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tracelines

The exhibition, tracelines, was selected as part of the New Craft Future Voices International Craft Conference held in Dundee, Scotland in July, 2007. The following is the exhibition proposal submitted as part of the selection process. The artists gratefully acknowledge the generous sponsorship received from ActewAGL and through the Janet Holmes à Court Artists' Grant in support of the exhibition.

Aim

The exhibition 'tracelines' explores the potential of memory, narrative and process as strategies in negotiating concepts of 'place' and 'belonging'. The four Australian Canberra-based ceramic artists all have migrant origins ranging from several generations of Australian-born ancestry to relatively recent post Eastern-block experience. The importance of process to conceptual approach is explored and analysed while porcelain, the material common to each artist's work, is given individual expression conceptually and aesthetically. View images

Context

As massive population dislocations worldwide have challenged our sense of belonging and association with place, memory has taken a central position in the theoretical discourse surrounding these issues. Concurrently the emphasis in dealing with memory has shifted from memory as recall to a holistic and abstract concept of memory and has become recognised as a "culturally specific field, a meeting ground between individual and culture." (Teski & Climo 1995, p.49) Even though such a meeting ground is personal, it also remains open to communication and reflective of a culture at a given time and place. While there may be a possible rupture between an event and the act of remembering, this rift between phenomenon and representation in itself has the potential to generate a creative and stimulating tension. (Huyssen 1995)

An important aspect informing the discourse of place and belonging, especially in a country like Australia with large sections of its population affected by the experience of physical and/or cultural dislocation, is the spatial dimension of memory. (eg. Halbwachs 1992; Nora & Kritzman 1996) Geographical studies have shown landscapes as simultaneously natural and cultural phenomena (eg. Penning-Roswell & Lowenthal 1986), suggesting identifications with 'place' on multiple levels and circumstances.

The human act of creation relies on memory, which it simultaneously draws from and helps to generate. When expressed through the art object memory becomes both private and public. 'Private' because its impetus comes from the experiences of the artist who creates the object and invests it with meanings. 'Public' because once the object leaves the artist's hands it becomes part of a wider domain and a player in a complex open-ended and continuing dialogue. The participants in the dialogue cannot be defined and it is this uncertainty of audience that creates the creative tensions that are present in every cultural product(ion).

Narrative allows us to utilise memory as the basis for explanation and expiation. It is a human way of organizing, interpreting and creating meaning from experiences. (Atkinson 1998) It enables us to journey through ourselves in multifaceted ways and to invite others into that journey. Drawing a parallel between oral narratives and craft processes, Sue Rowley points out that both are fundamentally "bound up in our sense of identity, our understanding the past, and our articulation of the unresolved concerns of the present." (Rowley 1997, p.84)

While both memory and narrative rely on personal experience, it is the communicability of that experience that makes them universal. This shared humanity creates order and meaning on both individual and collective levels through experiential commonalities of life. The four artists in tracelines all have migrant origins and as such, can draw upon both common and differing aspects of the migrant experience. Consequently, awareness of the role memory plays in art and life binds the four artists, though each bases their individual artistic vocabularies and creative processes on their own unique experience.

Methodology

Maiju Altpere-Woodhead explores the reciprocal relationship between recollection and new environment. A recent migrant from Estonia her sense of belonging is divided and in her work she investigates the hybrid nature of memory. In a series of large porcelain wall-tiles she addresses issues of personal meaning-making and memory processes by utilizing a ceramic mono-printing method that combines elements of classical intaglio and mono-print with ceramic materials and processes. This overlaying of processes and mediums allows her to reflect on the blurred boundary between past and present as well as express the constant change and unpredictability of memories. Incised plaster slabs are used onto which liquid porcelain is brushed and cast to form thin ceramic sheets and lift the image. While plaster has a superbly sensitive and responsive surface that records and reveals every alteration, due to its softness markings also lose definition rapidly and even disappear with subsequent prints. Working the plates by altering or adding new markings to the already existing and fading ones enables a record of change, as images appear, metamorphose and gradually disappear while all along retaining traces of their former identity(ies). A local Australian clay, Imperial Porcelain is used both for its purity of colour and translucent qualities which, in combination with the mono-printing method, allow for the construction of complex yet undefined visual spaces with permeable layered depth.

Anna Gianakis reflects on nostalgia and inherited memories through her function-oriented ceramics. Born into a family of Greek migrants, she cites her parents' entrenched belief in productivity and the memories of hardship in their country of origin as her source of inspiration. A sense of purpose and an ability to solve problems were core characteristics observed in her family, and a similar productive self-sufficiency embedded in her own consciousness underpins her art practice. Her creative process combines the flexibility and precision of computer-based design with the accuracy and reliability of semi-industrial slip-casting techniques. The transformative process from the idealism of computer rendered images to factual ceramics becomes a metaphor for the divide between nostalgic longing and actual belonging.

