I have completed the 1st year of the PhD and still, I am in no mans land! Its quite a difficult place to be but also one that is very exciting. I will stick by the word ‘difficult’ because researching and directing my work,that is the work I produce in the studio directly to the writing and reading that I am doing is a challenge. Running ideas paralell to the study isnt extraordinarily difficult, I think the time inbetween is so small, fitting the ‘process’ time in between reading/writing/making, is the difficult bit. Exciting is the second descriptive word I will also stick by because finally, I am being asked to do this and encouraged to do this and given space to do this in my life. For an artist, sometimes, the juggle to get every thing done is hard work, but through this PhD time, people are ok with me being busy, in my head, in my studio, with my commitments. that is exciting but more exciting than that is the work that I am making and planning and the things I am discovering in my reading/researching. To be honest, that does all sound a bit higgledy piggledy, and often, that is exactly how I feel.
The Imperial Porcelain Factory in St Petersburg, Russia created some amazing work during the Revolution. From around 1905 to 1930, a group of artists produced images and narratives that led the way in three dimensional design at the same time as promoting the Communist Party. Plates that were left in the factory, that was primarily used for the production of porcelain for the Imperial courts of Russia, were used as paper is used for posters. Essentially these sets and plates that were waiting for decoration, were an advantage to the Communist Party and to their propoganda campaign as well as to the artists that were commissioned to work in the factory. The group of artists that were ’employed’ on site where painters, sculptors and graphic designers. This is why the work they produced was so exciting and new. These artists were not used to working on the three dimensional form, however, they created work that is inspiring. This is the area that I am studying in my Ph D. Well, it is my starting point really. The question I am posing is..what is political ceramics and where is it in the 21st century? that’s a rough version of one of the questions i am going to answer.
the first year of making for my PhD….
Now, we are in May, the winter is upon us and the studio is cold. The Porcelain is also cold and I am only throwing with a container of hot water as my source of water. No need for much water actually, the clay is quite malleable and throwing well. I had one bad day where every shape I threw was off centre, but it hopefully was just one of those days. Sometimes it can be as simple as the chair being in a slightly different spot. I should mark the spots on the floor actually, then it will never go wrong, but the thing with throwing is, and I do sometimes forget this, that its all about the flow between the clay and I, we become an inseparable shape, where we bend and stetch together, where we condence and expand, we go up and down and somewhere, we both, the clay and I, find a shape that we are happy with, so that shape stays, I let it sit, I go inside, have a Pilates stretch and return to see if it is alright. In winter, a shape can stay on the wheel over night and though it will definitely get cold, it sits firm and proud when I return to it in the morning. Usually by morning tea time,that next day, it is ready to turn and it goes upside down quite happy, turns nice and evenly, or if its not too even, it doesn’t mind being slightly off centre. The thing that I forget is that the clay and the forms I throw are thrown by me, a person. I am definitely not a machine, I am definitely not able to get the form perfectly centred. That is the beauty, that is the balance that I need to create between the shape,the clay and I. I am not a master of the clay, I love to throw and I do throw very well now, but I can get distracted by the radio in the background, the dog barking at the neighbours. It’s the pot that does the work from here. It sits, drying and tells me what it needs next. Soon, I will draw, and I am looking forward to that!
I think I’d like to tell you the story of how i came to make the work for this show, how thinking and making can take you on a journey. I received a letter in January i think, that i was accepted into the show. I was pretty excited, mainly because not alot of oppurtunities arise to show off narrative ceramics! So, as i always do in January, i started to think, about the year ahead, about the shapes i wanted to make and spend time with and develop, and the pictures i wanted to draw. I fill about one sketchbook a year, which could be abit slow, but they are like a diary to me, full of research, ideas, thoughts, and lots of drawing.
After thinking about issues i wanted to draw about i came up with 2. One was the development and division of land and water that the Murray river in Victoria and NSW is under review or discussion about. I am obviously interested in how we divide land/ space and what that means metaphorically to our selves as people but the second issue seemed to me quite important globally. That is the debate in Australia around immigration. My father is a German migrant who also came to Australia by boat, fortunatly not a vulnerable vessel like some recent migrants, but i think Australia as a country has a huge population of migrants and I’m not sure the debate or thoughts or thinking is quite as humane and understanding as i would like. So I chose this issue to centre my work on for 2011.
I worked almost full time in the studio and i researched and drew alot. School Easter holidays came, Mum took the boys off my hands and i actually felt like just playing in the studio, mucking around with the shapes i’d made, and i came up with my little monopoly house as a handle on the side of these shapes. I was pretty happy about that! I also drew alot of cliffs in this year, using them visually, as walls keep things out, so does the edge of the land, so do our prejiduces and fears. Drawing on the shapes was so satisfying and i am really happy with the results. Something different happens to the shapes when i draw on them and the lidded vessels were interesting, almost like i was drawing inside out.
The top two peices (in the first photo) are from the exhibition in Tathra, Narek Galleries and the last photo is the work for The Narrative Knot. When they came out of the kiln, the shapes were perfect, the drawing lines nice and sharp and the feel of the pots was almost ominous, moody. i was very happy.
Sometimes things take a while to work out, sometimes stories take a while to come together and it’s not always easy to get your drawings to work as well on a pot as they do in your sketch book, but this time, it worked!
It’s the beginning of December, 2011 and I am still pretty excited because yesterday I received a letter from RMIT University in Melbourne that I have been appointed a scholarship and can start my PhD. I am so thrilled, I really have trouble believing it. A University is going to pay me to do the thing I love to do the most. My job is to come up with a new idea, study and make ceramics and write (i’d love to write a book!) and, they will pay my way!!! Is anything better?
The Narrative Knot (at Manly Gallery, NSW) is coming up…..not ready for it yet, but here’s the first piece. Tathra, and the exhibition “Delicate Touch” went really well and all the work was received very well. It was great fun going up there, except for the mountain drive bit!!! but oh well! Karen has a beauriful space at Narek galleries and i was very happy to be part of the show. i was so excited to be there, i didnt take ANY photos!! abit cross with that. working in studio now, making, decorating, firing a new range of work – production ware. will keep you posted.
Here are three pieces that actually i was just playing with but funnily enough they all worked fine in the kiln, which is pretty frustrating because the work you spend hours on and really care about, always end up in some sort of trouble!
The titles for the three pieces are,’edges’, ‘boundaries’ and ‘my house has many doors’ which of course, they don’t!! So what i was playing with in the images was the fact that walls and castles and our homes don’t appear welcoming and inviting and all the rhetoric in the world from any immigration minister, isnt reflected in the walls that surround us and in the homes we have created.
Mmmm… sounds a little bit strong there, but, i have worked on the theme of walls and boundaries for quite some years now, and the longer you say something, the more precise it gets. That’s my reasoning!