Best in Show is an annual exhibition at Objectspace. . . a recurring event that offers a choice of the best work from graduate shows around the country. This exhibition showcases their work, usually for the first time, to the wider art and design communities. It’s not unknown to distinguish, among the many friends and family supporters at the crowded opening, various gallery owners/directors who come to scout potential toward their stable. Or at least become aware for some possible future consideration. It’s also not unknown for Objectspace itself to contact galleries about some possibly serendipitous association so as to be sure that a viewing takes place. So this is a confidence boosting and potentially promising event for the chosen few.
This year there are two grads in ceramics; one from Otago Polytechnic and the other from Unitec. Megan Lundberg from Unitec mined a notion that has been around the international scene for a while now, but not in this form as far as I know and certainly never here. A fact that’s surprising given the secondary market interest here in early manufacturers. Some of the most interesting ceramic work occurring anywhere situates with recycling, re-inventing, altering, appropriating, reinterpreting or quoting from the anonymously designed, mass-produced, factory generated vessel. Britain’s Barnaby Barford, Paul Scott, Clare Twomey or Norway’s Caroline Slotte, Kjell Rylander, the USA’s Charlie Kraft and Poland’s Marek Cecula are some of those currently mining this rich vein that interrogates and undermines concepts such as authorship, skill, nostalgia, authenticity, the ‘Terre Brut’ school of making ceramics and lexicons of the traditional. Some are underscored by the political but many are simply to raise a wry smile of recognition.
Lundberg‘s great idea falls readily within this domain. It arose through a class field study along the Oakley Creek where many old shards were excavated. Instead of a more conventional taxonomic/archaeological approach Lundberg utilizes the formal constructs of a found shard – usually ceramic but occasionally glass – and repeats and enlarges those formalities in a larger ceramic vessel, which also incorporates the shard. This produces an entirely new form – one not seen before – that Lundberg calls ‘re-imagining’. The idea has miles of traction but the execution is, as yet, somewhat unresolved. This is not alleviated by the display which presents the works as museum exhibits incorporated into an installation of museum-referencing small- scale crates but it is unclear why these fresh and new forms should be so presented when the taxonomic was earlier avoided. It’s hard to say what might be needed to produce something that feels more ‘complete’ but there are several avenues that could be tried and it’s not for me to say what is possibly wanting. I wonder about a statement on ‘preferring the casual, rough finish’ (far too much of that around) without alternatives being tried. Yet I am very aware that ceramic, of all media usually takes the longest to get to a ‘finished’ state. But in the end it just means more bags of clay through the fingers as potential resolutions are tested. But this is a concept that will bear much fruit and is infinitely worthy of the chase.
I’m not so sure where Lynda McNamara’s orthopaedically oriented works are headed but she executes the idea judiciously. A recumbent curve formed by numerous ramekins, each smaller than the last, that are lined up to replicate the spinal column and look quite a lot like vertebrae when so arranged, form one exhibit. McNamara has a background in orthotics and prosthetics and herself has some degenerative spinal issues. She sees similarities in the properties of ceramic and bone, which when too thin or excessively heavy, can warp, slump and collapse and intends that her art should raise awareness beginning with a somewhat literal translation from this idea to the material. She then moved to interpreting the concept via the domestic vessel seeing parallels in the necessary functionality and becoming interested in the rich histories and in learning to throw and glaze. The ramekins, bone-white and dense of surface looked pretty robust to me and did not provoke those associations in the way that her other exhibit did.
In Orthopod’s Challenge the pieces were finely thrown cups, saucers and bowls made and stacked in vertical columns then encouraged to misalign and slouch, further twisting and warping as kiln heat wreaked its havoc upon the uneven pressures of the irregularly formed vessels emphasized by a variety of handles that further encouraged distortion and fused by glaze. These works, which the artist sees as sculptural, are deserving of further application while asking if the glazes used really need be the traditional Anglo-oriental stand-bys of celadon and tenmoku.
Utilisation of kiln collapse, seen as a serious fault in the days of immaculate tableware, is looked upon by some artists as inhabiting intriguing potential. Witness Peter Collis’s recent adventures and experiments into bone china. He exhibited the slumped, hunched and distorted small based bowl forms that came from his kiln as holding interest, more than they would had they stayed as immaculate as when he placed them into the kiln – Collis is a master technician. I don’t know if he intends to make more but he is, later this month, exhibiting further developments into his exploration of ideas arising from this work with bone china. This involves projection in some form, as I understand it, and will be shown at Waikato Art Museum.
