The Sacrifice for Art and Craft

I’ve just come across a text in ‘The Ceramics Reader’ called ‘Reconsidering “The Pissoir Problem”‘ by Bruce Metcalf. In it he describes conceptual art using the definition of artist-philosopher Adrian Piper who suggests we think of conceptual art ‘as being art that subordinates its medium, whatever its medium, to intellectually interesting ideas’.

Metcalf proposes that the difference between being an artist or a craftsperson depends on what you sacrifice. For an artist, the medium is subordinated by the idea. Art is intellectual, or according to Arthur Danto ‘art is embodied meaning’. Craft on the other hand puts the material first, the idea comes second since craft practice is more about labour. These days, Metcalf says, ‘everybody wants to be an artist‘. It’s something I feel resonates with me as someone who came to ceramics from a fine art background. Recently my work has become so much more about the idea than the joy of working with clay. I don’t want to forget what drew me to working in ceramics in the first place through. The ability wet clay had to reshape itself and ‘remake/re-model’ like the Bryan Ferry song (‘Next time, is the best time we all know’) drew me to it, perhaps as a metaphor for a way of continually reshaping and changing my own self. The stubbornness of clay I felt had a lot in common with my own stubborn attitude.

I began to define myself while at HDK as an artist who happens to work in clay. I realised from feedback in tutorials that a lot of the things I made could equally have been made in metal, wood or plastic. Superimposing shallow metaphors about clay suggesting the fragility of human civilisation onto these objects afterwards felt superficial and false. I realise I am starting to sacrifice my material for the idea. But the results from the anagama firing and the fantastic material qualities of the alchemy and metamorphosis of glaze and clay during the process has made me remember that this magic is the thing which really excites me, these objects mean more to me than anything else I made while in Sweden.

 

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Anagama Day 3-5: The Firing

The past three days have been spent at HDK’s kiln site at Nääs where we fired both the anagama (Mamagama) and Elinor (the smaller wood kiln).

Since Elin and I were scheduled for the first shift on Monday morning, we arrived on site around 6am and started up the anagama. We pulled out the bricks from the central air hole at the base and built a small brick box in which we set fire to some newspaper and placed dry kindling on top. We began by taking the temperature up at a slow pace, 25C per hour until reaching 100C, with the fire still mainly in the box outside the kiln. As a temperature gauge we used a pyrometer stuck through a crack in the door but later decided to place it in a hole in the kiln’s roof to get a more accurate reading of the inside temperature. We sealed the door with the daub we made last week, blocking out the bumble bee who was desperate to get inside despite the rising heat!

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Starting the firing
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Firing temperature schedule

After four hours we let another pair take over and we worked this way in shifts of four hours per team for the entire firing. Around 10am Elinor was started and taken up to temperature at a much faster rate. Reduction in Elinor took place on Monday afternoon when the kiln had reached 1000C. Creating a reduction atmosphere before this temperature means the clay can get reduced instead of the glazes which can cause it to trap carbon and turn a very dark colour which might be undesirable.
Sometimes when too many logs were fed in too quickly, black smoke started spewing out the chimney – a sign reduction was taking place, and we had to be more patient. It’s difficult to get the balance between allowing in enough oxygen for the flames and allowing in too much which starts the reduction process because the cold air blocks the flow.

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Feeding mamagama

When feeding logs into the kilns the temperature would fluctuate up and down a lot, sometimes peaking three times before finally decreasing for good. We were told to focus on the fire and not rely on the pyrometer though. It’s possible to hear when the kiln is ‘hungry’ again because the fire goes quiet and the crackling stops. We also used pyrometric cones placed at the front, middle and back of the kilns to check temperature. When the cones were bending unevenly e.g. if on the left side there were four standing and on the right five, we put in less wood and slowed down the temperature gain. Another way to check if the glazes are melting is to poke a stick in through one of the anagama’s peep holes and see if the pot’s surface is shiny enough to reflect off it, a technique I’ve used before when firing raku.

