions of fidelity, replication and identity interact to produce unbroken chains linking physical experience to its re‑presentation as art.
These tableux feature the Excellent Adventures of Heidi and Kilbey. The inspiration for this series was born on February the 4th 2005. Her name was Heidi and from that moment it dramatically changed the way Fleur experienced the world. Suddenly the world changed from black and white to colour! Heidi reacquainted Fleur with the magical world of children’s books. Fleur's not sure who was more captivated by their colour or more moved by their messages, Heidi or her!
Ornaments often start without a purpose or reason, just moments of play where Fleur is engaging with her immediate surroundings. Randomly they may grow and become a departure point for a new series. Fleur describes building ornaments as essential breathers, or pauses in her practise, necessary to maintain that freshness and spontaneity while making in the studio.