On a couple of competitions…

The Korean International Ceramic Biennale competition  (Kicb) will open soon.  It will run Sept 27 to Nov 24…just one month. This is the world’s biggest competition in every sense. There were over 10,000 entries by 1599 artists from 82 countries. There seem to be two levels of exhibitors (the website is complex and as can sometimes be the case with such things – difficult to navigate for everything you’d like to know) However… it’s better than it has ever been before.

Selected for the online exhibition are 300 artists from 41 nations. Selected for the competition exhibition on site are 42 artists (chosen from the 300).  Winner of the over US$50,000 prize will be announced at the opening later this month. By far the largest number of exhibitors are Korean (52) and Australia did well with 8 exhibitors. NZ has no artists in the line-up at either level. Not surprising as we have no Masters Level tertiary education in ceramics. All the represented countries do have. It looked like Japan and USA were runners up in numbers (but I got tired of counting!). There were, as is common in Asia, many on the jury – in this case eight.

It is possible to view all works included in the show by heading to the website (kicb.co.kr) and navigate around from there.  They are being inclusive and you can do a “People’s Choice” vote) 3 times by clicking the hearts under each image. Further images are accessible by clicking artist’s names, but nowhere could I find anything about scale – and some works appeared very large while others seemed small and a number was impossible to tell. Names of the selected ‘invitational artists’ (that is the finalists for the top prize I guess) are listed. They include some well-known names such as, Aneta Regel, Tip Toland, Michael Flynn, Bruce Taylor, Ken Eastman, Nao Matsunaga, Maria Geszler Garzuly and Walter McConnell but most are new, at least to me. There are also names familiar from former FCCA exhibitions here and recent and next year’s Gulgong event in Australia.

As well as the competition exhibition, there are mentoring opportunities, residencies, artists exchange programmes, a symposium and opportunities for the invited artists to participate in numerous other events (Spend some time with the website and be amazed)

There used to be, as well as the competition, an invitational curated exhibition (which, when I was an invited speaker in ’05 for the symposium – that lasted 5 days), was a way better exhibition, in my view, than the competition as the curators could for artists from all over the world who never entered competitions as well as very famous names, and up until that time I thought it the best show I had ever seen, anywhere. Now the invitation is extended exclusively to the previous winning artist (Torbjorn Kvasbo of Norway won in 2017) and another – Neil Brownsword from UK with a large project involving other artists. Both have opportunity to talk to their work to the opening invitees gathered from across the world. The opening ceremony is always spectacular, even when I was there, and now is, I am told, more so. It lasts all day and includes dancers, drumming, and performances of many different types.

This event has also made connections with  other similar events around the world to facilitate, among other things, exchanges of artists and residencies. These events include the British Ceramic Biennial (which will open later this month), Sundaymorning at EKWC (Netherlands), Yingge Ceramics Museum (Taiwan) , Clayarch Gimhae Museum (Japan) and Guldagergaard (Denmark).  Do take a look if you have any interest in the international.

On a slightly smaller scale I was very recently sole juror for the Northland Craft Trust ceramics competition held at The Quarry in Whangarei.  It was a most pleasant weekend and a lively competition with 64 entries. While many were from Northland there were works entered from as far away as Christchurch, Nelson, Wellington and Napier, not to mention Hamilton and Auckland.  More are encouraged to have a go for the $1000 prizemoney. There are also a Runner-up prize and a People’s choice. I await with interest for the end of exhibition time to find what the viewers think most enjoyable. In conversation with some of the organisers of this event we agreed that the winning work should be a personal choice and the work I’d most like to take home with me. Here is what I had to say at prizegiving time…

We have a spectrum of what is currently practiced in NZ under the name of ceramics here in the show. Early influences here in NZ have been mainly British and we have been a nation of vessel-makers. That is in evidence here although the functional vessel is little represented while decorative vessels are abundant. That’s often common to many competitions. What is surprising is that there is an unusually high number of the figurative – be it animal, human or object and this has not been a NZ tradition and it’s good to see this arena being traversed. Figuration is the oldest area of ceramics –  the votive piece made to marry with offerings and many early cultures have, on excavation, offered up the votive piece- usually referencing fertility in some way; a goddess figures symbolising safe childbirth as was made in what is now Slovenia, or the early Japanese bell-shaped works sited at the corners of rice fields soliciting help from the gods for a good harvest, and so on – the figurative connects us to the earliest uses of ceramics – links between clay and magic. These are the two principal divisions with sub-groups within them. Some make reference to commercial uses of clay – perhaps the narrative or written words with a message on the surface of a platter. Others utilise clay’s mimetic qualities where it can imitate other materials or other things. There are many ways of referencing our long and rich histories, and we should celebrate them for ceramics is often self-referential in that way and it’s something I personally enjoy recognising. We need to celebrate our own! Ceramics can be powerful vehicles for meaning through their encounters with so many contexts and points of reference.

