Statement of Intent for Exhibition Module

My work so far has been concerned with the functional vessel. However, as a result of my dissertation research into the relationship between ceramics and time, I am interested in turning my focus away from the object to the material itself. The vessel form will still be central to my work but I want to better communicate duration and transience, and to celebrate the unique quality clay has of preserving traces. I want to juxtapose two times of making in my work. Firstly, the process of throwing on the wheel and secondly the hand-joining together of these thrown elements. Throwing on the wheel as the first stage of the process is important to me because it enables me to start with a controlled, symmetrical shape. I also like the tension held in thrown vessels. I plan to re-work into the pots at different stages of dryness in order to build up a chronology of traces made at intervals in time. Jasper has suggested setting time limits on my actions such as allowing myself only 20 minutes on a pot or only 5 seconds to draw a line in the surface.

I have experience of sculpting with thrown sections before and know it is a challenge to get the timing right, so I plan to invest in a heat gun. It may also help to research additions to clay bodies so I can create a strong clay, smooth enough to throw but strong enough to be altered and built on top of afterwards too. In terms of technique I am very inspired by the work of Jo Taylor and Bryan Newman. However the aesthetic qualities I’m searching for are the lack of self-consciousness, spontaneity and bravura characteristic of the works of Peter Voulkos, Gareth Mason and Wayne Clark where lines are blurred between making and performance art. I want to see how far the traditional vessel can be deconstructed and reconfigured, stratifying layers of time in the making. I find I am interested in how our personalities shape what we make and whether the art we make can, vice versa, shape our personality. I would like to see what happens when I decide to address my character traits of perfectionism and self-consciousness and discard any previous prejudices about what I think is a ‘good pot’.

I intend to begin by somewhat imitating the styles of work I admire with the hope that an embodied, tacit knowledge of the mark-making involved will help guide me to find my own visual language. Slivka and Tsujimoto’s book ‘The Art of Peter Voulkos’ will be my starting point but I would also like to see Voulkos’ work on display in the V and A at some point. I find I can spend a very long time contemplating the photos in the book. The lines of cuts, fractures and joints lead the eye on a journey over the surface of the form. The flashes of ash on the wood-fired surfaces complement the forms well but I will have to think of alternative ways to decorate my sculptures.

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This week I began with a couple of basic moon jar style vessels, connecting together two thrown bowls. I decided to sketch the first of these in order to pay closer attention to understand the form and from this exercise, realised that I hadn’t pushed the disfigurement far enough. I want to achieve a similar looseness of quality that’s in my drawings, in my vessels. While gouging, squeezing, slicing and punching the pot’s surface I try my best to touch the outside of the pot as little as possible. I think this was advice from Gareth Mason when he demonstrated at ICF a few years ago.

At the moment my throwing isn’t thin enough so the pots are a lot heavier than I want them to be so I need to get better at throwing larger quantities of clay. I don’t feel what I’ve made this week is dangerous enough. I need to feel a bit of a sense of trepidation that the thing might collapse. Perhaps I could attempt to build a vessel in the spirit of Johnny Vegas’s one minute teapot challenge to really encourage a sense of immediacy. Alexandra Engelfriet approaches her markmaking without pre-thought or self-consciousness in a complete of the moment response to the material and this is the kind of state of mind I aspire to too. At the moment these vessels still feel too careful, too contrived.

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Time and Ad Reinhardt

The realisation that over the next handful of months I’ll be making my final ever body of work at university is very daunting. I’ve spent the holidays working on the dissertation, an investigation into the relationship between contemporary ceramics and time, which has introduced me to a number of artists, philosophical concepts and ideas that I hope will act as a springboard for this term’s work. Some of these different aspects of time are listed below:

  • Material temporality and how it’s different from human time causing an instability in human-thing relationships.
  • Phenomenological explanations of non-linear time
  • The dichotomy between lived time and the homogenous time of the clock
  • How our experience of a static image is temporal because it takes place over a duration
  • The dichotomy between impermanent raw clay and long lasting fired ceramic
  • Indexical marks as visual traces of time
  • Keith Harrison’s ‘live firings’ make us feel the presentness of real time
  • Clay’s immediacy as a means of us experiencing ‘presentness’
  • How time can be transformed in a state of creative flow

