Wednesday 22 June 2011

Two Fingers and High Five: The Harrow Ceramics degree show, 2011

 Image from installation by Cami Cabra and Sally Szczech

If your University and your government decide to close down your art course – what do you do? Well you mount the most impressive degree show ever, obviously.

17 ceramicists conspired to put a massive two fingers up to the head of school (absent) and the vice chancellor, (absent) and the entire demolition government to show them exactly what would be missing. Their work ranged from handsome, thrown bowls, (Jo Beckett), to a ‘shit machine,’ (Lawrence Epps), which oozed strands of clay in the most scatological way imaginable  - not so hard with terracotta clay perhaps, but it provided much amusement to attendant children, to say nothing of the adults. It turned out that the extruder had been carefully adjusted to produce strands which, when cut in cross section, had a human profile. The massed human profiles were then arranged in an office, a London tube, and in various other groups, busying themselves on shelves and so on. Brilliant!

Hats off to Colin Wainwright for a witty installation and for corresponding economy in his artists statement: ‘An exploration of the inappropriate.’ It was too, - I especially loved the skeletal wine glasses. I also enjoyed the quiet two fingers to mighty dynasties of craft ceramics. Jane Cairn’s gorgeously proud celebration of industry, of how things work, of process and mechanics, occupied the space magnificently. It dominated the entrance to this giant, underground car-park of a 'gallery' and mixed effortlessly with the masses swarming round the drinks table at the private view.

Downstairs, clearly enjoying the acres of space available, the rest of the artists spread their work to full advantage. Naomi Wayne’s ceramic chairs, with the words of an Arab protest poem printed on to their seats, were placed in disarray in front of a slide show of photographic images from Palestine – a potent mix of fury and something more elegiac but still everyday. Contemporary art is littered with clich├ęs on the subject of the Arab –Israeli conflict and most often, unfortunately, by artists whose ignorance is outweighed only by their dullness. Wayne’s finely tuned mix of hard edged, unyielding anger with humour and poetic vision is a very welcome redress.

The notion of craft and memory, deployed by Sally Szczech in ‘Heirlooms,’ is also a well trodden path but she succeeded in bringing a fresh visual and tactile element to her work, particularly with chest of drawers filled with sewing materials, including printed ceramic cotton reels. It was immensely appealing and really brought out the nosey, inquisitive side of the audience. Everyone seemed to be fiercely resisting the desire to have good rummage around. Not all succeeded.

I have focused on five of the artists in the show but all of them, produced highly original and professional work – there really wasn’t a dud one among them and there are plenty more I could have singled out. So, hereis the link to their collective website with all their names, images and briefest of artist’s statements. Look out for any one of them. You will be richly rewarded.