PDP L6 Exposure (Exhibition)

I feel pleased with the way I have tackled the challenge I set myself for this exhibition project. I have pushed many of the boundaries of my making comfort zone over the past five months, making larger scale and more ambitious work than ever before and leaving the expressive qualities of the malleable clay instead of removing the traces of process like I had previously.  Writing my dissertation on the relationship between ceramics and time was a huge influence on my practice. Through analysing artworks by three contemporary ceramic artists I identified different ways in which we experience time when making or viewing art, for example waiting, anticipating and recognising traces from the past. This led me to challenge the linear method of making I was using previously and try working in a more cyclical, improvised way, responding instinctively to the nuances of each individual form.

I came up against lots of difficulties during these past terms. Early on I struggled to control the larger clay pieces, both on the wheel and when building with them. By now though, I have developed skill and confidence in throwing with larger quantities on the wheel and have a tacit knowledge of when the clay is ready to be constructed with. I experimented with using heat guns at the beginning but discovered that although the clay was drier to touch, it was not necessarily strong, so I decided patience was the best way of ensuring the walls of my vessels were the same dryness throughout.

Inspired too by artists like Gareth Mason and Peter Voulkos whose methods of making are almost like a performance with such bravura and risk of collapse, I hoped though a cyclical process of deconstruction and reconstruction I could create a sense of stratified time. I have come to think of the fractured nature of the pots as a series of snapshots of actions in the making process, like a college by Picasso or Braque. In retrospect, one way I could have more successfully realised this vision is if I had worked in a closer way to Mason, taking parts from one vessel and incorporating them into another to make a new piece rather than keeping them separate. It was suggested to me that this would reflect the way we interact with other humans, a trace of an interaction with another person is left in our mind afterwards and plays a role in forging our identity.

Visits to potters also influenced my thinking. Last term’s visit to the Leach pottery and then trips to meet Jason Braham and Jack Welbourne this year (two potters working in the country potter tradition) made me begin to think about the role of the potter in today’s society and the confused role they play now that it can be argued potters are no longer needed to make functional objects. Reading The Ceramics Reader and visiting shows such as Collect in London made me much more aware of the amorphous role of ceramics in the art world today and as a result my work attempts to bravely defy classification, blurring boundaries between contemporary craft, pottery and art, not quite obeying the rules that define value through skill and neither subscribing to the cult of sloppy craft.

Contextualising Practice:

Gallery Context
The Role of the Potter
Photoshoot / Thinking Titles
Corridor Crit / External Examiner
Visit to One Wall Studio/Tradition and Modernism

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Building the Plinth

20190505_175735 (583x800)I hoped to build my plinth at home in North Wales over the Easter holiday, thinking that having family around to help would lessen the stress of building my first construction in wood. As it turned out, the plinth I had in mind would be too long to fit in the car boot (rookie error) but luckily there was still time to order materials to CSAD. Having planned out compositions before the holiday, I came up with the design on the right to begin with, an upside down U shaped structure with hollow legs, a cross between a white plinth and a high table. I had trouble figuring out how the legs would attach to the top however. On a visit to Huws Gray building suppliers I came across the cross sectioned 4.3cm lengths of wood which I thought would make much more graceful legs.

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20190430_141434 (600x800)As a result I adapted my design to the one above, a rectangular box with 15mm MDF board on top. Nigel suggested I would need supporting struts around the middle to support the weight on top but thinking this would disrupt the minimal aesthetic of the ‘ghost plinth’ I compromised instead by decreasing the length 30cm to 140cm (which as it turns out, is more than enough space). I used half-lap joints on the corners, like a canvas structure to strengthen the shape, cutting these on the bandsaw and joining them together with two 100mm screws in each. The MDF top was stuck down with a nail gun. I didn’t use glue for the leg joints which means the plinth can be taken apart, transported and re-assembled for other exhibitions, really handy!

