Through their books and workshops, the potter Bernard Leach, along with Shoji Hamada and Soetsu Yanagi, actively promoted studio pottery in England and Japan and became profoundly influential around the world in the 1950s and ‘60s. They saw studio pottery as a humanist activity that extended our cultural continuity into the Neolithic past, and they proposed a meeting of Eastern and Western culture through an “art of living” that acknowledged the values of the individual craftsperson, the importance of handmade objects and a connection to the land.
Bernard Leach’s philosophy permeates the art history of British Columbia. A revival of craft was seen regularly in exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery from the 1950s to the ‘70s and was evident in the work of a generation of now well-known artists emerging from the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art + Design) at that time. While studio pottery remained a prominent practice through the 1970s, it began to disappear from institutional discourse as distinctions between so-called high and low art re-emerged in “fine art” exhibitions. Leach’s influence on BC potters and the craft/art dialogue was brought to the forefront again in the seminal 2004 exhibition Thrown: Influences and Intentions of West Coast Potters, organized by the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery.
While studio potters continue to produce and have influence, the commitment to a back-to-the-land ethos, so central fifty years ago, is arguably less possible and attractive now than it was then. The resurgence of ceramic practices today may be indicative of a rise in the importance of handmade things generally and, in the contemporary art world, a strong interest in materiality. The ten artists in Ionic Bonds refer to the legacies and histories of ceramics while pushing the limits of functionality towards a ceramic art that integrates altogether new forms, including video, interactive projects and installation. They span many generations and backgrounds. In some cases, the artists maintain a fluid integration of studio pottery along with a conceptual art practice, while others make work in many mediums, including ceramics, as part of their broader intellectual and material exploration.
Works include an installation of porcelain panels by Tom Burrows made during his time in Jingdezhen, China, along with polymer panels and an early video and sculpture work, Sand Pile (1973). There is also a large grouping of sculptural vessels by well-known ceramicist Wayne Ngan that give a sense of his prolific practice. Steven Brekelmans and Gailan Ngan have both made new work that combines large-scale ceramic vessels with found and constructed materials. Maggie Boyd has also developed a new body of work in which projected imagery fills blank spaces left on vessels, suggesting a fluidity of meaning on otherwise fixed objects. In his Borrowed Landscape series, Glenn Lewis embeds metaphor in material, oscillating between object and place by using source materials and photographs of sites in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and Jingdezhen, China, where he was an artist-in-residence. The exhibition also includes an installation of vessels and prints by Eunice Luk that came together in an exhibition at the Walter Phillips Gallery in Banff, as well as projects by Babak Golkar that offer visitors an opportunity to throw clay at the wall and scream into pots. Collaborative vessels by Eric Metcalfe and Paul Mathieu are presented in conversation with Metcalfe’s gouache paintings.
The atoms in ceramic materials are held together by chemical bonds. An ionic bond occurs between materials with different electronegativity—metal and non-metal. The metal atom transfers electrons to the non-metal atom, becoming positively charged, whereas the non-metal becomes negatively charged. The two ions, having opposite charges, attract each other with a strong electrostatic force. The artists in this exhibition are bonded by their distinctive approaches to ceramics. Through diverse ways of working with clay, the artists respond to the deep historical roots of ceramics, the medium’s connection to the land and its ability to transform through human contact.
clay, slips, glaze, rope
43.9 x 30.5 x 22.9 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Monte Clark Gallery
Photo: Goya Ngan
In the case of the plastic vessels he casts, the transformation to a now solid object emphasizes the way in which it takes up space. In a time when plastic bags and bottles, expendable objects and large oceanic plastic piles are under deeper scrutiny, Harder’s meticulous recording of his experience with these objects brings attention to how much plastic we each encounter in our everyday lives and reveals how dependent we have become on the material. Some plastic objects are made for durability and to conserve weight when filled with liquid, while others are discarded immediately after a brief period of use – most do not biodegrade. By bringing attention to every object he uses, Harder points to our individual complicity, the sheer quantity of plastics discarded and the amount of resources that have gone into the creation of these modern conveniences.
Referencing the cellular make-up of plastic material itself and the transformation to cast concrete, Harder’s sculptural constellations take the form of a polyhedron, the Classical Greek word meaning “many bases” which describes a mass or surface in three dimensions with flat polygonal faces, straight edges and sharp corners. By connecting these seemingly disparate objects, Harder makes the accumulation of these materials visible and exposes the connection between individual actions and the common good.
Installation view of David Jacob Harder: Poly(mer)hedron.