It’s important to make sure that the last logs have turned into embers before more have been added. Unless you do this you find yourself in a situation like we did early on Wednesday morning when the anagama would refuse to climb above 1220C. Looking into the airholes we realised that the embers were so high that they were blocking the oxygen flow into the kiln so the fire couldn’t grow. By pulling out logs and moving around the embers inside we fixed the problem, but the temperature dropped dramatically so we worried that we would be behind schedule. This could be fixed though by filling the door with long thin sticks sticking into the flames which raised the temperature.

In between shifts we took turns breaking down the logs with a hydraulic wood splitter and cutting some down even smaller with an axe. Smaller pieces of wood raise the temperature because they burn quicker but it’s best to use a mixture of thick and thin, long and short logs to get an even rise. When stoking the kiln, sometimes we would place two small logs crossed in the doorway to conserve heat.

Our fifth and final shift started at 6pm on Wednesday night. We kept the temperature around 1250C until 7pm when we topped at 1300C before bringing it back down to 1270C. We topped another 5 or so times before filling the kiln with as many long sticks as possible and sealing as many holes as possible in turns. This was probably the most stressful part of the firing because it needs to be done fast and the kiln is at its hottest. It was impossible to feed in logs for very long because your legs feel like they’re burning! It was necessary to wear welding goggles, scarves over our hair and mouths, long sleeves to cover arms and legs, sturdy boots and flameproof gloves. After sealing the gaps in the kiln with daub, cold water was poured all around the kiln to make sure none of the logs piled around it would catch fire once we left.

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The kiln in the evening sun, glowing at 1300C

 

Masayoshi Oya

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Top half Japanese inspired, bottom half Swedish aesthetics

As part of our theory course today where Dominique and I discussed the different approaches to our disciplines in Sweden and the UK, we were visited by Gothenburg based Japanese ceramic artist Masayoshi Oya. He explained that since moving to study in the city years ago, his way of working is a fusion of the aesthetics of the two countries. Oya explained that in Japan functional tableware has a higher status than ‘art objects’, which is radically contrary to the west. Since the times of the samurai the society’s approach has been that the most beauty can be found in objects made for ordinary people.

He also described the difference in how both countries expect an object to be viewed over time. The Japanese concept of wabi sabi as he explained it means pots are glazed with a matte surface so that they pick up marks and scratches with use as they age. These imperfections make them more beautiful. On the other hand, in the west we want our ceramic to stay the same over time, to always look as brand new as the day we bought it.

His comments about time reminded me of the Chiharu Shiota exhibition at Goteborgs konstmuseum in which thousands of individual threads have been stuck together showing that an immense amount of time and effort went into making the installations. Similarly to the wabi sabi aesthetic, time has become tangible. By being able to visualise the time taken ( or the age in the case of wabi sabi) we have a greater respect for the art.

Oya explained that his black stain on porcelain signature decoration is inspired by calligraphy and specifically, calligraphy as approached by someone in the west who is more interested in the way the ink breaks at the edges than creating the lines of a Japanese master calligrapher. He spoke of the way swedes like to stack their tableware and have everything matching whereas in Japan it’s more common to have mismatching vessels to serve food it. Rosa recommended a book called ‘A feast for the eyes: the Japanese art of food arrangement’ which discusses further the relationship between Japanese food and utensils from the Jomon period to the present.

Artist website: http://www.masayoshi-oya.com/

 

Images: http://ceramicartistsnow.com/2018/02/04/studio-oyama-swedish-pottery/
http://www.masayoshi-oya.com/index.php?/works/hei-nippon/

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

 

L5 Final Project Proposal: Hierarchy of Space

Title: The Fantastical Non-Space: Subverting the hierarchy of place

Aim: I want to redefine the way people interact with what might be called the ‘ubiquitous urban landscape’ and more specifically non-places in this environment – spaces that have no identity, diversity or surprise. I am equally interested in the holiness we give to religious sites and places of worship and want to explore how weaving a narrative around the mundane spaces we pass through every day can elevate them to a space of significance.

Why: I want to play with the dichotomy between non-space and the anthropological space by giving unimportant no-places an identity, sense of humour and aspect of diversity and surprise – all the things they lack. In ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’ , David Abram uses the example of the clay bowl to illustrate the magic of the everyday : ‘its very existence as a bowl ensures that there are dimensions wholly inaccessible to me – most obviously the patterns hidden between its glazed and unglazed surfaces, the interior density of its clay body’. What we perceive as reality is only a skin of the true essence of our environment. I want people going about their daily routines to get back that sense of wonder you feel at the world when you are a child. I want to give people time to stop and daydream, to think about the spaces we inhabit day-to day and the role of fantasy in our lives.