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Plinth ready to be painted white

The biggest worry was that after assembling the structure was very wobbly. Thankfully this was mainly to do with the timber being warped rather than my own shoddy building technique. Next time I would drill the countersink holes deeper since lots of my screws sit proud of the surface and this made it hard to cover then over with polyfilla and paint. I’m glad I left a centimetre ledge around the edges, the shadow underneath creates a nice sense of lift for the top which will frame my pieces. I’m very pleased with my design overall too. I wanted my pieces high up but a big narrow conventional plinth would look like a wall, bulky and jarring in a space which is light and airy. Hopefully there will be some visual dot the dots between the extruded forms in my work and the square cross-section frame. The bars across the bottom are great too, they stop the structure looking too much like a table while also adding strength and stopping people getting too close to the plinth.

My plinths are also partly inspired by coming across the work of American artist and professor Peter Christian Johnson on Instagram. The plinths that have been made for his ‘Acts of Contrition’ series are beautiful but complicated architectural-looking assemblages of square cross-sectioned wood. Having looked further into these and looking back at my own design I realise I could have been far more playful with the structure, creating shelves of different height on which vessels could sit. The plinth itself becomes a container in some way then, carrying on the thread of the vessel theme into the whole of the composition itself. Having no experience of building with wood this was beyond my capability but now I have some knowledge of the jigsaw puzzle that is building a piece of furniture, I can be braver with my plinth designs in the future.

Image sources: http://www.peterchristianjohnson.com/

 

Photoshoot / Thinking Titles

Not happy with the previous photographs I took of my work in the photography studio, the light being too dramatic and the darker colours of some of the glazes not standing out against the dark background, I decided yesterday to stage a photo shoot in the concrete and glass walled exhibition space of the CSAD foyer, with much more successful results. Being more diffused the light didn’t bounce too harshly off the surfaces from one direction like before. Uploading the new photos to my website this afternoon I realised I’m lacking details about each of the pieces, firstly their dimensions and secondly, the pieces don’t yet have names. While this isn’t crucial to my degree, it will help if I want to use the images for other purposes later on.

Over Easter I visited Kate Haywood’s exhibition ‘Traces’ as part of The Language of Clay at Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s ceramics gallery. The mysterious and delicate porcelain pieces, highlighted in places by flashes of blue, green or pink glaze with details gilded in bright gold leaf, hint towards function but leave us guessing. Coloured ropes like curtain tassels are attached to some of the pieces, suggesting they are somehow to be hung or worn on the body. The visual link to jewellery pieces is not surprising considering Kate’s background in jewellery design.

One of the things I particularly liked about this collection is the choice of names given to the individual pieces. The names could have come straight out of Douglas Adams’ The Meaning of Lif they sound at the same time so bizarre and familiar. Gads, Lidden, Peggle and Cora are just some of the examples. Others, such as ‘Shirr’ seen below with a gold covered brush model sitting on top of it, have links to the visual object. To shirr is to gather fabric into parallel rows and the sculpture shows porcelain carved into a mimic of gathered fabric. Dalloop is more of a mystery as there is no record of it in the dictionary but it still conjures up the idea of a ‘ye olde’ tool or utensil of some kind. Seeing the objects laid out as they were in the glass cabinets reminded me of the objects on display at the Viking Ship museum in Oslo, pieces of broken equipment and jewellery, often with extremely detailed and intricate carvings, sometimes gold and often difficult to figure out how they would have been worn or used without reading the museum guide. Detached from time and context the everyday objects we use today would similarly be objects of mystery – paperclips, screwdrivers and washing-up sponges all require a network of other things around them on which they depend for us to understand their function.

In a similar way to Haywood’s work my vessels also bring with them an expectation of function with their familiar utilitarian forms of jugs, cider jars, vases and a teapot as well as the mysterious legs some of them sit upon, connecting them to cooking tripods and architecture. In other ways our work is very different however. Key to my own sculptures is the contrasts in processes involved in the making, a play between the flowing, undulating thrown forms and the harsh, clean lines of the extruded shapes that pierce through them. The fight against gravity during the making process is also illustrated through the slumping clay walls, warped supports and pooling glazes. Haywood’s sculptures are so meticulously carved, to some extent you forget they are made from clay. There is though, an intimacy to both our work I feel, to hers because of the small, pocket sized scale and because the objects are placed so carefully together. Each piece is unique too which suggests a kind of personalisation. I think mine are personal in the way they are cut and put back together. When things break that we don’t particularly like, we throw them away to get a better one, but when things important to us break, we fix them.