One artist I don’t write about but who has captured my attention is the American abstract artist Ad Reinhardt and his series of black squares. At first the paintings appear uniformly black. It is only through contemplating the painting for a duration of a few minutes that it starts to reveal itself to the viewer – as a grid of very subtly different shades of very, very dark blues, greens or purples. In Arden Reed’s book Slow Art he argues that this is what he means when he describes a painting as a moving picture quoting the sculptor Robert Smithson’s remark that ‘each painting is at once both memory and forgetfulness’. In the past it was generally agreed that paintings could not show time because they were static images and seen in single instant (punctum temporis) in which change could not take place. However E.H.Gombrich in Moment and Movement in Art (1964) argues that we take in an artwork not in an instant but over a duration, building up the ‘reality’ of the artwork in our head partly based on guesswork, expectation and memory. Perhaps, following in the steps of Reinhardt, what I need to focus on is how surface can impact our relationship with time instead of form.

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Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, 1963, oil on canvas. Source: uk.phaidon.com

Currently in CSAD’s reception space is a pop up exhibition by some of the school of art’s technical demonstrators. With Reinhardt’s paintings in the back of my mind I was instantly drawn to Dallas Collin’s Behold (2018) – a wall panel made from 576 individually coloured oak cubes on which we see a pixellated image of a NASA project showing light from a distant galaxy when the universe was only 800 million years old (in perspective, it’s now 13.8 billion years old). The moment in time depicted doesn’t exist anymore – but then neither does five minutes ago or this moment now.  As Gombrich explains, we build up an image from a succession of tiny in focus dots which the pixels here are suggestive of. The two layers of the image below – the mathematical grid and the superimposed fuzzy space photograph might speak of the two kinds of time we experience – the objective time of ‘clock time’ and our subjective, lived experience.

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Dallas Collins Behold (2018)

Tutorial with Claire Curneen

Yesterday’s tutorial with Claire was really helpful to clarify my thoughts about my practice and where I’m headed next. I explained to her how I have started to feel as if making only functional ware is not satisfying me creatively and that I want to bring ideas from my dissertation research into my ceramics. I’ve been researching time and temporality in relation to art and ceramics in particular with focus on artists like Keith Harrison (the firing as a durational event), Phoebe Cummings (exploring the ephemeral nature of raw clay) and thinking about how we visualise time either linearly or circularly. Already my functional ware is linking a little into these ideas…the subtle glazes from the reduction firing appear almost grey when they are taken from the kiln. However, over time, the subtleties of colour reveal themselves to me, as I’ve noticed having the pieces on my desk for weeks – they are blue, green, orange, purple and red. Spending time with these objects is similar to spending time in nature, a contemplation where beauty and complexity reveals itself to us gradually.

Claire suggested I visit potter Jack Welbourne, a graduate from the ceramic programme at Cardiff. She suggested it might be interesting to consider the role of the contemporary ‘country-potter’ in the modern world where many potters choose to have urban studios because it is cheaper and they have supportive networks in the community.

I’ve been thinking about the functional vessels I make in relation to the still life lectures we’ve had, in particular the way transient things like food and flowers are displayed in Dutch still life painting. I plan on setting myself a number of experimental tasks to begin next term. One of these might be throwing a series of my forms – jars, bowls and mugs in clay and positioning an unfired still-life of these in a plastic container, kept moist with water spray. I hope over time mould will develop on the greenware, creating a kind of Meret Oppenheim-esque repulsive juxtaposition of the comfortingly functional and the grotesque. Last year I left a load of thrown porcelain cylinders for weeks in a lidded plastic container and they developed a spotty orange mould on the surface. Working with raw clay isn’t necessarily the path I want to take but I need to begin to think of ceramics in terms of change and duration, of something temporal but immortal, evolving, re-configuring and holding in itself traces of the past.

Jasper suggested I look at the work of Anita Regek and Tamsin Van Essen who both explore decay and decomposition in their ceramic forms and surfaces. I’ve identified from my functional work the kind of forms and qualities I want to work with. The Vessel is a core characteristic as it links me to the lineage of ceramics historically and gas reductions firing’s qualities that allow the materials and chemicals to come alive and for the surfaces to become almost traces of events, are central to moving forward. Next term I want to make bigger and push myself to a place where the making becomes physically demanding on my strength and stamina. I feel very inspired by the work of Peter Voulkos and his macho, daredevil performance pieces in which he would throw over 20kg in one go. I’ve been a huge admirer of Gareth Mason’s work for years and his work too with it’s physicality and sense of stratified time is the kind of space I want to propel my work to next. Setting myself a task to construct a ceramic object and then deconstruct and reconfigure it in a new way over and over may be a way of drawing in ideas about time’s circular nature.