Background: I first came across the concept of non-places while researching for the room/space project and consequently began working with the non-space of tram interiors to try and highlight the beauty in the everyday, mundane and invisible man-made environments that surround us. I want to develop this further and make work that sits in these environments.

I have also recently been reading about the Slow Movement – specifically Slow food but also about Slow Cities and am interested in how these ideas around slowing down our pace of living so that we have more meaningful encounters with the world around us can be applied to my field of art and design. I will look at examples of art in the public space – graffiti, yarn bombing, guerrilla advertising etc. artworks that draw our attention to the environment.

Method: I plan to create a series of site specific works around the city of Gothenburg, turning non-spaces into spaces of significance or interest. One method would be to create ‘relics for a non-place’ by spinning a made up/fantasy narrative about a space, turning these sites into fictional places of pilgrimage. I am interested in using augmented reality through QR codes or apps such as Augment and Aurasma alongside the sculptures to communicate the made up stories/legends associated with a certain place. I am not sure yet if the work will take the form of a series of photographs.

I intend to use writing as a ‘material’ as well as method for generating ideas for what my work should be about. I have never used this approach before but I would like to try and respond to a space by writing poetry/fiction and then working from that. I want to spin fictional narratives around spaces. I feel inspired after seeing a piece by artist Remy Dean about a fictional letter found in an attic. How important is truth in art if the story is good? I have also been thinking about the work of Jospeh Beuys – Beuys frequently blurred the lines between art and life, and fact and fiction, by suggesting that what one believed to constitute “reality” mattered more in matters of human action, social/political behaviour, and personal creativity than any definition of everyday reality based on traditional standards of “normalcy,” or social codes of so-called “proper” conduct.
http://www.theartstory.org/artist-beuys-joseph.htm

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Joseph Beuys, Sled, 1969
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Beddgelert – The legend of Gelert the Dog
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Mythical Locations on road signs in Didcot, Oxfordshire (once labelled England’s ‘most normal town’)

Keywords: fiction, non-space, unexpected, joy, magic, holy, narrative, relic, religious art, altars, pilgrimage site, humour, truth…

Primary research choosing sites to work with – Borrow a camera and respond through photography, sketching, and writing.
Examples of non-spaces/low spaces : Underpasses (Banehagsgatan)..Concrete
Industrial area tram stops (Gamlestadstorget)
Car Parks (Nordstan)
Centralstation

Also visit and respond to places of worship in the city – Masthuggskyrkan, Oscar Fredriks Church…

Thoughts that arose in the feedback session: 

  • How do I define what I consider a non-space, which writers influence my POV? Can natural spaces also be considered non-spaces? Consider different people’s perspectives of spaces, non-spaces might not be invisible/insignificant to everyone.
  • Do I have a political motivation for the project, what does it communicate about urbanisation and gentrification?
  • Will people stumble upon the artworks or will I create a guided tour/app for people to discover them?
  • Will my stories be entirely fiction or should I research the history of Gothenburg to base some of the information on facts?
  • Will I work with one site or multiple?

Image sources:
http://www.artnews.com/2015/03/20/academic-artist-scholar-shaman-joseph-beuys-on-his-mystical-objects-in-1970/
http://www.notey.com/blogs/road-signs
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMll6yQaH1A

 

‘Stannar Vid’ – Non-Spaces Final Exhibition

 

On Thursday we culminated the Room/Space project with an exhibition of the work we have produced over the last month. My playful and brightly coloured body of work explores the concept of non-spaces and is an attempt to draw attention to the transitional invisible spaces we pass through every day without being aware of them. In order to highlight this my work was presented in alcoves in the arch spaces of the walls in the HDK’s stairwells, spaces we don’t often linger in but which become complex and beautiful architectural spaces once you start to look carefully.