The Café Range is based on utilitarian and ergonomic design and is intended to facilitate comfortable interaction between the objects and the user while providing utmost utility. It features characteristics such as convex bases on cups to fit snugly into the palm of the hand without scalding due to their double walled design and an interlocking system between cups and saucers for increased stability. The work is slip-cast in fine Australian porcelain, chosen for its accessibility, durability and consistency. To foreground tactile and kinetic experience, the porcelain is clear glazed but otherwise unadorned, and the simplicity and purity of the clean white surface aims to suggest a synthesis of form and function.

Relationships between experience, memory and landscape are the subject matter for Avi Amesbury. Having grown up in outback Western Australia she focuses on the ethical conflict between her sense of belonging and the historical dispossession of land from its Aboriginal owners. She describes it as a rupturing between experience and event that has put into question 'that place where my memory belongs'. Subsequent extended travels throughout India and Asia-Pacific have further consolidated her quest for an innate connection with land. For her the making process, involving the use of materials collected from the land, becomes a means to explore the multi-layered and intricate relationships between landscape, experience and memory as well as reaffirming her sense of 'place'. The resulting vessel and cube based forms combine slab and slip-cast construction with stamping, a technique which the artist uses to express conceptual rather than decorative concerns. Stylised plaster stamps based on Australian natural symbols are impressed into slabs of soft clay with the images merging, overlapping and distorting each other, creating an apparently random layering of texture and fossil-like imagery. This process of mark making allows the artist to explore her personal relationship with the Australian landscape while creating allusions with its physical and spiritual presence, both past and present.

The clay-based glazes that emphasize the stamped markings are made from materials collected from various locations in Australia. Through extensive testing a vast range of colours have been attained - whites, pinks, greys, greens and reds through to black. The Australian Southern Ice porcelain is used exclusively for its colour response to the clay-based glazes and its whiteness.

Observation, memory and presence underpin Anita McIntyre's interpretations of Australian landscape. A fifth-generation Australian, she creates visual narratives that reflect her personal relationship with the land while acknowledging its Indigenous ownership. Although her work contains a direct reference to specific locations and stories, her expression is abstract. Extensive travels in outback Australia make journey an essential part of her intellectual process, which is materialised through a combination of European techniques and local materials. Essential elements of place and time are reduced to symbolic mark making on flat wall tiles and simple boat forms that become metaphors for the journey. This reduction of form and surface results from 35 years of ceramic practice during which the three elements most important to her art - colour, line and texture - have been explored and honed. The choice of unglazed porcelain as the primary material for work has been influenced by a background in painting. Porcelain provides a white canvas for the development of line and colour, achieved through the use of millefiori technique and natural slips. Texture is created by bedding dry pieces of clay and clay material into the soft slabs so they become integrated with the surface. Terra sigillata made from local materials provides colour and further enhances the surface to express an arid landscape. A mono transfer printing technique which enables repeat images while introducing subtle differences to the image is also used on the hand-built and press-moulded ceramics. This combination of intellectual and material processes has been pivotal to the expression of her personal and artistic responses to the landscape, both physical and spiritual.

Maiju Altpere-Woodhead, Lending face, 2007
Porcelain, coloured porcelain, mono-print
Photograph: Derek Ross

Avi Amesbury, Dreams of home series, 2007
Porcelain, clay glazes and celadon glaze
Photograph: Derek Ross

Anna Gianakis, Café Range, 2007
Porcelain, clear glaze
Photograph: Derek Ross

Anita McIntyre, Mapping the Kimberley Boat Form 1-3, 2007
Stoneware paper clay, transfer print porcelain, coloured slips, terra sigilatta
Photograph: Derek Ross

References

  1. Atkinson, R., 1998, The Life Story Interview, Sage, London
  2. Halbwachs, M., 1992, On Collective Memory, Univ. of Cambridge Press, Chicago&London
  3. Huyssen, A., 1995,Twilight Memories: Marking Time in Culture of Amnesia, Routledge, New York & London
  4. Nora, P. & Kritzman, L. D., 1996, Realms of Memory:Rethinking the French Past. Vol1:conflicts and Divisions, Columbia Univ.Press, New York;
  5. Penning-Roswell,E.C. & Lowenthal,D., 1986, Landscape:Meanings and Values, Allen & Unwin, London
  6. Rowley,S., 1997, Craft and Contemporary Theory, Allen&Unwin, St.Leonards, p.84
  7. Teski , M. C. & Climo, J.,(eds.), 1995, The Labyrinth of Memory: Ethnographic Journeys, Berg&Garvey, Westport, Connecticut, p.49