Photos:
Aneta Regel: http://www.sarahmyerscough.com
Gareth Mason: http://www.architecturaldigest.com

The Eternal Return

The Eternal Return by Brian Swann

In fall I stomp, bomb and spray them with worse than
agent-orange. They fall as black rain on soup and sinner
alike. And still they come. The locals say, Just sweep ’em up.
I do, again and again, and by first snow they’re gone.
In spring I find fly nurseries in riddled cowpats and think,
well, maybe this year they’ve gone somewhere else, and
I forget them. Until fall when they seep in again through
cracks and they’re everywhere, crawling up windows to
the sun, clustering as satanic clots in corners. Then they fall,
hit the floor singing high-pitched death-songs, dog-soldiers
staked to the spot, spinning on their backs, break-dancing,
flailing legs of thread, flapping mica wings, coming apart.
So I sweep them up, toss them out into the cold where
they will sleep their sleep, dream the same dream all winter
till in spring it comes true again, and the wake, born of dung
to no end save that which made them, serious as the sun into which
they vanish, to return, reconstituted, unresolved.

Swann, B. 2018, “The Eternal Return”, Salmagundi, , no. 199, pp. 68-68,227.

Ruminating on roundness again, a consequence of working with the wheel and the circular nature of wheel thrown vessels, I find myself interested in Nietzsche’s theory of the eternal return. Intended as a thought provoking experiment instead of an explanation of the universe, eternal return is the theory that life is endlessly repeating. Existence repeating itself in an infinite cycle through reincarnation is nothing new, cyclical time has been present in many religions from the ancient Egyptians to Buddhism and Hinduism. The idea of cyclical time is something we are not so familiar with in the west because of the rise of Christianity.
Nietzsche’s eternal return differs from reincarnation in that no soul is involved and instead of a new, better or worse life, we experience the exact same one over and over again. The weight that comes with this thought is heavy. On one side, we have the endless, pointless and absurd repeated suffering of existence. On the other, we find a joyful truth, a motivation to live the best life we can so that we will want nothing to be different next time around. He called this joy amor fati, literally, loving one’s fate. I find this a more appealing philosophy to life than the contemporary often reckless and selfish attitude of YOLO.
Nietzsche’s Eternal Return contrasts with the Christian attitude that this life is seen as inferior to the next one, a linear progression from one state to another. In the American Drama series ‘True Detective’ Cole’s character describes time as a flat circle, a closed system on which our lives are played out like films over and over again. Many films have played with the idea of time repeating itself – Groundhog Day, The Truman Show and more recently Happy Death Day and one of my favourites, The Frame. The Frame tells the story of two characters, each watching the other’s life through a TV show in parallel separate universes, and eventually each trying to save the other’s life.
The Big Bounce Theory of the universe postulates that matter and energy is a cycle of contraction and expansion. It’s perhaps not the most popular theory of the universe but it’s interesting to think of this in relation to the things I make. In an Eternal Return I would have made them an infinite amount of times before and will make them over and over forever. In that case there would be repeated, identical vessel forms superimposed on top of one another. What would this look like?

 

 

 

Preliminary Research: Gesamtkunstwerk Bowl

We have been tasked with creating our ‘ideal bowl’ – a bowl which distils into concrete form the main features and characteristics of our ceramic practice. I began by attempting to define vaguely the key elements which make up a bowl – an inside and outside, the ability to contain something, a top and bottom, a wide and narrow part. It appears the bowl is made up of opposites. Roundness I realise defines a bowl in that a bowl which isn’t round is defined by its quality of being a ‘square bowl’ or a ‘triangular bowl’. When asked to contemplate a bowl in our minds, mine is undoubtedly round.

I have written before about the roundness of things and have been recently looking at how time is connected with roundness and vessels. The bowl can be used as a metaphor for the day in that we often speak of having a ‘full day’ into which we ‘couldn’t fit enough time to do everything’. Time is often cyclical too which reflects the motion of the throwing wheel, my preferred method of working. The philosopher Roger Pol-Droit in ‘How Are Things’ muses poetically on his meetings with unremarkable things in the world; a bowl is one of them. He says of bowls ‘When the Bardo Tbödol , the Tibetan Book of the Dead, gives as its unit of time for a prayer or a ceremony, ‘the length of a meal’, it means this: the interval of a stomach, a bowlful of time.’ He goes on to say the bowl is ‘a thing of thresholds, of beginnings and endings…the thing is present when life starts up and gathers strength, and when it wanes and grows languid.’

