An evening of making: Toast x Phoebe Cummings
Words Mark Hooper
Photographs Chloe Winstanley
We were thrilled to host a special readers’ evening with Toast and Phoebe Cummings, winner of the inaugural Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Prize, as part of her residency at Protein Studios in London, in association with Toast…
During an opening discussion with Editor Mark Hooper, Cummings explained her approach to making, her use of material and the changing interpretation of the term craft. For someone whose work is firmly in the realm of art and sculpture, she is comfortable being the first recipient of a major craft prize. ‘The definition of what craft has become much more expanded now anyway – it’s become a more confident term,’ she says – going on to explain that it is the ‘education and the root’ of everything she does.
And what she does is truly unique. Aptly demonstrated by Season, the work she produced over the better part of a week at Protein Studios, Cummings works with raw clay, building otherworldly floral scenes and exploring themes of materiality and temporality. ‘I’m setting things up in a way that it then acts out its own performance,’ she says. Making a virtue of how the character of unfired clay will alter as it dries, there is a built-in tension as well as a quiet strength to the sculptures she creates.
For Laura Shippey, head of design at Toast, the collaboration was a natural one: ‘Our theme for this season is Elements of Materiality,’ she explains. ‘As an artist who places the material at the centre of her work, we knew that Phoebe would capture the spirit of our theme.’
‘We were fascinated by this idea of materiality,’ Shippey says of the new collection; ‘the beauty of modest materials – a rumpled cotton or a dry linen – and the richness and personality that can be brought to it through the human hand with a print, weave or bold silhouette… There is a hint of the traditional, something familiar, contrasting with something new and unexpected. The mix of these elements is what is exciting to us.’
Rather than imposing a rigid brief, Toast instead discussed the collection and their wider aesthetic. ‘Phoebe’s work is quietly beautiful,’ says Shippey. ‘You can watch it for hours – watch as the clay reacts to the elements of air and heat. There is deep thought behind what Phoebe does – the fact that her work is temporary and can’t be possessed is something we found captivating. It also seems profoundly human, acknowledging that everything is fleeting.’
Cummings reiterates the common ground between her outlook and that of Toast. ‘It is so close to the way that I work anyway,’ she says. ‘There’s a shared interest I think with raw materials and process. In general, they have a sense of fostering thoughtfulness. And there is a quietness to my work – it changes in subtle ways, it’s not necessarily a dramatic performance. The process of making forces you to slow down.’
Rather than simply hearing how Cummings creates her work, our readers also had the rare opportunity to get some hands-on advice from her as she ran an intimate workshop, revealing some of her techniques as they worked towards producing a shared centrepiece, each individual creating an element of the final work.
For more on Phoebe Cummings, see the Issue 16 of Hole & Corner magazine – out soon.