Philip Hardaker,

I came to Burslem School of Art in 1973 to do a degree in Fine Art. I specialised in Sculpture. After a year the department was moved to the University site – it was the Polytechnic at that time – and I went into ceramics.

I have been collecting fragments of objects from Victorian rubbish dumps since I was 13 or 14. I was brought up in Harrogate, and I enjoyed digging on the dump – which like almost all dumps, was located in the east, as the residents didn’t want the prevailing westerly wind to carry the smell of waste throughout the town. Harrogate had been a spa-town, with a relatively affluent history. A number of generations of my family were brought up there, and I liked the curious sense I experienced of digging through my ancestors’ past.

In the nineteenth century huge numbers of products were sold in ceramic containers – ceramic was the plastic of its day. I found many of these objects when I went digging, and of course, most of them would have been made in Stoke-on-Trent.

When I moved to the Potteries, I realised I was living on top of a treasure-trove. As a student in Burslem, I could go out and dig on local Victorian and Georgian shraff tips (shraff is the name given to quantities of broken ceramic – a shraff tip is a ceramic dump). In the early days of the industry, about twenty-five per cent of the production of any given factory could end up as shraff – there was a tremendously high proportion of waste – misfirings, impurities in the glaze or clay body, accidental breakages and so on. Every item went through many hands, in the multiple stages of production, there were plenty of opportunities for mistakes to occur.

It struck me that by using recycled material, a quality coming from its fragmentary nature was imparted to the meaning of the work. I loved the sense of finding a use for something that had formerly been considered useless. I appreciated the aura the objects exuded of the labour that had gone into their production – hours and hours had been spent making them.  I felt I had found a form to celebrate the endurance of the objects themselves. Many of them were a hundred years old or more. I wanted to celebrate their longevity, and use them to express the complexity of our daily experience.

Technology and air-travel has created a smaller world. We are bombarded with imagery over which we have little control. Think of all the information we can take in from one small television screen in just one evening. It would have been unimaginable in a previous era. This is the world I live in, and I aim consciously to make my work has to respond to this complexity.

I try to harness both the fragmentation of the objects I use, and their varied and competing histories to create a new critical statement on the world around me. I am a passionate pacifist. I believe arms are immoral, and that war is the cause of nothing but human misery. Do you know how much it cost to buy the European fighter plane? £50,000,000, and we ordered three hundred and thirty two of them. But instead of noticing or thinking about this, we use television – shows like Big Brother – to pacify the nation.

In the work I make, I aim to express my convictions, but it can take a while to find the most effective means of communication. Ideas often stay in embryonic form for some time. At the moment I am thinking about our contemporary loss of the experience of silence and darkness. I will make sketches around the theme, and collect objects that seem to relate to it. Then something will happen to make the variety of elements gel, and another work springs to life.