Placement - Ceramic Connections: Wales and Scotland

February 2012


Placement – Ceramic Connections: Wales and Scotland
One Day Symposium hosted by Fife Contemporary Art & Craft
St Andrews, Fife 5th November, 2011-11-06
This one-day symposium, ‘Ceramic Connections: Wales and Scotland,’ complemented the touring exhibition Placement – a collaboration between the Oriel Davies Gallery in Newtown, Wales and Fife Contemporary Art & Craft in St Andrews.  The show included work by contemporary makers Cecile Johnson Soliz, Nick Evans, Ken Eastman, Lowri Davies and Stephen Bird, Dawn Youll and Laura Ford. 
While Evans’ aptly named two-part work ‘Violent Femme’  is invasive, threatening and disquieting, Davies’ is domestic, delicate and rather familiar.  The work of these two artists forms opposite poles in terms of approach, form and aesthetic. Lying somewhere between these two extremes are Ken Eastman’s  organic, sinuous, pot-sculptures.  Eastman’s ‘Tollund’ suggests images from P.V. Glob’s book ‘The Bog People’; the smooth clay surface of the form recalls the leathery skin of this Iron Age sacrificial victim buried for millennia in a Jutland peat bog.
Johnson Soliz’s delicate watercolours of vessels in various combinations are complemented by a series of three, partially visible vases set high on a shelf. This combination of image and object plays with notions of representation and reality. Soliz’s work recalls an odd but satisfying combination of Joseph Beuys and Giorgio Morandi.
The symposium chair, Natasha Mayo, proposed an ‘ethnographical approach’ to ceramics. In common with artefacts of the past, contemporary ceramics can throw an important light on contemporary culture. Or put another way, she suggested, aspects of modern society – “the technology of the here and now” – could be interpreted through such objects.
Placement’s co-curators Lowri Davies and Dawn Youll provided a context for this proposition by introducing the work of each of the artist-makers. Youll stressed that Placement was neither a survey show nor about technique; it was,  rather, about ideas and how artists use ceramics to function in an artwork. Implicit in its title, Placement is about idea of narrative and the potential of ceramics to engage with viewers. This includes the notion that the physical act of situating an object can materially and emotionally affects its surroundings.
The speakers dealt with their own work and the ideas and motivations behind it.  Ken Eastman was engaging, witty and compelling – the entirety of the physical world apparently providing source material for his work.  Wilson was equally compelling although less organised in his visual material; but he is clearly an inspiration for students and collectors alike.
The final panel discussion was somewhat too self-contained. An early invitation for audience participation would have been welcome. Similarly a less exclusive definition of what constituted ceramic art was needed. Grayson Perry, for example, was deemed not relevant for discussion because he was not included in Placement; nor was he accorded the status of ceramic artist by the panel, although it is clear that Wilson and Perry, for example, share some common ground. This criterion did not exclude a plethora of other influences and artists being cited, among them Manet, Ernst, Heidegger and Gaudier-Brzeska. 
Nevertheless, despite these minor reservations, it is clear that the event opened up some important ground for discussion. Let us hope that this discourse can be developed.
* Placement was at Oriel Davies, Gallery, Newtown, Wales 16 April – 6 July 2011; and FCA&C, St Andrews Museum, Fife, Scotland 17-16 October and 22 October – 20 November.