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Snow Series by Carole Hanson

The development

Image of Snow Series, 2005 Artist: Carole Hanson
Snow Series, 2005 - Carole Hanson

Snow Series is a project that began as a simple technical exercise 2 years ago and has since developed into half of my practice. My initial aim had been to strengthen my throwing skills through the development of a design that I would hold my interest and in which I would be compelled to reinvest in over time. I also had a strong aversion to the process of trimming and wanted the work to be particularly difficult in that sense so that I could challenge my skills and patience. And thus from humble beginnings the project began.

In July of 2004 I was given the opportunity to further develop this work during a residency focusing specifically on functional work. The Residency entitled Ceramics for Use: A New Perspective was coordinated by Suzanne Wolfe, Head of the Ceramic Workshop at the University of Hawai'i, at Manoa. The participants of the residency, who were from different areas of the Asia Pacific region, all participated in the discussion of contemporary functional work through the presentation of their personal investigations and work. Over the three week residency I was able to develop the design, the context and aesthetics of the work and as a result of this intimate daily interaction with the art practice of the other invited artists I was given the opportunity to further develop my appreciation and understanding of the role of functional ceramics in both social and art contexts.

The investigations into what has often recently been termed the 'social life of objects' has been a primary element of my research. (Barbara McConchie, Executive Director Craft ACT during Artforum Lecture at the Canberra School of Art in 2004.) In this case I have been interested in the presentation of objects as tools of projection and as signifiers of taste, status, ethical and moral positions. What I believe this project brought to light was the role of the maker in the contextualization of the work and how the choices and beliefs of the maker relative to the production and theoretical process impact the work and remain within the context of the work indefinitely. What this work embodied was the emphasis on the physical interaction of the user with the object, which is a relationship that changes not just the user but also the object and the reading of its context.

The design

Snow Series, 2005 Artist: Carole Hanson
Snow Series, 2005 - Carole Hanson

The design created for this project was based on research into contemporary trends in industrial design. I was interested in the separation forged by industry between the production process and the viewer/user of an object, and through producing industry inspired objects by hand I hoped to discuss the impact of this disconnection in the creation of value allocation and the fundamental use of the object. Central to the discussion I wanted to question how a maker could add value to an object extending its life beyond the cycle of consumerism.

Looking at the ideologies of capitalism, and its marketing of disposable products through an emphasis on progress, made me wonder if it was possible in our culture to produce objects that might present a heightened awareness of conceptual ideas, process and individual choices and desires. What became clear to me over the course of the residency at the University of Hawai'i was that the value I was looking for in the objects was not cemented in discourses of economics, tastes, or status, but rather its value was located in communication of a different sort, that of the dialogue between maker and user, which disappeared in machine and industry based work. The end goal for the work was to address how knowledge of process and maker might enrich the objects with a different sort of value, one that wasn't subjected to the will of fashion and technological progress, and which might create this more dynamic, meaningful relationship between objects and their owners. (Ann Brennan lecture notes from Design History, Art Theory Course, 2004) Objects are active rather than passive in their distributions of taste, social status and ideology, but could they also be active in their impact upon our lives and activities? Could the objects we surround ourselves with be used to educate, to challenge and change our habits, to provoke a greater emotional response to the physical world? (Flood, Sandra "The Lives of Objects' Paula Gustafson (ed.) Craft Perception and Practice: A Canadian Discourse (Rinsdale Press, 2002) 99, 101.)

Rather than starting by situating myself within the long history of the handmade ceramic work, I chose with this project to begin by situating myself within the framework of the industrial context and to work outwards from that point towards the handmade. The question quickly became whether I would be able to create an object that could speak of more than its position in a system of economic exchange, which was the system that created empty meaningless objects? Baudrillard theorises that "objects become signs with no meaning beyond their symbolic exchange value within the endless cycle of fashion." (Johnson, Pamela Out of Touch: The Meaning of Making in the Digital Age Tanya Harrod (ed.) Obscure Objects of Desire: Reviewing the Crafts in the Twentieth Century, (Crafts Council, London, 1997) 292) I questioned whether it would be possible to create meaning in the objects while moving them away from simple associations with the nostalgia, which was where Baudrillard situated the handmade, "not as signs of consumption but as the signification of time." (Johnson, Pamela Out of Touch: The Meaning of Making in the Digital Age Tanya Harrod (ed.) Obscure Objects of Desire: Reviewing the Crafts in the Twentieth Century, (Crafts Council, London, 1997) 292)

The following is an excerpt from The Multiple Readings of Function, describing two approaches to the project that I investigated during the residency at the University of Honolulu, Hawai'i.