Having considered these things, what then should I call my sculptures? Giving them individual names moves them even further away from the traditions of Leachian pottery and traditional craft they are references of, placing them much more in the sphere of fine art objects. Since the underlying mission of my degree show project has been to understand the vessel through a cyclic process of dissection and repetition, it could be fun to choose for each one a title that’s a synonym for vessel or container. There are over 50 Swedish words for snow, and the English language has similar gradients of meaning I could use ‘receptacle’ to ‘bin’…

Above: Images of Kate Haywood ‘Traces’ at Aber Arts Centre.

On Curation

The photos in this blog post aren’t the best quality but they give an idea of the way I have been experimenting with the placement of my objects. After realising the vessels look best clustered (where they can appear to communicate with one another) and wary of making a sea of plinths, I moved away from my individual ‘Ranti Bam’ style plinths  and decided I would have one long plinth instead.

I spent some time playing around with MA graduate Anne’s abandoned plinth which has been used in the photos below. Being very long and narrow (over 2m long) it meant I could only assemble my vessels linearly. At first I liked this idea as it would highlight the silhouettes of the pieces and could perhaps resemble an assembly line or a workshop shelf, creating an unusual juxtaposition between the links of the forms to mass-produced tableware and their fractured, unfinished nature. A linear narrative also has connotations of growth and progression and these vessels appear very much to be collapsing or growing in some state of flux. The linear plinth also reminds me of a previous post looking at an Adam Silverman exhibtion. 

There is a danger with such a thick sided plinth as this one though, that it can stand out too boldly and a few people have commented on how, supporting my objects this plinth starts to look like the monolith from Space Odyssey. While Silverman’s installation is referencing the architecture of the gallery space it is in, his vessels almost disappearing into their monochrome environment, I want my vessels to be the vocal point and I want them to exude a kind of lightness and sense of humour. A bulky plinth such as this in a subtle shade of grey is too serious for my intentions.

Next, finding a shorter, wider white plinth, I tried creating compositions with more depth of field. Initially I thought the first image here was too clustered and the second too sparse, but in hindsight a closer clustering adds dynamism and movement to the group. Some appear to be leaning in, eavesdropping on conversations, some tiptoe carefully, some stand shy and precarious and others remove themselves from the group, standing apart independently, the differences are more pronounced. I didn’t intend my vessels to be so anthropomorphic but it seems inevitable that pots should remind us of people. Some of the marks I made even unintentionally resemble faces.

It is strange to think that each one began life as two bowls of roughly the same shape and weight. Each one then almost becomes an ode to the making of that particular form, depending on my emotions at the time, the particular way a thrown section slumped after cutting and on the weight of the walls and the drying speed. If they were poems they would each have the same integral structure but their contents would set them apart.

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Corridor Crit / External Examiner

Last Thursday, after a slightly panicky start to the day when I discovered yet more of my test glazes had turned out unsuccessful, things began to feel better towards the afternoon  as I realised I need to focus on making the best of what I already have. I realised I haven’t been asking myself concrete questions about what I want the sculptures to look like and as a result hadn’t committed to a choice of decoration.

Over the lunch time I took part in a corridor crit which was positive and constructive. Displaying my work on three plinths of different heights which I’d found around the school, I realised the plinths would not need to be as high as I’d predicted for the work to be at eye level because much of it is fairly tall. Themes which seemed to dominate the composition were growth, architecture, distortion, movement, a dialogue between function and non-function, order/disorder and collapse. I found it interesting how the others commented on the uniting feature of the horizontal throwing lines on all the pieces and how this made an interesting contrast with the vertical clay particle orientation in the legs. They also pointed out a harmony between colours, which was positive since I was worried the vessels were too disparate. In regard to curating the show in a wider sense it was suggested my work may be interesting beside Andrea’s functional thrown tableware, the continuity of the vessel and process of throwing raising  questions surrounding the role and value of craft and skill in our contemporary society of mass production.

