My dictionary tells me that an ilk is a type; a class; a sort, and derived from a somewhat obscure Scotticism indicating, “of the place of the same name”. There’s another meaning too; the one the architects, James Fenton and Steven Lloyd, gave which is a three letter code for ‘Isobel Lone Kauri’. This ILK is a socially responsive project in ceramics, by artist Isobel Thom, toward her new studio building in Lone Kauri Road in Karekare, and currently an exhibition at the Malcolm Smith Gallery, Uxbridge, in Howick.
The project comprises several groups of, mainly ceramic, work – architectural models apparently as potential for her bush-laced hillside section – as sort of working sketches developing embryonic ideas toward construction and from which the architects generated their drawings and plans.
Then there are functional domestic objects and tile models on a long table including X-shaped green and white, glossy glazed flooring tiles while walls display architectural drawings and photography about the site and its intended structure so the entire integrated project can be visualised.
The functional pieces are rarely what we routinely consider as part of the domiciliary but why not? Everything doesn’t need to fit in a dish-washer. And when you think a bit about it, pipes, vents, water heaters and hand-basins are decidedly domestic and commonly historically ceramic, although currently replaced by plastics.
Thom has made a rocket stove; an energy efficient unit for outdoor cooking and water heating with a side effect of charcoal production (…useful for later fuming ceramic works as well as its role as bio-char which is a useful soil amendment for vegetable growing…). There is a model of a sink that will occupy a corner space in the loo, a trial air vent for a curved wall along with a group of Thom’s tableware in her now familiar planar, geometric slab-built style, constructed in her tiny studio from a gritty stoneware clay and slip decorated.
There are a ‘Stability Vase’ (?for earth-quaking times), cups and teapots, one with a charming tea-cosy of alpaca, homespun and knitted by the artist’s mother, Ellen, and plates with drawings of buildings Thom has admired and which served as instigation for her own home possibilities.
Thom’s long engagement with Cubism is in evidence and has been amplified by the restrictions imposed by a small working space so that hand-building is obligatory, making her style swiftly recognisable.
It’s the tiles that make the most arresting part of the exhibition. Overlapping, in classical tile formation, mounted upon laths and covering a large part of a gallery wall are more than a thousand tiles destined to clad part of the exterior walls of the building and curve underneath at the base. This curve is because approach will be from below as the building must sit high above the road on the steep section and so the turn of tiles will maximise aesthetic effect. There is a model of the curved wall base on the gallery table which demonstrates this and which served as prototype for problem-solving, but most are rolled from recycled clay, hand-pounded flat into a metal former designed by the artist, then slip-coated and fired en-masse in a large factory trolley kiln. This tiling project is a work in progress (about 800 more to go…) and Thom has already decided that the some tiles will be re-fired. While not seeking absolutely uniform surfaces she finds some of the flat finishes un- satisfying but intends to retain the tonal range achieved and keep working toward accord in this handmade environment she is assembling.
It’s a brave project; one that some might regard as a risky embarkation. Those with long-term experience in ceramic process can probably summon up some potentially difficult issues but no one, surely, could do anything but honour and value these fruits of such a socially responsive engagement with contemporary discourses and the aspiration to an aesthetically harmonious and integrated vision for art and life that is this singular project.
The project is currently awaiting resource consent and plans are to start construction in March. Yes, I know it can be a long haul to Howick, but it’s holiday season, the roads are light and it’s absolutely worth the journey which, with the changes to the area, is an interesting one anyway. For those in town -go see it. It’s on until January 14th.