Another artist, this one from the USA, and who has risen to national prominence there due to her work employing the partial crumple induced by more heat work than the clay can stand, is Cheryl Ann Thomas. She rolls porcelain, very finely – but plumper than a thread of cotton yet thinner than that of wool – about embroidery strand thickness I guess. She coils these strands, squeezing one into the last and making straight–sided structures rather like bottomless tin cans, only larger. These are fired knowing full well that subsidence must occur – at least now she does as her training was as a painter and she only turned to clay a few years ago. The crumpled cylinders are played with and stacked and then refired where they fuse together, making some of the most elegantly monochromatic or dichromatic work around notions of collapse and disintegration imaginable. What might be looked upon by a ceramist as problematic was seen by someone with little knowledge of clay’s properties, as intriguing. She readily agrees that not all work but those that do, sing.
This Best in Show exhibition is one of the most engaging I have seen for a while. Embroidery, recently considered just about extinct, features well with two students evidencing the art world’s current fascination with process by utilizing what must be about the slowest. Briar Mark from AUT made a series of meticulously hand-embroidered posters that explored differences between the earlier hand production and the digital of now. Titles such as ‘I could have done this on my Mac’ and ‘This would have taken eight seconds to type’ in immaculate stitchery on beautiful paper was wry commentary more than it was about nostalgia.
Susan Wells from Elam used an established idea (Think Antony Gormley’s sculpture, Field as progenitor of these democratic art works) by contacting many embroidery groups around the country, through her mother’s interest and involvement, then getting some 78 individuals to cross-stitch on canvas and replicate a cubist style colourful painting made earlier by Wells. The 100 small pieces of embroidered cloth were stitched by Wells into one large work that can be looked at in the front with its myriad of interpretations and differing colours of thread selected to mimic those of the original painting. Or view the back where the individual authors’ names are reproduced. It makes a satisfying whole.
And on it goes, several graduates in jewellery (one artist’s fabulous idea was entitling her single exhibit with the size of her student loan – 22083.57), textiles in several forms, a new beehive for urban dwellers, a revival of the fountain pen (immaculately crafted and worthy of generational hand-down) as opposed to some throwaway ball-point, furniture, soft toys and typography (exquisitely executed in laser-cut 3D). All core fields of inquiry for craft/design/applied arts, yet many with awareness of today’s dominance of the computer and contemporary issues of up-cycling and sustainability. The curator has picked her way sensitively, finding the traditional within the contemporary (or is it the other way around?) offering a range of what is current within Objectspace’s purview. The only problematic exhibit for this reviewer was a film – a sci-fi narrative told with sound and by means of paper cutouts (as children make them, simply with just a pair of scissors to a piece of folded paper) all visibly hand manipulated on-screen. Yes, I understand the hand is a visible part of the narrative thus asserting the presence of the maker but in the end, this is post-object art. And this is Objectspace. The crucial question for me is where is this graduate headed? And my guess would be to the film world in some way. However I accept that it’s increasingly difficult to draw the line between genres these days and the smudging will possibly become even murkier.
The point is that here are eighteen new graduates, most probably with that burden of the student loan and a career to carve in today’s world. Some will disappear without trace despite the evident talent, some will juggle day-jobs and art making, for a while, or possibly forever. A few will chart a course through to being makers of objects that people wish to own and collect and use. One can only wish them well and steer them to Objectspace’s small Window Gallery where five of 2009’s grads (three jewelers, a graphic designer and a ceramist) are displaying new work ‘One Year On’ from their experience at Talente in Munich, Germany. Most originally first exhibited in the last ‘Best in Show’ , have built upon that and those European experiences and are charting that course. The ceramist, Corrina Hoseason, has interest in European ‘high table’ and particularly the baroque 18thC dinner-ware and table centre-pieces with their compendium of elaborate surface patterns that defined status and wealth for many, is off to the EKWC in The Netherlands for an extended period of learning. The European Keramik Werk Centre in ‘s-Hertogenbosch is one of the world’s great residency programmes for ceramics and those interested from other areas of the arts. It certainly offers the very best of technical expertise from computer technology to individual glaze formulations and provides, among other assets, the biggest kiln I have ever seen outside a factory situation.
Hoseason will be there plus studying at a variety of Museums in Europe as resource for ongoing work after she returns. She has offered the occasional up-date on progress and I shall post these.
Meanwhile, time spent at Best in Show will reward with pleasure.