Material Land

Jenny Pope

2019-2021 All At Sea Assemble Heritage Landmark Place

Artist Jenny Pope led a research based residency from 2019-21 exploring the working conditions and materials used in many of Portobello's industries. Three installations were produced during the two year period culminating with a kiln installation and group show.

Jenny’s two-year residency as part of our Landmark series, explored the material land of Portobello, from the local historic clay-pits to the pollutant substances once produced in the post industrial land across Western Portobello. The different works developed across her residency collectively opened up previously untold stories whilst inviting us to reconsider the work and labour involved in operating the kilns. 2021
Portobello Kilns Bridge Street
& Art Walk Hub group exhibition

This concluding installation of Jenny’s residency draws attention to the interior working space of the kiln, and to the skills and experience required by staff to produce consistent, high quality, saleable ceramic wares. She responds to the once hot smoky atmosphere that the coal fired kiln created and the skills needed in packing and stacking the kiln with heavy saggars and the ultimate experience of the ‘fireman’ who watched over it for the three day firing, gauging by eye the correct firing cycle and temperature changes.

Jenny is fascinated by the process of turning wet clay into a permanent useable object and has studied both physics and ceramics, adding to her curiosity and admiration for the workers who were able to judge by eye the temperature before contemporary heat measuring devices were used.

For her installation, she created two interventions inside the kiln.
Heat-o-meter a large constructed device to reference measuring the changing colours of the internal space of the kiln and temperatures associated with the different stages of the firing cycle.
Thermal gloves the making of thermal insulated heat gloves as a gesture to the hundreds of workers who had to improvise with makeshift wet rags wrapped around their arms and faces to protect themselves whilst unpacking the hot kiln.

Images: Jon Davey

(The title refers to the 1st Law of Thermodynamics as a way of understanding the energy transferred in a given system, in this case the relationship between the temperature reached and the amount of time in the kiln and the effect on the ceramic ware)

Sea Masks 2020
As part of the ART WALK’S ‘All At Sea’ programme, Jenny created a series of masked forms relating to the precautions workers took to protect themselves from the heat as they unloaded the ceramics, installed along one of Portobello’s beach groynes.

The masks of course contained references to the new uncertainties around Covid-19 being navigated at the time, including personal responsibility and public health. From the ubiquitous blue clinical mask to the homemade, designer or impromptu, or unfortunately dumped, in our seas. Jenny is also mindful of the strategies people use to protect themselves during demonstrations protesting their freedom and rights against police and repressive authorities around the world.

Wind Forms 2019
Jenny installed a temporary sculptural installation along Portobello Promenade taking the form of a series of wind forms that built on the histories once surrounding this area dating from 1800. The sculptures she created reflected upon the rich but deadly and pollutant local colours that once used to be produced: Prussian blue, blood red, mustard and white lead, whilst highlighting continued human environmental impact.

List of Talks & Events

Artist Talk, Portobello Kilns
Participatory Brick Stacking/Kiln Making & Beach Cooking event:
Jenny led an afternoon creating stack forms from reclaimed bricks, for later firing and cooking on the beach working with wild chef/forager Judith Lamb


Make & Talk (socially distanced) event working with recycled materials to construct temporary works inspired by her installation


Artist Talk, Portobello Kilns installation

Jenny Pope is a visual artist producing a range of work from small delicate objects to large-scale sculptural pieces. She is intrigued by the physicality of materials, making processes and the meaning of objects.

At the core of her working practice is experimentation with the limits and possibilities of materials such as porcelain, components of concrete, felt and paper. Through a process of research and serendipitous play into their physicality, structure and fragility she responds to the tactile viscous immediacy embodied in the substances. Her pieces are an exploration of the experience of mindfulness. She use the analogy of weathering of objects to suggest the uncertainty and changes we all face as human beings, as Robert Macfarlane describes ‘the appalling transience of the human body’. She explores ways to convey a continual attempt to be in the present moment in a world fuelled by busyness. Walking along the fluctuating and permeable edge of the seashore, she uses discovering objects at the tide line as both a meditative activity and practical taxonomy of found relics. By selecting and responding to the man-made fragments, she draws awareness to remnants of information, patterns of indents, holes and the repetitive worn surfaces from an object being used. Like artists Mark Dion and Robert Callender, her exploration also suggests links between archeology, taxonomy although she also examines the intuitive/primitive use of found objects as contemporary worry beads. One recent focus has been towards making objects in response to finding old bones, observing how the original functional orthopaedic structures have been altered by immense force of oceanic erosion. She highlights the commonality of calciferous constituents of bones with large-scale limestone rock structures also with dynamic water flow marks; wind eroded edges and minimal surface tension. Her current line of research leads towards the edge of textiles, creating personal sculptural spaces in response to the tension between comfortable containment and restraint. George Elliot’s idea of the ‘unmapped country within us‘ is drawn on navigational maps of the sea in an external embodiment of place.