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Set up of work in progress for corridor crit

We realised too that it may be more practical to place my sculptures on clusters of plinths rather than individual ones to avoid the danger of knocking them over. It might be interesting to look into exhibition safety guidelines to figure out the distance required between each individual plinth if I choose a set up like the one in the exhibition plan. 

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Bisque vessels ready to be glazed

Talking through my work with our external examiner Bonnie Kemske was also hugely valuable to me because I was forced to explain my ideas to someone who knew nothing of my work. Initially I thought I wanted to create a range of bright, matte glazes for the vessels but realised this was because I was following a pre-determined idea of what I expect the forms to look like. Perhaps the proliferation of ‘insta-porn’ pots has something to do with this – bright, beautiful, photogenic objects that look modern and fresh. It’s not that I don’t want to create modern, fresh, beautiful and photogenic vessels, but that the concept and the experience of viewing them in reality is more important to me than whether they look good online.

I realised when explaining the objects to her that what I needed to do was go with my original idea of using my pre-existing ash, shino, tenmoku and red oxblood reduction glazes which will place them very much in the context of Leach and British country pottery, but with the unexpected twist that the forms are sculptural. I hope this use of the familiar and domestic in a sculptural high art white plinth context will create an uncanny experience. In regard to the forms of the objects, again I solidified my conviction that the ones with defined rims and bases work better since they behave as a start and finishing point for our line of vision, an empty space on which the eye can rest. I have started to lay down rules for myself when making now so I apply these design considerations.

Below: Vessels in progress

 

 

Exhibition Set-Up Initial Planning

For our formative we were tasked with creating a design for our exhibition. Currently I’ve been designated a space somewhere in the reception area with the concrete and glass walls. Will helped me put together a digital mock-up on Rhino of what the area might look like. I’ve taken inspiration from Ranti Bam’s display at Golbourne 50, a gallery that showed at Collect this year. The Nigerian born artist’s colourful clay vessels were displayed on individual plinths of varying heights so that you could walk among them, reminding me of trees in a forest or standing stones.

I’ve decided, depending on space, I would like five or six of my best pieces placed on individual plinths in this way. I also thought rather than having white plinths it might be an idea to leave them unpainted. For one thing, in the concrete space with a wooden skirting board, white plinths might stand out like a sore thumb rather than being the almost invisible props I need them to be. Secondly, the idea of my vessels is to celebrate the way they are made, not hiding joints and traces of the process but exaggerating it. Having a plinth on which you can see the joints and screws in the surface might add continuity to this idea through the display.

While visiting London for Collect this year I also visited the Franz West exhibition at the Tate Modern. Interestingly the plinths and rope barriers for the exhibition were designed by the artist Sarah Lucas who was a friend of his. The MDF plinths with what look like thermolite breeze blocks on top are certainly a statement as are the rope barriers in poppy, sweet-shop light blue, pink, yellow and green, characteristic of West’s more recent work. The colours reminded me very much of Sam Bakewell’s ceramic pieces which I had seen the day before. I though the MDF was an unusual choice until I read about West’s collaboration with Heimo Zobernig who specifically chose tones associated with offices and institutions.

The exhibition followed West’s artistic development in chronological order, beginning with his ‘Passstück’s’ – objects with which to play and improvise with as physical extensions of the human body. His next work almost referenced the ceramic art of Gillian Lowndes in it’s mixing of materials, metal and clay for example. He called this later work ‘legitimate sculpture’ as opposed to the ‘interactive sculpture’ that came before. He thought of his newer work too as interactive sculpture, welded together and painted with the sickly green of old hospital walls. The tacky-looking surfaces reminded me of the latex-like texture of my own work recently glazed pink vessel.

