TERRA NOVA: Canadian ‘Ground-Breakers’ in Ceramic Art
October 21, 2011 to Jan 15, 2012
Click here for The Record coverage of this exhibition
Artists in the exhibition are Susan Collett, Laurent Craste, Jeremy Hatch, Sin-ying Ho, Claude Miceli, Julie Moon, Ann Mortimer, and Catherine Paleczny.
Ceramic arts may date back well over 25,000 years but contemporary artists continue to redefine both its material and conceptual possibilities. A material already holding its own history of geological transformation, clay is at the heart of many creation myths in which deities fashion humans out of clay and breathe life into them. This material also relates to the Four Elements – earth, fire, water and air. Relatively recent archaeological discoveries of sun-dried coiled or pinched artefacts reveal that our prehistoric ancestors shaped clay into either utilitarian vessels or into objects that held the resonance of their stories, beliefs, and concerns of their day.
Like the ancients, ceramic artists today continue to tell our stories, reflect our concerns, and breathe life into their works. Terra Nova: Canadian Ground-Breakers in Ceramic Art brings together works by Susan Collett, Laurent Craste, Jeremy Hatch, Sin-ying Ho, Claude Miceli, Julie Moon, Ann Mortimer, and Catherine Paleczny – all artists who manipulate the medium in their own unique ways but share in the idea of pushing the boundaries of an age-old tradition to communicate something new.
While all of the works are sculptural in nature, the exhibition flirts with the on-going divisive dialectic that exists today between craft and fine art. In particular, are Laurent Craste’s classically inspired wheel-thrown vessels that have had their functionality most definitely thwarted, creating beautiful, humorous, and somewhat unnerving works. As well, there are Sin-ying Ho’s deconstructed wheel-thrown vessels which have been reconstructed into formal sculptures that echo traces of potential functional roots. At the same time, her use of traditional Chinese brush decoration combined with computer generated decals speaks to the collision between cultures and eras and between tradition and the computer age of our global village. Ann Mortimer’s porcelain umbrellas, opened and resting on their sides were inspired by a trip to a Chinese umbrella factory where she saw “an explosion of colour” in the paper and silk-covered hand painted umbrellas being prepared for worldwide exportation. Here, the idea of functionality becomes somewhat of a conundrum while at the same time beauty and value of craft mastery are celebrated.
The world of childhood and innocence comes alive in the works by Jeremy Hatch and Claude Miceli. Hatch’s cast porcelain assemblage of big wheels (a ‘cool’ form of tricycle), entitled Tumble Stack, was created as part of an artist-in-residence at the Kohler Factory in Wisconsin. Recalling an iconic childhood memory and its associated nostalgia, Hatch talks about the act of casting as “a symbolic gesture that, like a photograph, freezes a moment in time – recording and preserving forms and events that are impossible to relive.” Claude Miceli, whose broad artistic practice includes sculpture, exhibition, installations, animation, film, and design, has created clay characters for children’s animation for Nelvana’s Wild, Wild Circus Company. At the heart of the stories are “Bijou” and “Nice” who frolic innocently in the world of imagination where their adventures open them up to a world of wonder and delight. Another work by Miceli, entitled The Three Graces and installed in the Bierstock Gallery, shows three female figures painted in military colours but whose gestures reference those of religious statuaries of Catholic saints and martyrs. Like those statues, which have been kissed and rubbed by worshippers, the three graces, who guard a large daisy and offer up pumkins, are like goddess-warriors of love – bearing the traces of having been kissed too much by those hoping to find love.
Turning full circle, by its very nature, clay lends itself well to organic explorations of the body and of the natural world. While Susan Collett’s recent paper clay constructions from her Labyrinths series may suggest the idea of the vessel, they are instead undulating almost living organisms that appear to be growing, expanding – perhaps even breathing. This sense of a living organism is punctuated by the work’s perceived fragility as Collett invites us to explore its “shaled and ledged formations – a metaphor for life’s lessons.” Meanwhile, Catherine Paleczny’s installation Reef Relic references the microcosm of the organic world, and in particular, the exterior coatings of these organisms. For some, these organic shapes and forms might also evoke the idea of fossilized relics. Although smoked and charred as if testifying to some untoward disaster or perhaps capturing an embattled moment to survive the cyclical tides of life and death, the work seems to be teeming with life. Some of the elements resemble bodily organs, while other elements are coral-like and encrusted with barnacles. The entangled stacking of elements creates an architectural structure that oscillates between emergence and contraction, and again, we have the possibility of a living, breathing, and growing organism. Julie Moon’s coiled sculptures explore ideas about beauty, identity, and gender – particularly associations made between culture and the body. She playfully combines lace-like elements and delicate flowery detail with bizarre forms that oscillate between elegance and awkwardness. Moon’s more recent work of bulbous and amorphous shapes on the one hand makes abstract references to the body without being literal about any specific parts. They might just as easily resemble bountiful rolls of fat as they might reference a lava flow caught in mid-motion. For instance, her sculpture Ballerina might evoke a geological event were it not crowned by a pink ballet slipper!
When artists create works that are conceptually compelling as well as materially seductive, the viewing experience can take on a sort of transcendent quality for viewers because any single work might offer multiple avenues of engagement. While each of the eight artists in Terra Nova have developed their unique personal visual languages to explore their concerns, they all share a mastery of the medium, the ability to allow intuitive knowledge to flow, and the curiosity to playfully explore its extraordinary potential.
Christian Bernard Singer, Curator
10 Artists / 10 Years: Surveying work by Winifred Shantz Award for Ceramics Recipients
Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Winifred Shantz Award for Ceramics, this exhibition surveys key works created by winners of this prestigious award and demonstrates what is made possible when creativity is supported by visionary philanthropy. The Winifred Shantz Award for Ceramics supports highly promising early career professional ceramic artists to conduct intensive research at a pivotal moment in their careers. Works created before and after having won the Award will be on view. Past winning artists are: Susan Collett (Toronto), Laurent Craste (Montreal), Marc Vincent Egan (Toronto), Joan Bruneau (Lunenburg), Kate Hyde (Warsaw, ON), Ying-Yueh Chuang (Toronto), Rory MacDonald (Regina), Kasia Piech (Hamilton), Jasna Sokolovic (Vancouver), and Brendan Tang (Kamloops).
Watch this video for an overview of TERRA NOVA.
Watch this video of artist Susan Collett as she describes the impact of the Winifred Shantz Award for Ceramics.