KARACHI, Jan 12: A group of internationally known artists, critics and scholars highlighted some finer points of ceramic art in contemporary and historical contexts on the first day of a two-day international seminar held in connection with the fourth Asna clay triennial at the Rangoonwala Community Centre on Saturday.

The day began with art critic Niilofur Farrukh’s welcome address after which Australia’s Merran Esson gave her presentation titled ‘Obsessive Surfaces, Uncertain Boundaries’ that entailed three aspects: her work, the education programme she’s associated with and her students.

Ms Esson is the chairperson of ceramics department, National School of Art, Sydney.

She said she was born in a small town, Tumbarumba. Her work was generally about ‘place’ and its importance. The series of work that she did in 2004, buckets and boundaries, signified her rural background. She pointed out that the part of the country where she lived had water issues, which was why some of her work comprised water tanks and buckets. In that regard she referred to a famous song ‘There’s a hole in the bucket’. She said she believed in the importance of ‘accident’ that was how she was managed to employ lime green glaze in her work. In 2011 she visited Broken Hill in New South Wales with a friend, which was an enriching experience for her because it took her out of her comfort zone. There she got to see paw prints and trails left by the kangaroo tail in a desert, which she incorporated into her artworks. It led her to do a series of pieces called Collision (collision between man and nature). She remarked it was important to find your own subject matter.

She also spoke about the National School of Art, Sydney housed in a jail built in the 1830s. She mentioned names of her students, such as Sarah O’Sullivan, who were doing a good job as ceramists. Turkey’s Sevim Cizer read out a paper on ‘The Reflections of Cultural Heritage on Turkish Contemporary Clay Art’. She stressed that history was a source of inspiration for Turkish artists and a starting point for art projects. She said the Anatolian peninsula was a cradle of important civilizations, beginning from the Neolithic era to the Hellenistic period to east Rome and finally to a couple of medieval Islamic empires. She argued that it’s during these eras that objects made of clay were used for daily use and later for artistic purposes. To date, artists in Turkey were using the cultural heritage of Anatolia as their point of origin. She named quite a few artists whose ceramic work was known for its individuality and a sense of history. They were: Sadi Diren, Alev Ebuziya, Bingul Basarir, Erdinc Bakla, Mustafa Tuncalp and Tulin Ayta.

The highlight of the day was Norwegian artist John Skognes presentation titled ‘Flames: Wood Firing in Norway’. He displayed some heart-warming images of the place he’d come from and started off by telling the audience about the Sami people of Scandinavia. He showed a picture of an old man sitting beside burnt wood giving the kind of feel that one got in those areas. He remarked that he had always been fascinated with wood firing (drama of firing) and added that nature was important for Norwegian people since they felt closely related to it. And doing so he ran pictures of his artworks and the kilns he used for his art.

Mr Skognes said there was a time when he underwent a tumultuous period in life and didn’t know whether to live or die. He stopped drinking and moved to another place where nobody knew him, and since 1990 he’d been living there — a place called the Shadow Mountains. He agreed with Ms Esson with regard to ‘accidents’ and claimed he too was ‘open to accidents’. He said the place he now lived had a population of 120 people and up in the mountains there were many small lakes. He commented that 20 years back he would think like ‘I made it’ in the world of art but with the passage of time he had realised that he’s a part of the process.

Replying to a question after the presentations, he said the tactile experience of his art had made him more humble and had brought his ego down.The first speaker of the second session was Asim Akhtar who read out a paper on ‘Contemporary Ceramics in Pakistan and Critical Theory’. He spoke about the division between pottery and ceramic sculpture (which later sparked off a debate) and argued that there was a need to develop a proper critical language for the subject.

India’s Reyaz Badruddin talked about his ‘Journey through Clay’. He informed the attendees on the various phases of evolution in his art (from 1995 to joining Sanskriti Kendra in 2000 and then Cardiff School of Art and Design in 2009). He said his paintings were influenced by his clay work and vice versa.

This was followed by the launch of a book ‘Between Dream and Reality: The Art of Tabinda Chinoy’ by Ms Chinoy.

The first session was ably conducted by Rumana Hussain.

The post-lunch session commenced with a documentary on ceramic practices of renowned ceramist Gwyn Pigott. Giving an introduction to (and responding to an earlier debate) Ms Esson said Ms Pigott crossed the boundary between pottery and fine art.

The last item of the day was a panel discussion on challenges of contemporary ceramic education.


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