I like the idea of displaying my work on concrete breezeblocks and have found very cheap/free material available on gumtree and facebook. However, I feel that as I am moving to a new rented property soon and don’t own a car to transport the bricks making plinths of some sort appears to be a more practical option.

London Visit Day 1

Collect 

I visited Collect for the first time a couple of years ago but at the time I don’t think I understood exactly that it was a bringing together of international craft and design galleries, each with their individual focus and themes, and that many of the galleries were nearby enough in London to visit within the same trip. This time, one of my first impressions was surprise at the use of bright acrylics to decorate ceramic in Matt Sherratt’s work. Perhaps my views are prejudiced having studied on a purely ceramics BA, but having tried it myself, I now view painting ceramics as a lazier, quicker alternative to glazing and value much more the depth and subtle variations in glazes. In the same gallery as Sherratt’s sculptures (the Joanna Bird Contemporary Collections) I also found one of my favourite works in the show, Danish artist (and recent RCA graduate) Theis Lorentzen’s ‘Remnants’, £3000 assemblages of what look like collapsed terracotta vessels with a tin/lead glaze breaking at the edges. To create them, slabs of clay are cut or torn straight from the bag and thrown down to form a random but confident balancing composition. The work reminded me of my own recent vessels which have collapsed when I’ve sliced, patched up and stretched the clay too far. The quality of line where the glaze breaks to allow the clay’s iron to seep through is something I’m hoping to draw attention to with my newest glazes as well – it highlights the ragged silhouettes and adds a textile-like feel to the fired clay, like a seam running along the edges. Of all the gallery spaces, Officine Saffi was my favourite which their surreal, whimsical collection of objects. This Milan based contemporary ceramic gallery is one I’ll be looking out for at Collect in the future.

 

Marsden Woo

The Marsden Woo, although just around the corner from the Saatchi where Collect was held, was difficult to find because we didn’t expect the upstairs to be full of designer ballroom dresses. The ceramics gallery space is hidden down some stairs in a small room, but is a fantastic collection representing artists such as Alison Britton, Gordon Baldwin, Philip Eglin, Kerry Jameson and Nao Matsunaga. It felt a little uncomfortable to have the gallerist following us around since I’m not used to visiting these kinds of galleries which I expect are targeted more towards rich collectors than the general public. It has made me think much more about gallery structures which are different to the usual open gallery/museum (e.g. Craft in the Bay or the V and A). On the other end of the scale it seems you have appointment only exhibitions such as Claire Curneen’s current exhibition at Oneroom. Tabish Khan writes an interesting article on appointment only exhibitions here , discussing art’s accessibility and the ‘private sales room’ structure some galleries have. In between these two I found the Corvi Mora, a strange hidden away gallery which you have to ring a doorbell to enter.

Corvi Mora

Sam Bakewell’s (UWIC graduate) exhibition ‘Time for Waste’ at this gallery was the highlight of my London trip. The collection of objects centres around a series of brightly coloured ceramic block assemblages and the coloured clay dusts which were collected from sanding the blocks down. Although the dusts look as if they might blow away if you breathe too close, they’ve been re-fired onto the rectangles as you can see on some piles which show traces of sintering. The parian clay which has been used gives the blocks an almost milky, translucent quality like a panna cotta dessert. The choice of colours tingles the taste buds too, reminding me of trips to the sweet shop as a child, jelly beans, starbursts and sherbet powders. The texts written by Alison Britton and Edmund de Waal to accompany the exhibition are beautifully written and draw attention to the complex relationships between clay, waste, dust, time and things forgotten and lost.

 

Contemporary Applied Arts

I was very pleasantly surprised by the size of this gallery and the variety of ceramics in the collection. While the Corvi-Mora is more orientated towards Fine Arts and Mint which I visited yesterday has a much more home decor/furniture vibe, this venue has a much more craft orientated approach. To exhibit at CAA you must be a member, the call for which goes out around April time each year and costs £130. Among the work I was most drawn to were the large thrown vessels by Chris Taylor (priced at £510 for the smallest). He appears to first paint on coloured slips, then apply transfers, then loosely apply a transparent glaze to change the colour of the slip darker in some areas, then apply over-glazes in floral patterns on top. The work is low fired but I imagine it still costs as much as stoneware to fire the work multiple times to build up layers.

