Ceramics in the Absence of Clay: ‘How Do I Refer to You?’ Review 

June 6th 2023

How Do I Refer to You? installation image by: Felix Ashford

Printed on silk, a large pot stretched onto a hollow rectangle built from dark pine stands upright in the centre of the room. ‘The Stone That the Builders Rejected Has Become the Cornerstone’ by Zane Edwards is an object, a pot, a print, an expensive piece of organza. Its shape and structure suggest it is a painting. Yet the translucency of the printed image suggests something other than the sturdiness of canvas or thickness of paint. That we can see through it, disturbs our sense of space, reminding us that there are different ways to see things. 

Ceramic artist, educator, and NAS graduate Zane Edwards invited six ceramicists to make ceramic work without clay. A challenge for the artist, a nuisance for the art academic, How Do I Refer to You? is a provocation posed to a ceramic cohort. In the words of exhibiting artist Annie Parnell, this forced me to turn my attention away from clay and towards all that surrounds it”. Notions of discipline, kinship, and object are expanded across non-ceramic materials and practices.

In ‘The Carrier Bag Theory’, Ursula le Guin proposes considering a container as a momentous technology. She writes,

“Not just the bottle of gin or wine, but bottle in its older sense of container in general, a thing that holds something else. If you haven’t got something to put it it, food will escape you.”

In all its forms, the bottle, the container or carrier bag is special because it centres collecting and holding, rather than a hero’s spear or weapon, as a tool of survival. 

Looking at ‘Meat Purse’ by EJ Son, I think of the empty space where things are gathered and held. An oversized furry handbag, Son’s work evokes a faceless animal with two nipples on its’ body and handles attached to its head. It reminds me of a sleek hairball. The handles are made of pink textile, the material youd expect from a handbag, and also the indication that the work is more than a surreal sculpture. It is also a technology, a container of things to be carried. 

Meat Purse’ by EJ Son. Photo by: Felix Ashford

The motif of being held threads it way through the exhibition in various materials and configurations. Heidegger writes, “the emptiness, the void, is what does the vessels holding. The empty space, this nothing of the jug, is what the jug is as the holding vessel.”Laid upon a used kiln shelf is a broken piece of limestone with the number 0291192923 carved into its side. Calling Corfu is Edward’s collaborative work with Niko Plaskasovitis. Upon dialing the number, a man’s voice speaks,  “welcome you have entered the vessel”. The voice presents two options: press 1 to hear the destruction of pots in Corfu square. Press 2 to listen in on Nikos Grandparents conversing in Greek”.

The broken limestone is a DIY teleportation device, tethering us momentarily to Greece. We hear echos of breaking terracotta and Niko asking his Grandparents about the cabbages in their Corfu garden. We are outsiders, voyeurs, the object inserts us. Edwards says the work is about imagining a phone number as an empty vessel, consistently waiting to be filled. Sitting with this image of a phone number as an empty vessel, the possibilities to hold or be held grow. ‘Calling Corfu’ considers Heidegger’s void, stretching the idea of what a container can be.

‘Calling Corfu’ by Zane Edwards & Niko Plaskasovitis. Photo by: Felix Ashford

A saffron chair in the corner brings a soft object into view. ‘Creature Comforts’ by Roma Lopes is a small cushion adorned by trinkets; a Hello Kitty brooch, a condom wrapper, a bejeweled weed leaf, the Virgin Mary and many more are fastened to the soft square body. Its giving busy, its giving deCORE, its giving a memory of memories. The way the trinkets have been assembled shapes the way they are seen, one bringing another into sight. There is something very familiar in Lopess curation of bric-brac. Although devoid of clay, the exploration of kinship with objects extends this idea of the pot and ways of holding things outside of the body.

‘Creature Comforts’ by Roma Lopes. Photo by: Felix Ashford

Parnell: “How do I make a vessel out of clay?”
ChatGDP: You pound the clay into a rough cylinder, then hollow if out by hammering
Chat GDP: The clay shatters easily under the force of your blows. 

‘Ok computer, teach me pottery’ by Annie Parnell is a conversation between AI and the artist, gathered in a soft pink zine. Tacit knowledge is integral to any ceramic practice. Skills developed from the ceramic process such as wedging clay, throwing, hand-building and so on are trained-practice, developed through the body repeating gestures. Like driving a car, the skills cannot be shared verbally. You learn through doing. It becomes muscle memory, embodied. 

‘Ok computer, teach me pottery’ by Annie Parnell. Photo by: Felix Ashford

How does a computer communicate embodied knowledge? The back and forth between AI and artist is a nonsensical How-To tutorial. It feels whimsical as the computer attempts to share how to throw without a body to transfer the knowledge. In finding the limitations of ChatGPT, the work cleverly explores the tacit by presenting what it certainly is not.

The idea of ceramic as an embodied language is also explored in the work of Brigitte Podrasky. A hanging archipelago, ‘silently slipped, slightly closer’ is an exploration of the artists yearning to connect with her Japanese culture from a distance. Video stills and poetry are fragmented across soldered pieces of glass. Delicate and brittle, the metal is fraught with sharp angles. The translucent surfaces are inconsistently cast with pale and dark blue print, fractured by soft graphic marks. 

Podrasky writes that the work shares her desire to form an embodied connection with Japan through materiality. Considering the complications of relating to a culture that you did not grow up in, Podrasky creates her own ties in her own terms, contemplating kinship through material languages.

silently slipped, slightly closer’ by Brigitte Podrasky. Photo by: Felix Ashford

“What does it mean to give agency to the material, to follow the material and to act with the material?” Lang-Berndt asks in her essay ‘Materiality’. The video work, ‘The Feeling of Porous Brick’ by Marianna Ebersoll evokes such questions in a sticky encounter. Described by the artist as, a love letter to clay, a teacher of fluidity and softness”, the 11 minute durational sequence follows hands gathering and touching dark sticky earth across a fired brick. The text, imagine yourself as the body of brick/clay/hands”, hovers beneath as palms begin to form a ball and slowly sculpt a human form. 

Following the transformation of the brick from wet to dry, Ebersoll imagines a posthuman embodiment of clay, exploring the movement of sensation from soft to hard. The biblical allegory of humans molded from clay comes to mind. A poetic image, yet Ebersoll is not interested in a simple personification of clay. Rather, she is calling attention to her non-material relationship with clay, to their friendship. Ebersoll is interested in making the material laugh, sharing its gesture and ability to express sensation. She writes,

Clay encourages us to mingle and change, to allow the distinctions between fingertips and surface to disappear, to let borders move and shift and to allow feelings to transform into something else.”

‘The Feeling of Porous Brick’ invites us to consider clay as she does, as a teacher and friend.

‘The Feeling of Porous Brick’ by Marianna Ebersoll Photo by: Felix Ashford

How Do I Refer to You is a container of things, gathering thoughts around discipline, object, kinship and materiality. A handbag of conversations, the works are thoughtful reconsiderations of craft tradition, presenting ceramic as conceptually fluid, porous and unfixed.

  1. Le Guin, U. 1986 The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, Terra Ignota, London.
  2. Heidegger, M. 1962 The Thing, Poetry, Language, Thought, Regnery Chicago. P.165 – 182
  3. Lang-Berndt, P (ed.) 2015 Materiality, The MIT Press Cambridge Massachusetts. P.13