In order to help me think about what the qualities of my ideal bowl would be I’ve chosen three bowls by other artists whose work I admire. I first came across Kathleen Standen‘s (http://www.kathleenstanden.com) sculptures in her book ‘Additions to clay Bodies’ and was instantly attracted by the contrast between the smooth insides and rough outer surfaces of her forms. Adding organic additions and coloured stains to porcelain she succeeds in making unique thick walled asymmetric, raggedy vessels which reference tools used in the fishing industry such as buoys and floats, hinting to her past as a marine biology student. I like how her work references geology and the weathering of rock in a very tactile sense which ties in with the interest I have in what Natasha calls ‘sensory geography’. In order to create the forms Standen presses stained clay bodies into plaster moulds to create defined stratified layers of  coloured clay. Although I’m not particularly interested in this making technique, I’m drawn to the asymmetry of form and organic quality of the torn rim.

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Kathleen Standen http://www.bluehousegalleryschull.com

Martina Lantin ( http://www.mlceramics.com)is a ceramic artist I only came across recently while browsing a magazine. She works in a similar way to Brazilian Potter Carina Ciscato – throwing forms then cutting them up and altering the shape at leather hard stage. This technique was something I became very interested in last year on L5 since it throws in another challenge of timing on top of the throwing process. Playing with balance and asymmetry on a near-perfectly symmetrical thrown form appeals to me. Perhaps this wouldn’t have to come from altering the form itself however – presenting an odd number of bowls in a collection could similarly interrupt the equilibrium. Without leaning too much on the Japanese concept of wabi sabi which I believe is over used and inappropriately relied on to excuse a badly made piece of ceramics, there is something very appealing and human about asymmetry. However at odds with this is that things that are human often come in pairs too – meet, eyes, hands, ears etc – it’s an interesting dualism.

I fist saw a collection of Julian Stair‘s bowl shaped cups at CoCA York. Stair’s work is embodied by the clean lines and muted colours which are typical of today’s trend for minimalist pottery (take Jono Smart for example). His vessels suggest the possibility of function even if their unglazed surfaces celebrating the naked clay surface, aren’t designed with function in mind. Stair explores the anthropomorphic nature of vessels through different scales from domestic to monumental funeral urns and by grouping small vessels together creates an almost human dialogue between them. By placing different colours together, much as an abstract painter would he draws our attention to the subtleties in shades of grey, brown, green and blue, creating quiet compositions of contemplation.  There is a solemnity to all his work, not just those focusing explicitly on the theme of death.

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Julian Stair ‘Three Cups’ http://www.artfund.org

 It’s important for me to remember the humbleness of the bowl and its connection to eating and comfort when getting lost in researching ‘art bowls’, bowls which are more sculptural than functional.  While browsing through my flatmate’s Simply Nigella cookbook the other day I came across a section titled ‘Bowlfood’. For Lawson ‘‘bowlfood’ is a simple shorthand for food that is simultaneously soothing, bolstering, undemanding and sustaining’. Eating from a bowl is about comfort eating in the most innocent, infantile sense. Of the three artists above, Stair’s is what I feel most closely correlates to what I want to express artistically at this moment in time. For me the artwork above  embodies the familiarity of the bowl vessel form and the elemental entanglement of the human-clay-natural world relationship.

 

Performance Art Workshop

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Performance piece with group participation

Last week we were set the task of working in pairs with students from the textiles and jewellery departments to create a performance artwork which in some way explored space and the room. On Thursday afternoon we got together to watch each other’s performances. I’m familiar with the work of artists such as Yoko Ono and Maria Abramovic, but this was my first experience of creating my own performance. It turned out to be a lot of fun and yielded some interesting results about how people behave when placed in different situations as a group or individuals.

In the first performance we saw one person trying to catch avocado stones the other was throwing at her inside a heavy ceramic cylinder to 80s disco music. The high energy performance felt like watching an sporting competition. In another performance the three artists each wrote consecutive letters in their turn with black ink on a sheet of paper stuck to the wall. After they’d made their mark the paintbrush was handed to a member of the audience and we were invited to carry on the message. It was an interesting exploration in setting rules – the artists had set rules that they only painted one letter but some of the audience instead drew lines and symbols, some kept to the ‘rules’ that had been set. One of the students splashed the paint onto the paper so it got on the wall and ran down to the floor, out of the set ‘boundaries’ of the paper. One we’d all had a go drawing something the paintbrush carried on for a bit until someone decided for the group that the artwork was finished and placed the paint down on the floor. The result of the final piece was unpredictable. We as the audience had to set our own end point. It’s an interesting exploration of language too, there was a mixture in the class of first languages so perhaps we all expected words to be formed in languages familiar to us.