 

As a result of my trip I’ve began to pinpoint figures who align closest to my current practice and the deconstruction /sculptural qualities of the vessel. Dylan Bowen’s fun, sketch-like vessel caricatures at CAA and Alison Britton’s forms at Marsden Woo which reference domestic vessels but use almost symbolical shapes for spouts and handles are exciting to me in terms of shape. Surface-wise I’m very much drawn to the dry, matte glazes of Sun Kim’s porcelain vessels at Collect which appear to absorb the light, as well as Sam Bakewell’s glutinous tiny cityscapes.

Reduction Results: Rethinking Surface

This morning, after nightmares of flooded glazes, collapsed shelves and shattered kiln elements, I opened the gas kiln to reveal the first batch of my exhibition module work that’s made it through to be glazed. I have mixed feelings about the results but seeing the finished coloured vessels is a huge aid in understanding how I want them to look, even if I haven’t quite reached the point where I’m happy yet. The vessel above has been sprayed with three layers of shino over three of tenmoku. Although oxidising atmospheres are necessary for oil-spot glazes to form in iron rich glazes, by layering these two glazes I found I could recreate a very similar effect. More different to my original tests however is the pink vessel (see below) which I expected to be a slate-like blue from a thin oxblood over a shino. I think perhaps the copper oxide didn’t reduce so much in my test since it was so small. Putting such a feminine, glossy, vibrant pink glaze on an almost violently disfigured, masculine form is a striking juxtaposition. I originally did think of juxtaposing the Peter Voulkos style slashed and punched vessels with delicate, child-like pastel colours to create an unexpected clash. I then chose instead, based on my prior research into reduction glazes to use more traditional, recognisable japanese style tenmokus, shinos and ash glazes so that there was some link to the familiar ‘humble’ functional vessels like the ones we saw at the Leach pottery and that you find in so many studio ceramic collections. I hoped deconstructing these vessels and patching them up would be a metaphor for my own deconstructing and redefining what it means to be a potter and to be part of this long tradition.

The spherical vessel form above is so far, for me, the most aesthetic of all the vessels I’ve made. Perhaps something about the three sections conforms to the golden ratio or perhaps it is simply something to do with the notion of perfect roundness which I’ve often mused about on this blog. Either way, my next stage is to make more of these round forms, some narrower, some larger. The construction is very simple – two bowls stuck together with a thrown and spliced collar. Cutting and sticking back together the pieces as much as possible is also something I must do. The brown vessel below shows what happens when I keep the manipulation to a minimum – there is nowhere for the glaze to catch and pool or break on the edge to a thin wash. The top vessel here however has a beautiful quality of lines which reminds me of the patchwork tarmac in the pavements of Cardiff that I walk on my way to university and back each day. Scars and layers speak of the passing of time.

Since I usually pour or dip glazes, I found it difficult to know how many layers of glaze to spray. Six layers is perhaps not enough although I do like the even coverage achieved with the spray gun. Also unpredictable though is the way the glazes will behave in the gas kiln, even if they’ve been tested many times before. The shino on the jar below was poured on but unlike the orange metallic sparkles like on my previous pieces, this one only turned a crackled off white. These deformed jars are another shape I want to play more with and that will be quick to mass-produce. Since time is becoming of the essence and I’m struggling to control how the glazes look, I plan to mix up six or so oxidation glazes with matte or satin surfaces to layer and test next week. These firings will give me more control of colour and also a quicker turnaround. I’m drawn towards the ridiculousness and humour of these bulky, awkward vessels decorated in soft pinks or baby blues. I like the sleekness and oily voluptuousness of the fake oil spot vessel too though. Hopefully by the end of this week I will have more clarity about the surfaces qualities I want and what they should communicate.