Photo: Cory Hope
In his 2013 to 2015 touring exhibition Not a new world, just an old trick, Roy Bois built a large-scale model of an art gallery inside an art gallery to house objects from the collections of various art institutions, selected by the artist, as a site to question the value and role of the objects populating an institutional collection. He has also created an interactive soundproof rehearsal space, Ugly Today, Beautiful Tomorrow, 2009, within the Vancouver Art Gallery, equipped with drums, a bass, two guitars and amplifiers, all of which visitors were invited to play. The sound from this space was then piped into the gallery’s lobby. In a more recent project looking at the effect of architecture on collective memory, La pyramide, Roy-Bois reconstructed the previous architectural footprint of the artist run centre Œil de Poisson before it moved into its current location 20 years ago and invited two artists to invite two artists and so on, until 175 artists contributed artwork to fill the space in a kind of artistic Ponzi scheme. In these projects Roy-Bois foregrounds the role of the viewer by shifting the focus away from the object and bringing attention to the gallery context.
For his new body of work at the Kamloops Art Gallery, Roy-Bois has created an ensemble of constructed and found objects that consider our contemporary material knowledge. His architectural structures act as vessels for everyday objects, pointing to the ways in which human experience is inextricably linked to manufactured things and spaces and how the greater meaning of our existence is mediated through things. Referencing what the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard called “hyperreality,” a mode of existence based on the mediated real where fiction and non-fiction are indistinguishable, Roy Bois’ sculptures and photographs of momentary sculptures that exist only long enough to document, reveal our tenuous relationship with the real. Through improvisational sculptures that re-present everyday objects in new ways, Roy-Bois’ practice works within an economy of means, blurring the boundaries between art and life and shifting ordinary objects and spaces into a poetic dimension – potentially shifting the viewer’s perception.
wood, paint, glue, nails, and object
175.3 x 71.1 x 63.5 cm
Photo: SITE Photography
Kalynka works with the etching process, using large copper plates to depict life-sized scythes as stand-ins for each of the oldest daughters in three generations of her family. The scythe is an implement of labour used by both Kalynka’s grandmothers on farms in their home country of Ukraine and in northern Saskatchewan, where her family settled. As the eldest children, each woman in the family was expected to make sacrifices in order to take care of the younger siblings and to take responsibility for chores on the family farm. Education was sometimes foregone so these women could contribute to the family and their way of life.
Featuring a key symbol of this experience, Kaylnka’s project is intended as a celebration, acknowledging the sacrifices of these women and emphasizing the connection that runs through the three generations.
Stella’s Scythe, 2017
223.5 x 111.7 cm
Hannah’s work uses intertwined modes of expression (photography, video, installation and performance) to generate the still image. His videos are presented in a fixed manner and from a frontal perspective, with scenes skillfully constructed and orchestrated by the artist in which participants, whose gestures are fixed without being totally immobile, take part in various activities staged by the artist. Often developing his projects over numerous months or years, doing intensive research and working with large groups of participants through community workshops, Hannah’s staged images draw on references ranging from celebrated historical paintings and sculptures to everyday lives.
Temporality and its complex relationship with photography and video occupies a prominent place in Hannah’s work. He consistently diversifies the means of animating a fixed image, beginning with capturing a pose on video that is held momentarily by the vacillating bodies. Hannah's “living pictures” play with the fascinated and attentive eye of the spectator. In recent work, the artist has endeavoured to generate the illusion of movement by taking a multitude of photographs of a body in action in order to successively articulate all the phases, reminiscent of the chronophotography of artist Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904).
This exhibition brings together key themes that define the narrative of Hannah’s artistic practice: Mirroring the Museum, Reflections of Artworks and Lives Captured. In these varied bodies of work Hannah explores seriality, repetition, recovery, duplication, reflection, the copy and visual citation.
The Raft of the Medusa (100 Mile House) 8, 2009
100.5 x 133.5 cm
The artists' imagery and texts are generated primarily through a call and response approach wherein paintings and drawings serve as the catalyst for the text. Writing has become increasingly the focus for the two artists; they often generate multiple texts before deciding on the final work. Using humour as a key device, the result of this collaborative process is a fusion of imagery and text layered with absurd narratives and dark humour. Their work is influenced by Surrealist language and methodologies, and often utilizes word play in reference to pop culture, past and present. Through their democratic approach to art making, the artists invite opportunity for open creative possibilities based on extensive dialogue.
The exhibition, I wasn’t paying attention and now it’s over, features Dumontier and Farber’s collaborative paintings and small print editions, as well as their ongoing series of Library paintings and Typing editions. The Library paintings began in 2009 and consist of thousands of book paintings that continue to grow with every exhibition. Book covers and spines reveal fictional titles displayed in a large grid, consisting of a vast collection of questions, absurd phrases and punchlines. The viewing experience is similar to perusing the shelves of a wall-sized library.
The Typing series consists of two different prints, one featuring a woman and the other featuring a man, seated in front of a typewriter with a large blank page encompassing most of the frame. The print is then put through a typewriter where the artists write letters and captions and create typed imagery. Typical of their collaborative practice as a whole, these projects generously open up to the input and output of each artist.
Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber
Library (detail), 2018
acrylic and pen on MDF
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