What do I look for in a pot? First and foremost – good form whether a vessel or a figure – proportion must be ‘right’ which is hard to prescribe but easy to recognise , or not, when there. I look for good confident clay handling and finishing – it’s often the first ton through the fingers that is the worst! I seek not immaculate completion but prefer just enough for excellent functionality – I don’t much like to see clay ‘fiddled with’ to perfection of ‘finish’, it’s a hand-made work, not factory produced. Just the same I look for appropriate completion, particularly underneath. Don’t just take a slice of clay, cut it into four and plonk the mini blocks on the base to form feet – make something that tells me you are using a malleable material to elevate your piece. Then, surface needs to be appropriate whether glazed or not. Weight also – and in keeping with the function.

So, what do I choose? This vase is the piece I’d most like to take home. It’s heavy, vases should be or the weight of the flowers can tip them over. It’s not a teapot that should be light for its size because it will be filled with hot liquid and handled. It’s a good height for many a bunch of flowers and will hold them well. It was wire cut from a solid clay block, and not fiddled with, the surface left fresh, then later hollowed once the outside had firmed. The form is dynamic – its method of making is evident. It’s different on every facet and the glaze sits perfectly while being a great colour for a vase – green – what could be more appropriate? The glaze carries an interesting history – T’ang Chinese in style and colour it also has T’ang inserts – those ancient potters would scrape out small hollows in the surface and place medallions of the same glaze in different colours – which often ran during firing. It’s happened here. T’ang is one of the most celebrated of Chinese wares. Those glazes were about 95% red lead but this was made with modern materials but is just as beautiful. While the surface was redolent of a period over a thousand years old, the form it sits upon is very current. Then the clincher for me was underneath the pot – when still a little soft it was set down on a bed of ferns which have left their mark. Its a link to the place the piece was made. If you think about it – there’s a lot going on on this apparently simple piece. When the staff are not looking, lift it (carefully) and look at the most beautiful base on this pot. Every surface has received consideration. I’d be pleased to take it home. It receives the principal prize. (Richard Parker)

My second prize goes to this work – a pot really designed to stand alone. It does not need flowers as there is much happening on this surface. We have wood ash effects upon the bare clay left at the opening at the top gifting a vibrant orange, while most of the exterior carries this copper bearing glaze offering this subtle matte surface, stunningly beautiful and gorgeously modulated all around the pot, changing with every viewpoint….violet, grey, turquoise, blush pinks and wine reds in areas – truly a fantastic glaze finish for a well scaled pot – I have had my hands deep down into its depths – it’s also very well made indeed. It receives the second prize of the subscription to Art News. (Greg Barron).

Here are images from a few works in the show – with apologies for lack of names (lost my list!) and more for the quality of images…. lighting difficult and just the phone camera!









Greg Barron


Richard Parker


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3 responses to “On a couple of competitions…

  1. paul maseyk

    I can’t see any correlation as to whether one has a Masters degree and being selected for entry into this competition. Perhaps no New Zealanders entered?

    • Paul, sorry, just seen this…. Maybe you are thinking that all competitions work the same as in NZ? I can tell you from personal experience, as I have been a panellist or one of more than three judges sometimes in Europe, that about the first thing that happens is the judges read the CVs! Some look no further if the applicant has not attended a major school or got certain residencies filed or shown in particular galleries. That’s why it’s hard for someone from here to get near the top of the pile…. silly way to judges something in my view but its pretty entrenched in Europe and – I am given to understand – in Asia too. There can be anything from three to ten judges doing the job, for which the pay is often more than adequate considering expenses are also taken care of as a rule. Our FCCA received so many interesting entries from newly emerged artists because word got out and around thee world that we had a single judge and they were not shown CVs. We received fewer entries from the well established because of the same conditions. I was personally told by a Dutch artist that he would never again enter FCCA because the judge did not see his CV. He found that astonishing and pointless!

      • Essentially what you are both saying is that unless you have a masters degree which will have been gained overseas because of the lack of provision within NZ, entering into major international competitions is a waste of effort? This does seem incredibly shortsighted and elitist of those judging them. However, in the same consideration, surely it provides additional ammunition for current providers to include a masters degree into their portfolio of offerings?

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