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Plinth Building Workshop

Last week I took part in one of CSAD’s open house workshops to learn how to build a plinth in preparation for the exhibition. We used 12mm MDF boards with 2.1 x 2.1mm structural bars on the inside. The first step was to use gorilla glue to stick the first structural bar about half a millimetre shy of the outer edge of the first board. Making sure it’s not overhanging means that the other boards can sit flush at a later stage.

The wooden pieces are clamped together for 10-15 seconds to allow the glue to stick then, turning the sheet of MDF over and supporting it flat with a section of structural bar, five screws are drilled in at regular intervals to secure the pieces together. Three drill-bits were used for this. First a pilot hole goes through the MDF but not through the structural bar and then a counterbore is put in so the screwheads are sunk into the surface. The 25/30mm screws are put in next. A second structural bar is screwed to the opposite length of the MDF.

Next, the first board is propped up vertically and the second board placed horizontally on top, supported by a third board. The stabilising bar is placed slightly further on the second board and after gluing them together, the MDF boards are screwed together with the next line of screws to the left or right of the first line put in. The steps above are repeated and you end up with two corner sections each made from two boards. These are then screwed together in the same manner.

Smaller stabilising bars are then glued and screwed on top and the top square is cut and screwed on. Nigel also showed us how to use the nail gun which is a lot faster and neater than drilling. To finish the plinth a soft car body filler can be used to fill any gaps and a watered down 4:2 PVA solution is applied all over the boards to seal them. A few layers of matte emulsion can be rollerred on afterwards with sanding in between.

 

Exhibition review – Jone Kvie’s Metamorphosis

This review is of Jone Kvie’s exhibition ‘Metamorfos’ (Metamorphosis) which runs from February the 24th to May the 20th 2018 at Göteborgs Konstmuseum’s ‘Stena Gallery’ for temporary exhibitions. This exhibition was curated by Camilla Påhlsson.

Metamorfos is the result of a growing investigation by contemporary Norwegian artist Jone Kvie into the dichotomies of body and architecture, weight and weightlessness, nature and the human condition. Equally, it is a celebration of alchemy, of the transformative power of fire and an experiment into what role lighting plays in the way we encounter and perceive sculptures.

This solo exhibition is organized into two conjoined rooms. On entering, the viewer is confronted with a tall white rectangular block that reaches nearly to the ceiling, a monolithic white cube gallery plinth. The artist’s name is stuck on at eye level in tall sans serif typeface, indicative of the exhibition’s minimalist aesthetic. Looking closer you notice this white section of wall is the exact negative shape of the space in the separating wall between this room and the next. This clever curation not only draws attention to the artworks but also to the spatiality of the room itself which becomes an extension of the sculptures. We become more aware of how our own bodies relate to the surrounding environment in scale and movement.

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Figure 1

The sculptures juxtapose jarringly with the clean and precise upright structure on which the artist’s name is displayed. Three long twisted bronze poles with their ends encased in rounded blocks of concrete (Stele #1-3) writhe in the space like streetlamps which have been morphed and uprooted by a horrific car accident. Through the placement of these forms the viewer is invited to read them like figures- two lying on the ground like dying soldiers, the other leaning bent against the wall as if injured and in pain.

In stark contrast to the weathered bronze tubes with their green patina, is the lighting. A sequence of strip lights line the walls vertically, the sterility and unforgiving brightness brings to mind a visit to the hospital. It becomes impossible to view the other sculptures without the afterglow of these lights in your field of vision, cutting across he forms. You cannot help but take in the space, the light and the objects as one unified whole.

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Figure 2

Continuing through the tall opening we find ourselves in a second much larger but darker room. On the marble floor is the archipelago of eight separate but visually unified sculpture islands that make up ‘Second Messenger’ (2017). If the first room contained the remnants of a car accident, here the scraps have been composed together in clusters, each containing an element of aluminium and long basalt rock. The aluminium forms are curious, some are metal girders but appear to have the texture of wood, others are more clearly disguised materials – there is an aluminium cast concrete breezeblock and an aluminium rectangle of corrugated cardboard. Again careful placement of these materials brings to life a human dialogue between them. The rocks take on human personalities, one pins a sheet of metal to the wall aggressively, some nestle together horizontally in a close embrace like lovers, others stand upright assertively. With the exhibition’s title we can almost imagine that these are people which have metamorphosed into stone.

