More on Yarrobil and Gulgong…

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.



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6 responses to “More on Yarrobil and Gulgong…

  1. Begging your pardon,
    “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… although he did not use the effects as they are today largely used.”

    The fact is, Kirk was by no means, “responsible for the revival of wood-firing anagama kilns in the USA.” Peter Callas built the first anagama in the US in 1976. I built Pennsylvania’s first anagama at Juniata College in 1978, Sakazumi Katsuyuki built the Peters Valley kiln in 1980, the same year Otani Shiro built an anagama at Arrowmont School of Crafts in Tennessee. These kilns, as well as others built about the same time, were instrumental in raising consciousness about this method of firing. Kirk began teaching at Kent State in 1985, and by then anagamas had begun to proliferate across the country.

    This isn’t intended in any way to demean Kirk’s considerable contribution to US ceramics in general and wood firing in particular, only to clarify the chronological accuracy of this genre’s development, along with several of the many persons who introduced this method of firing in the United States.

    • Moyra

      Thanks for that Jack. Always happy to have the record made straighter. I got that from one of the texts on Mangus and assumed accuracy. I agree I wasn’t there and am glad you were. I’m wondering about the first one here in NZ… anyone with a clue?

  2. Hi Moyra,
    I, too, would like to draw attention to mis-information in your blog post.
    The Australian Ceramics Triennale has been run over many decades by committees of amazing volunteers coming together in the states in which the events were held. These committees relied often on the state craft council bodies, e.g. Craft South in 2012 and Craft ACT in 2015, taking on the legal liability, and always on committees who brought together the best they could offer program-wise in terms of speakers, demonstrators and exhibitions. Despite a group in Tasmania taking on the 2018 conference back in 2012 (and confirming in 2015), these arrangements collapsed in late 2015. But all is not lost, as we have gauged from continued interest here at TACA office. There is no revival (as you mention) necessary. There is not severe restrictions in official finance. It is agreed there is not an ample supply of private money (as is the case with Clay Gulgong), instead The Australian Ceramics Association now administers seed funding (provided by profits made by the Australian Ceramics Triennale held in NSW in 2009) to those states who take on a conference. These funds are now held securely by TACA who has recently formed a NFP company to ensure the security of the Triennale event into the future. These monies will provide funding for a couple of decades to come, and through clever financial budgeting, the triennial national conferences will continue.The decision to run Clay Gulgong in 2018 is, at best, puzzling. However, it is hoped TACA will be confirming, in the next month or two, the date and location for the next Australian Ceramics Triennale in 2018. Stay tuned!

    • Thanks to both above for all the corrections and explanations which I am happy to publish now that I can access them. Apologies for the tardiness as for some reason it seems to occasionally happen that I do not receive notifications of responses to posts and I don’t know why that happens.
      I would say that any comments made were the results of information received. I don’t make it up. Of course there is no reason to update me, or anyone in NZ on changes and adjustments to Oz funding issues so anything I write is based on whatever it is I was last told. That there have been developments since then is cause for rejoicing. As I said I have been to all but one of the Australian conferences since Brisbane in the early ’90s which was so interesting and beneficial on every level for me personally than our own event, that I determined to always be there if possible. And I have. And encouraged others to come along.
      I could however say that the last event in Canberra carried a somewhat different tenor to its predecessors, in my view, and that seemed to be a notion widely held. Perhaps there is a shift in intent to keep it different to the Gulgong event and that surely, would be a good thing. Two informative and enjoyable Aussie events to go to are better than one! Timing issues are for y’all to sort.

      • Janet DeBoos

        Thanks Moyra- appreciate your response- as I am sure Vicki does.
        You identified correctly that there was a conscious decision to make the 2015 Triennale somewhat different in tenor in that we had a theme that was (we hoped) not only surveying the state of play in the ceramics field in Australia, but also looking forward to how it may progress. The Clay Gulgong event is (and always has been) different, and it seemed to the 2015 organising committee that this opened the way to having two- different, but excellent ceramics events in Australia. As I observed, and Vicki also raised- its a pity that there will bean inevitable clash every third year for those who have to limit their attendance to one such event a year.
        Thanks again,

  3. Janet DeBoos

    …and ‘begging your pardon’ again Moyra…
    you say above in regards to the respective value of attending the Gulgong Clay event or the Australian Ceramics Trienniale that there was a reduction in funding
    “…resulting, at the last one (Canberra 2015), in few internationals…”.

    I do realise that you are writing an opinion piece, and agree that Clay Gulgong was a great event also (with quite a different brief to a national conference).
    But just to make it clear to your readers- all three keynote speakers at the Australian Ceramics Trienniale (Tanya Harrod (UK), Jacques Kauffmann (France/Switzerland), Mike Goldmark (UK)) were all internationals and completely funded by the Trienniale. The remaining speakers/ presenters numbered

    lectures: total 15
    (9 Australian, 6 internationals)
    panels: total presenters 13
    (4 Australian, 9 International)
    demonstrators/ other presentations/performances etc: total participants 15
    (11 Australian, 4 International) of which the Australian contingent represented both indigenous artists and artists of NESB.)

    This gives a total of 22 internationals, out of a total of 46 who presented in some way at the Trienniale. Seems like quite a lot of internationals for an Australian event to me- even if a substantial number were from Asian countries and are less well known in Australia and New Zealand than those that headlined at Gulgong.
    The demonstrators were all paid from Triennial funds, although all speakers were advised that we could not support their travel costs or pay a speakers fee due to unsuccessful Australia Council grant application and uncertainty about registrations. All speakers elected to still come, and we supported their applying for local funding with formal letters of invitation etc. As it turned out, the registrations were higher than even our most optimistic expectations, and all speakers were offered a fee after the event, but the majority elected not to accept it, and we paid our surplus back to The Australian Ceramics Association (which furnished seed money from previous Triennial profits), and which will in turn act as seed money for the next event in Tasmania.

    It is a bit of a pity that every three years there will be the two events in one year- and choices made whether to attend one or the other, but it seems to me that there is room for both, with the evolution of the Australian Ceramics Triennial into a more considered examination of the state of play in ceramics in Australia (as was evidenced in the structure of the Canberra ‘Stepping Up’ event), and the Gulgong event having international makers of renown spearhead a huge ceramics party that is fun for all- not least the town of Gulgong.
    (I might also add that the only negative feedback we had – amongst all the hundreds of positive statements about how much delegates had got out of it- was that the names on the conference badges were too small to read without glasses or peering lewdly at delegates chests!)
    thanks- I appreciate all you do for the ceramics field Moyra.

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