The latest Yarrobil issue is out and I have to say it’s one that gave me great pleasure to read. Much of the issue centres upon the last Gulgong event with 14 pages on the Kiwi contingent alone – pics of activities and poetry from Jim Cooper and Chuck Joseph plus some text from moi – my blog piece edited here and there for international comprehension. Then there are texts on Keith Brymer-Jones, a lovely meditation by writer John Hughes on Beth Cavener and pages on, and by, many of the ‘masters’ who were gathered there, Torbjorn Kvasbo, (Nway), Alessandro Gallo, (Italy), Akira Satake, (Jpn), Alexandra Engelfreit, (Nland), Rafa Perez, (Spn), Pete Callas (USA), Merran Esson, (Oz), Ian Jones (Oz) and Paul Davis, (Oz). Finally there are several pages with extracts from Garth Clark and Mark del Vecchio’s dual keynote speech and I include some quotations of my own, at the end of this piece, taken from that speech that are well worth pondering….
Content not on the Gulgong event includes three texts about the late, great American ceramist, of neo-expressionist, playful and wilful oeuvre, Kirk Mangus, who, some of the Kiwi party to China, back in 2007, met in Jingdezhen at the Pottery Workshop when Takeshi was Director. Kirk was there with his son and was an engaging guest there with views on an anti-formalist way of approaching vessels of every kind, whether toward some dreamed up function or of the presence of some being. I remember well a couple of good conversations with him. It was Mangus who was largely responsible for the revival of wood-firing anagama kilns in the USA while head of ceramics at Ohio’s Kent State University (yes, that Kent State), although he did not use the effects as they are today largely used. That wasn’t his interest. His untimely death was a couple of years ago and it has been suggested that, “Anyone who is wood-firing today was influenced by Kirk”. And this issue contains yet more… It’s a splendid issue with lots to think over and learn (although not a glaze recipe in sight!!!!) Go get a copy. Better, take a subscription….
Now for those excerpts from Garth and Mark’s talk interspersed with my own remarks….
In reference to a rejection by mainstream art, clay culture erected what Garth Clark called, “Fortress Ceramica” . This label he used at a conference in Portland and at the Australian National Conference in Brisbane in2006, where I was also presenting and chairing a panel. “Fortress Ceramica” was (and is) a citadel that is almost completely autonomous culturally with its own museums, exhibiting venues, member societies, journals, writers, historians and critics’. We occupy our own exclusive little world. How true!
Garth stated that ‘Clay Gulgong is an outpost of the Fortress and reminds us of everything good about our community; the warmth, friendship, nurturing spirit and the hospitality. And one receives this welcome at every fortress around the world. It’s the best passport to hold. And it’s unique to us. Imagine this group as a gathering of painters if you dare, it would be as carefree and loving as an episode of Game of Thrones, a writhing serpent of ego, paranoia, and sociopathic ambition, perverted sex and death’. Again, how true!
‘The fortress also contains our weaknesses. Xenophobia, a fascination with process over aesthetics, a reluctance to be fully contemporary and a paucity of criticism. This puts it at risk’. Yes!
Another theme they commented on was the current interest by mainstream art in anything ceramic. ‘We waged war for 30 years from our gallery on 57th street for ceramics to be accepted as art and at least we weakened the walls. But we were amazed at the speed at which the walls fell after we closed in 2008. Suddenly the pace of acceptance quickened and the walls came down. Seemingly overnight ceramics became, as Roberta Smith, chief art critic for the New York Times, terms it, “the new video” and the medium of the moment.
Some in the ceramics community feared this takeover. Would they treat ceramics just as a material, not as the richly layered discipline it is with an amazing 15,000 year history and an atavistic, humanist vernacular? Would ceramists be excluded – from this new interest? Maybe they would only show ceramics from their own, non-specialist, art stars. And maybe they would dismiss the vessel as an outdated craft relic?
None of this has happened yet. As far as answered prayers go, this has been largely positive except for the art world’s wannabee ceramists who are barely at adult education level. What this means though is that ceramic art and The Fortress are irrevocably separated. We, the ceramic community, no longer have any say, or influence, in what is defined in our world as ceramic art.’
So it went, Garth and Mark delivered many a barb along with some measures of anodyne. It was pause for thought time really. For the full bunch of extracts you need to get the magazine (only $20) or Garth Clark’s booklet called, “How Envy Killed the Crafts Movement: An Autopsy in Two Parts” published by The Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2009 and US$9 on Lulu but it can also be fully downloaded via Google and Adobe Reader PDF, but really , you should all own your own copy. I bought my copy at the time and have lifted it down from the shelf many times in the nearly ten years it has been sitting there – it’s worth it even if you don’t agree with every word. And I still don’t.
However, at this stage the pair intend also being at the next Gulgong in 2018, bringing a large contingent of Americans with them, so maybe plan to attend and hear it all, plus updates, for yourself? (I hear once it was announced the town is almost already booked out for rooms, but it’s possible to stay nearby in Mudgee, if you act fast).
I have been invited to again bring a bunch of Kiwis along to make and mix, and this time I think it will probably be mainly girls to see how they do against the boys’ (and Lauren’s) splendid showing this last time. If interested do be in touch (even if you’re a boy), maybe with some pictures if I don’t know your work, or you think I don’t. You must be prepared to be a team player, support others and work together as well as strut your own stuff very well, but I’m confident the girls can do this at least as well as the boys. The beds for this group are already booked so I understand. My job will be to put the best Kiwi foot forward that we can muster. CNZ will again be requested to cover basic expenses.
With the official Australian Ceramics conference currently hamstrung by severe reductions in official finance resulting, at the last one (Canberra 2015), in few internationals and those principally funded by their own various resources, not Australia’s. The Gulgong event, privately endowed and with its multiplicity of international guests, will perhaps be the destination of choice for Kiwis. I have gone to the Australian conference since the very early 1990s, missing only one I think, as it was always bigger and with multiple platforms for listening and learning no matter your level, plus many internationals – they were wonderful conferences, and I hope they revive, but right now, with uncertainty surrounding the Oz event’s future, as last I heard, Gulgong looks to be a heap more engaging, and with the introduction of a greater mix of platforms including some panels and papers and events (and still not a glaze recipe in sight!) it makes a far more interesting option than our own national gathering. In my view. It’s a week of full indulgence in clay culture with a great mix of participants. The locals are friendly and it’s not too hard on the brain…. yet.