Kvie’s exhibition is challenging to comprehend with its depth of metaphorical strata but is ultimately very successful in encouraging the viewer to contemplate the complex ideas which are described in the artist’s statement, namely our association to our present time and what it means to be human. Communicated through the work by the personification of the materials is a realisation that as humans we are ‘of the earth’ instead of distinctly separate from it.

Among my first thoughts of the ‘Stele’ sculptures was that they gave the impression of giant plants, green from oxidation and welded in sections like bamboo shoots. The concrete ends are like the upturned roots of a tree fallen in a storm, making one think of architecture as something which grows from the ground, of a human process as an organic process. This message is reinforced when viewed together with the leaning basalt in the opposite side of the gallery which contains fossilised plants weaving along the surface like blood vessels. On returning back to the first room I began to perceive the original bronze forms as monolithic fossils. This juxtaposition of vitality and lifelessness draws attention to the cycle of life and death and to a realisation that life is contained even in such stative things as rocks, which were formed in volcanic eruptions, requiring huge amounts of energy.

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Figure 3

In the exhibition guide it is explained that the black basalt is a mineral rich in calcium and  ‘Just like all living organisms, we need calcium in order for our nervous system to function correctly and relay nerve signals’.[1] This blurring of distinction between the human and non-human suggests to me an ecological approach similar to British anthropologist Tim Ingold’s explanation of ‘Meshwork Theory’ which imagines humans and non-human things as part of a larger, integrated whole.[2] In his essay ‘Toward an Ecology of Materials’ (2012) Ingold introduces Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological reasoning that ‘every living thing, our human selves included, is irrevocably stitched into the fabric of the world.’ This reasoning that we are more intertwined with our environment than we realise might be suggested by the placement of the sculptures in Kvie’s exhibition. Here we walk among the rocks, over and underneath the metal poles. We are not spectators, separate from the exhibition, we are among it.

In ‘Making’ (2013) Ingold writes about how making anything is a collaboration between ourselves and a material and that the material imposes its own constraints upon us, just as we impose our own ideas and forms upon it. This theory of ‘Material Agency’ illustrates modern thinking about the symbiotic relationship of humans and the environment and an ecological attitude towards artistic aesthetics. Matter is no longer passive and inert, waiting for the human hand to shape it. In Kvie’s ‘Second Messenger’ the basalt rocks seem to float magically and weightlessly on a see-saw construction of metal girders, balanced impossibly as if they are agents of their own.

Interestingly in ‘Metamorphosis’, the number of strip lights appears to correspond to the number of separate elements that make up the sculptures. Their length and shape are also echoed in the elongated rock forms and aluminium girders, suggesting there is some link between the two. If each strip light is read symbolically as the partner of another structure in the exhibition, then perhaps they represent the energy and life that is present in each rock and metal form, in the volcanic metamorphosis of molten magma and the fire power that smelted the aluminium. Through this constructed framework we not only experience the exhibition holistically (the lighting, space and sculptures become a whole), we also get a glimpse of an extended holistic world in which humans are the earth, and rocks take on a human vitality.

 

Images:

Figure 1. Stele #2 and #3 (2018) by Jone Kvie

Figure 2. Detail from Jone Kvie’s ‘Second Messenger’ (2017), basalt and aluminium

Figure 3. Detail of fossils in basalt from ‘Second Messenger’ #5 (2017)

 

[1] Full exhibition overview “Metamorphosis” retrieved from: http://goteborgskonstmuseum.se/en/exhibitions/jone-kvie/

[2] Ingold, T. (2010, July). Bringing Things to Life: Creative Entanglements in a World of Materials. Retrieved from: http://eprints.ncrm.ac.uk/1306/1/0510_creative_entanglements.pdf