‘On Awe’ is a porcelain sculpture created by Bristol-based ceramic artist, Becky Hoghton in 2022. Inspired by Clifton Suspension Bridge and its collections, it explores the concept of awe, monumentality and memory.
Hoghton is fascinated by humankind’s interaction with nature; how and why we mould and interact with landscape. Clifton Suspension Bridge represents a nineteenth-century example of this interaction. It was built not only to cross the Gorge, or ‘conquer’ landscape, but also to be viewed as part of the landscape and as a way of viewing the landscape.
When people visit the bridge they often come to look and experience the structure and its surroundings. The vertiginous rocky cliffs and the large monumental towers, with the heavy iron chains suspended across the space of the Avon Gorge commonly inspire a feeling or sense of awe. This is often evoked from taking notice of the small human-sized as well as a larger, more indefinite physical world. It can lead to feelings of being small, or of losing oneself, which has proven to be linked to a sense of wellbeing. The sensations of awe and wonder make us feel happier, humble and more connected to the people around us. It’s good for us.
This work was created by the meditative action of rolling small balls of porcelain clay by hand. Porcelain is a material with a high ‘memory’ which means that once it has been wetted and formed it ‘remembers’ the first touch and has a tendency to revert to it when drying out. This echoes Hoghton’s interest in the Bridge’s collection of souvenirs; often small portable ephemeral objects that can be part of our remembering of a particular place, time and feeling.
The sculpture echoes nineteenth century monumental architectural forms, while playfully celebrating the small and hand-held. In a similar way to the 4200 wrought iron chains of the Bridge, its materiality is contradictory; made of many parts the porcelain clay is heavy but appears light; it is strong but has a delicacy; once pliable but now set as a solid whole.
See the work on display at the Visitor Centre this Autumn.
The work was created with support the Developing Your Creative Practice grant funded by Arts Council England.