In one performance three of the students moved around into different positions, engaging each with a different object: an ironing board, a bin bag of clay and a chair. They held each improvised ‘still life’ frame for about six seconds before moving again, carrying forward the linear narrative until the time was up. Another performance involved the two students ‘in power’ placing the rest of us around the room as if we were inanimate objects. It felt like being a mannequin in a shop window.

A couple of the girls invited us to sit inside a circle of thread in silence where they attempted to make eye contact with each of us in turn. The final performance involved two of the students hiding in a corner of the room behind some boxes each working with the material most familiar to them – clay and wood in this case. They didn’t announce the performance had started so you had to find your way to their small room where they created a intimate space of stillness and contemplation, a safe space for themselves into which we felt we couldn’t intrude.

I worked alongside Sanne, a student from the jewellery department to create a performance which involved us creating an enclosure similar to a sheep pen with a couple of tables and leading the audience one by one into this tightly enclosed space. We kept some ‘chosen’ people on the side and after we’d closed in the ‘pen’ with chairs, we got out a line of chairs facing it and invited the ‘chosen ones’ to sit with us, eat popcorn and watch the people who were trapped in the enclosure before us. The whole performance took place with the Star Wars theme tune playing in the background.
Our idea was to turn our fear of performing in front of the others upside down, by structuring ourselves as the viewers and them as the ones being watched. We hoped the fizzy drinks and popcorn would create the feeling of being in a cinema, but I also compared the performance to the human zoos I learnt about at the current ‘Diorama’ exhibition by Annika Dahlsten and Markku Laakso at the Röda Sten Konsthall.

In feedback about the artwork we learnt that those who were led into the small table room initially felt like they were the chosen, privileged ones, that they were going aboard a space ship (the star wars tune create this illusion), but after the next stage of the performance took place they realised they weren’t going anywhere and didn’t get any popcorn. This quickly ignited a revolution led by one of the students who stepped over the boundary we had created between us and followed by other students the popcorn and drinks were quickly shared between everyone. Those in the power seats felt bad for the others and began to give out popcorn too, but it took a few minutes before people felt comfortable stepping out of the roles the game had created for them.

It was interesting that so many of the performances involved the rest of the audience. Perhaps when you have a fear of performing, including everyone else is a means of feeling less exposed?

Into the fold: Kathleen Moroney

Today’s skype call was with Irish ceramic artist Kathleen Moroney whose work is concerned with the interaction of space and movement, especially movement you can barely see like the passage of time. She explained how she was inspired by Susan Sontag‘s idea that something is accentuated in the opposite. For example, if something is silent, you can’t help but notice sound and if something is still, you can’t help thinking about movement. In order to explore movement in relation to the whole body, she became involved with dance workshops and learning about Japanese dance theatre called butoh. Her ideas about how dance brings you into a mindful state of being ‘in the moment’ resonated with me because of how I want the work I make to cause the viewer to experience a moment of calm contemplation as if looking out of a window. I was particularly interested about how she spoke of the wheel being the only tool that brings together time, space and movement, and the way working on a kickwheel in particular is so focused on the movement of the body that it’s a kind of performance art. Her spinning tops are an effort to capture that moment just before collapse, the way the clay on the wheel can look still when centred despite spinning at a fast speed.

Kathleen spoke about the importance of being happy in yourself, of feeling ‘centred’ and used the centering of clay as a metaphor. My interpretation is this: when we focus in on ourselves and attain a happiness that can’t be altered by outside events, our energy is focused, whereas if we focus too much outside of ourselves and are not in touch with our own thoughts and motivations, energy is wasted worrying. Kathleen spoke of how for every step we make visible there are hundreds of unseen steps through thought and emotion which lead to an action, so movement begins deep inside us.
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She also described the loss of self-consciousness that comes with working in repetition but the paradox of this that when you become used to something, you also stop looking.  Which brings me back again to the theme of balance, in life and in art. The forms I have being making recently are an effort to balance form and space, as I remember my old graphic design tutor telling us that the spaces between the words and images are just as important as the words and images themselves. Kathleen explained that in Japanese philosophy (and the wabi sabi aesthetic) empty space is perceived as energy.

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‘The still point of the turning world’ http://portfolio.dccoi.ie/craft-maker/kathleen-moroney/