With ceramics the 2D view can mislead or confuse and it’s best to be able to walk around works. But then that’s not possible with off-shore shows and here is one that is absolutely worth a view. You don’t get the whole picture of course but this is work deserving of a look and a think.
Sent to me by one of the artists in the show it is currently being exhibited at Smith College in the USA which is a private liberal arts college for women in Massacheusetts. Their mission is to ‘educate women of promise for lives of distinction’ and the arts are covered as vigorously as any other subject. I was fortunate enough to visit the campus last year and saw the fine gallery where this current show is displayed so can imagine a little how it might manifest. It would be quietly mounted allowing the works themselves to soar.
Called Touch Fire, it is Japanese women ceramic artists deriving from several generations and clearly, those different generations show. Starting with centuries embedded traditions in ceramics that deprived women of developing into being artists in their own rights. These included only menial tasks allowed for women, including in some areas being forbidden to enter the kiln site when menstruating, or banned from ever touching the kiln at all, the exhibition’s title becomes self-explanatory. Starting with the immediate post-war generation where they learned from relatives or husbands the exhibition takes us through the start of higher education for women to the so-called ‘Super Girls’ of the 1980s who aggressively challenged male hierarchies and to current times when there are now a majority of female students at institutes of higher learning in the arts, including ceramics.
Some may recall the very different and excellent exhibits we would have in ‘The Fletcher’ exhibitions during the ‘90s that (we worked out) derived from independent female studio ceramists, particularly from the Osaka/Kyoto areas. They were some of those ‘Super Girls’ who were determined to avoid the male-dominated hierarchical systems that were, at that time, still powerfully present in Japanese ceramics and which prevented them from participating in numerous events in Japan. When I eventually met some of them I learned how positively they viewed ‘The Fletcher’ as it treated everyone equally and anonymously with no bias for gender. (To tell the truth, in those days we had trouble telling Japanese female from male names!)
This site is of the catalogue so, in addition to images of the works, there are also bios, small histories and some working methods, where particular, are briefly covered. The range is vast but with one exception, all is hand-building of some sort rather than wheel-based. Much of the work derives from nature and textiles but also includes socio=political comment and sexual allegory, with a feminine aesthetic. Techniques include, enamel overglazing, pate de verre, silk screening, terra sigillata and casting elements.
Ninety four works by twenty-odd artists – spend an hour or so…