The body of work, Snow Series, was the beginning of the investigation for me, attempting to marry the industrial with the handmade, the work had the aim of making reference to the human aspects in the production process. The work had an exterior surface that was clean, sterile and white, devoid of the memory of my hand, hinting at industrial design and production. The foot of the piece was the only tactile aspect of the exterior form. The tight rigid lines clearly defined by a tool, yet maintaining a consideration for the hand that would hold it. The weight of the forms differed from the expectation one has upon perceiving the forms. Unlike ultra-light slip-cast industrial wares, the thrown works possessed a satisfying weight that spoke of stability of design and use. An imperfect spiral marked the interior surface, gauged by my fingers, allowing the material to push and pull in an expressive manner. This human interaction with material was highlighted by a blue crackle glaze that alluded to the properties of the materials and their intrinsic beauty. The translucency of the porcelain allowed for the hand of the user to be visible through the walls and base of the form during use. This element is used to bring to mind the hand of the maker, and the relationship between the maker and user realized through the object.

Snow Flake Series was a series produced as part of that residency that utilized similar forms as the Snow Series yet used glaze to incorporate narrative elements about my past and Canadian culture. A white glaze that crystallized, crazed and turned clear in colour over an iron rich clay body produced the effect of snowflakes settling on a surface. This work took the forms a step away from the sterile white surface associated with industrial ceramics by using glaze to speak directly of me as the maker and of my personal context. Both series also investigated stacking possibilities for the forms. My concern with these pieces included a desire to create interesting designs within the combination and stacking of separate pieces so that the pieces would be visually interesting both at rest as well as when in use.
(The Multiple Readings of Function, The Journal of Australian Ceramics, VOL 43 #3, 2004)

Image of Snow Flake Series, 2005 Artist: Carole Hanson    Image of Snow Flake Series, 2005 Artist: Carole Hanson
Snow Flake Series, 2005 - Carole Hanson

The exhibition

My challenge has become to develop a manner of presentation that will develop a reading of the context of the objects, rather than having the work read more simply as purely aesthetic, functional objects. Being that functional based ceramics reference both industrial production and the handmade, I wanted to highlight the commercial and the domestic in the presentation of the pieces. Functional ceramic work is difficult to exhibit and is often subjected to presentation on plain plinths or shelves. Having two opportunities to exhibit this series simultaneously in 2005 (at the Canberra School of Art Gallery and at the Watson Arts Centre), I wanted to challenge myself to explore different methodologies of presentation to determine which might better serve the content.

Snow Series, 2005 Artist: Carole Hanson
Snow Series, 2005 - Carole Hanson

The objects, and their subsequent presentation, aim to highlight the individuality of each piece, even when placed as a part of a set. Objects that appear quite similar offer, upon closer inspection, a variety of differences achieved through glaze variations, intentional glaze faults, size, weight, variations in form, and mark making on the interior surface of the pieces.

For one exhibition I presented the work on a large wooden dinner table. The table, painted a dark matte grey also referenced the workshop bench. With this installation the important reference is to the repetition of the industry as well as the subtle or sometimes obvious variations in forms that are hand-crafted. The work was presented on the table in rows according to form, for example: a row of tea cups, a row of saucers, a row of covered jars, a row of bowls, a row of stacking sets, a row of plates, etc. The surface of the table was covered, creating an overwhelming arrangement of objects that offer a multitude of combinations for the viewer. The use of the table directly referenced the domestic setting of the home, while the repetition will bring to mind the repetition of slip-cast forms in a factory or the availability of uncountable quantities of commercial wares.

For a second exhibition, the work was presented in a manner that emphasized the design and its development through a range of objects. Plinths were used as a formal means of separating the different sets of objects, however their appearance was altered. I used a combination of black painted plinth tops overlaid by cut glass, which acted to gently reflect the bases of the pieces, highlighting the trimmed base of the design, which was the original inspiration for the project. This also visually lifted the pieces off the base and created an effect similar to water, which is visually linked to the water-like blue glaze used in the work. Through an emphasis on the individuality of the maker and their impact within the object, I feel that this method of presentation also emphasised certain aspects of my own personal narrative and history that are present in the work. The title Snow Series speaks to my Canadian past and the beauty of the winter season. I have tried to capture in the work inspirational aspects such as the ice flows that form on the rivers in early winter and the cool crispness of the crystals that form on windowpanes. These aspects are emphasized in the glazes used, and their presentation on cut glass accentuated these properties.

Carole Hanson
February 2006