Glazed / Fired / Crumbling
The artist is often alone, writing, filing, cooking, sleeping, packing works for shipping, cleaning, reading on the toilet, and sometimes doing nothing at all. In an interview during the exhibition install, they explained: “The very first time I worked with clay was in my primary school, a very experimental place where if you didn’t want to go to class, you could go to one of the studios instead, and so I spent ages in the ceramics workshop. ... then about a year ago I had this package of clay, and started to play around with it in my studio. It was a very peaceful, joyful experience.” Recent ceramic works, although abstracted, still suggest receptacles for drinking and eating – forms for commonality, sharing and sociability. My favourite piece had an intriguing texture like fired clay or baked pastry. A whale’s vertebrae lies like an enlarged sycamore-propeller next to a box of jumbled together bones and shells. The sculptures range from full-bodied standing figures to busts and masks resting on plinths, each a conglomerate of materials and socio-political allusions. I thought of children or small animals curling in on themselves. They coated the inside of a London council-estate flat with spikey blue armour made of copper sulphate crystals. They skewer the bodily and cultural constructs attached to ‘ordinary’ materials.
All very easy on the eye but that bright, shiny glaze is deceptive. It might seem like a cross between something toothsome straight out of the oven, a piñata waiting to be cracked, or an ancient vessel unearthed from a dig. But closer inspection reveals it to be painted styrofoam, coated in a black, viscous substance suggestive of oil or tar, then covered in rolled oats, referencing mass production, the shipping of packaged goods around the world in a globalised economy, and environmental threat. Closer still, we find: multi-coloured skeins of pigmented latex; formations like petrol on water or sloughed- off reptile skins; a pink, flesh-like excrescence draped ectoplasmicly over a shlocky armature of styrofoam blocks. One lies flat, supine, the other curves its ends upward – each, inevitably, phallic. These are covered with ferrofluid – a material used in military technology and computing, consisting of magnetic particles suspended in liquid. They gradually agglomerate onto the scattered objects in petrol-black, glossy little constructions like biomechanical sea anemones. The overriding sense is of a glibly knowing attitude to recent aesthetic theorizing that is light and digestible. It’s all very clever, but the misogyny is not in doubt. They wave their stubby tentacles in the air. Rubbery epidermises hang from the walls.
In all honesty I have never understood displays of ceramics, objects for living condemned to vitrified death. They are woven into a romanticised, mythologized vision of the British landscape, in which the Palaeolithic overlaps with the present, and the human subject merges with their surrounding environment. Stifling. Place them in a room alongside explicitly activist and feminist works and you will see. All credit is due for rectifying the neglect of their practice.
Dr Catherine Spencer
University of St. Andrews
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