A collection of 14 hand-built sculptures sit inside four shelf spaces of varying height along the staircases, the steps offering the opportunity to view them from many different angles. During feedback it was pointed out that these forms look like little figures interacting with each other, each with a different personality. The space between each of them gives them a sense of isolation though, which communicates the anonymity and isolation of individuals as they interact in non-spaces. Students pointed out that the forms were familiar and look significant in some way, although they weren’t sure where they recognised them from. Perhaps a well-chosen title could be a key to understanding the pieces. Maybe something like ‘Stannar vid‘, which is the automated voice announcement on Gothenburg trams to tell you your next stop. It suggests the way the staircase is a space for ‘getting to’ somewhere else, not a place just ‘to be’.

 

The colours turned out much patchier than I intended but this nod towards rust and weathering also suggests the wear and tear caused by many people passing through a space day in, day out. I need to work on my glaze application, dipping and spraying would have created a more even surface colour than painting on. I’ve learnt the important of thinking ahead to decoration in the making stage too – the manganese in this dark clay has eaten away at the glaze. The red glaze turned out much pinker than I intended – with more time I would have perfected the colour matches by making more glaze tests.

 

Klara mentioned how she began noticing scratches and paint splatters on the wall which echoed the forms of the sculptures and other students mentioned the key word ‘curiosity’. I believe this display of work has been successful in changing he way we interact with this non-space but equally, by using forms inspired by tram interiors people explained how not only was this space transformed but that when they travelled home on the trams they would be looking out for these forms and textures by searching the other way around. Two spaces transformed in one!

Thanks Will Treasure for some of the photos 🙂

Room/Space Project Development

20180312_151307 (600x800)With two weeks left to go of the Room project I think it’s time for reflection on how the project has developed so far and how I intend to bring my exploration of ideas to culminate in a final installation.

I chose the HDK’s black grogged stoneware clay to begin making with, the graininess makes it ideal to hand build with because it keeps its form well. At first I worked quite strictly from the collages I made from the earlier tram drawings but discovered quickly that this ‘steampunk’ aesthetic wasn’t what I wanted. I don’t like the way the clay is manipulated to look like metal or rivets, instead of celebrating the qualities of this material I am hiding it. I realise that since this bothers me perhaps the tenet of ‘truth to material’ is somewhat important in my work.

After a tutorial and discussing with others I decided to focus on simplified forms instead of details. I still preferred my collages to the clay models, so this week I took the approach of collaging clay to create more two-dimensional ‘illustrations’ of my illustrations. These were made by rolling thin slabs and assembling them roughly and quickly together when in a leather hard state. The rough edges and unfinished, breaking apart look is an attempt to capture the fuzziness of how the memory of a place appears in our mind.

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In a group tutorial today a few people commented on the fresh and spontaneous way these objects feel because they have been constructed quickly and fairly sloppily. Although I would like to see the sculptures on a bigger scale it would be hard to get the same effect of haziness and sketchiness.  20180321_131528 (800x400)Looking for a semi-matte base glaze with which to experiment I found this simple recipe online at https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/daily/ceramic-glaze-recipes/low-fire-glaze-recipes/easy-peasy-cone-04-glaze-recipes/

Satin Base Glaze Cone 4 (1168C)
Frit                  50                    (used Borax)
Kaolin             20
Dolomite        30

I added 10% coloured stains in different proportions of colour to this to try and match the colours found in tram interiors in Gothenburg. The orange, yellow and light blue are prefect although the pink was supposed to be red and the blue is too purple. Unfortunately on the black stoneware these glazes bubble but I still intend to use these glazes to decorate my original ‘sketches’ in clay – the haziness of the colour might work to reflect the blurriness of memory and the patchiness might reference the dirtiness of the trams.

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Over the next two weeks I’m going to continue working with this collage technique but in a white low firing clay, hopeful the juxtaposition of these ‘sketched’ sculptures and a smooth, uniform and neatly coloured glaze will create impact. I’m going to try working on a slightly bigger scale so that there is some different in height levels in the final staircase exhibition. I have tried placing some objects on the stairs already to see how they look in this different context but the dark colour of the clay means they are lost against the surroundings. I hope the bright colours will change this and create a sense of playfulness and intrigue. I also plan to create more accurate blue and red glazes, a grey and a lemon yellow. 

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A Gothenburg tram interior : http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/T_Gothenburg.html