What do you need to Step Up to? …Reflections on the 2015 Australian Ceramics Triennial

A while back I promised to share some of my thoughts from ‘Stepping Up!’ – Australia’s Ceramics Triennial which was held in Canberra (almost two months ago now). Truth be told, I haven’t had too much free time since then to properly reflect on all the awesome thoughts, questions, considerations and inspirational artwork that the conference gifted.

Servant Ceramics_ConferenceA

But, I did come away with one key point completely reinforced:
1. Clay workers are good people.

I had the best time catching up with my old Holmesglen TAFE friends – hearing what they’ve been up to and seeing their work in various exhibitions. It was inspiring. For some, they are making completely different work to what they made at TAFE but for others, they have honed their techniques and refined their aesthetic. Knowing that my friends are pushing for and chasing down their maker’s dreams is so encouraging!

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Top L – Work by Sharon Muir Top M – Viewing work in Beaver Gallery Top R – Association Exhibition at ANU Gallery Mid L – Work by Stephanie Outrigde-Field Base L – Arist demonstration Base M – Work by Kylie Johnson (Paper Boat Press) Base R – Works from Object:Spoon at Beaver Gallery

Meeting IG friends and putting faces to makers’ labels was another highlight. As was the Trienseek – a ceramics treasure hunt organised by the go-getting Adriana Christianson – I love that I met Mel McEvoy (another QLD maker) through it.

From the sessions, here are some points/questions/challenges that continue to stand out and intrigue me…(Please note, in reviewing my notes, I have found it hard to differentiate what the speaker actually voiced and what are my responses were to their considered and learned opinions. This is probably why I found myself in trouble in university examinations – I struggled to tell what was from the lecturers’ and what were my divergent thoughts!)

Tanya Harrod on ‘Stepping Up: Ceramics in a Changing World’:
– What is material authenticity?
– How is art ‘born not made?’
– How do we do something profound with technology?

Jacques Kaufmann on ‘Stepping Up: Our Role in the Future’:
– Time impacts: memory, heritage, values, material consciousness, imaginary of material.
– Clay has a 200-300 year life; has historical and cultural links to human form (some consider it our ancient essence). Ceramics has too many personal properties to consider it a conceptual material alone.
– How do we contribute to others’ understanding and emotional responses to assist our neighbours?
– Factory vessels – while they may be technically perfect, are they emotionally cold?
– Should qualitative not quantitative consumption be the future’s global goal?
– Intuition ignites research which informs transformation.
– Leave the door open to possibilities AND skilful mastery

Friday’s Q&A panel – Memorable Lines:
– “Have better taste.”
– When a (handmade) plate breaks, it isn’t just a material but an emotional responsibility. There is high poetic energy in handcrafted items.
– In the studio, we cannot compete with factory costs. But we imbue work with feeling. Our touches and marks, imprint feeling inside and outside of the object.
– Australia’s economy slows when artisan production increases – are we an economic enemy?

Mike Goldmann on ‘Stepping Up: Sell More Pots!”
– OPPORTUNITY: Develop the extraordinary. Raise the standard. Skill in hands. Skill steals the hearts.

What if I break it? Buy another one!!
How much did you spend on dinner last Friday night and how did that look on Saturday morning? The pot that you could buy will look *much* better.

– Give. Receive. It’s universal.

Highlights from Saturday’s panel of speakers:
Carole Epp:  Valuing artists is valuing art. It’s not about audience, it’s about community.
Ben Carter: Be Generous… Give. Share a unique perspective, be curious but have conceptual and stylistic clarity. Know the difference between containment and presentation.

All in all, I found ‘Stepping Up’ to be motivating conference. At at time where utility (electricity/gas) costs are rising while international factory imports increase in quantity and decrease in price – where our institutionalised ceramic tertiary education courses are disappearing or assimilating into broad visual arts degrees without focused technical instruction, WE ARE A PART of the grass roots return to dirty, sticky, goopy, delicious clay. New workshop spaces, community arts centres, alternative commerce avenues and community desire for ceramics has been seen, heard and felt by Australian makers.

As I reflect on where I’m at in my ceramics practice, I am ever so hopeful and (if it’s possible) more open to opportunities and alternate pathways than when I was a student at TAFE. Granted, I have been disappointed at times by the ‘real world’ since launching Servant Ceramics but as I consider where/what/how I imagined 2015 to look like, way back at the Adelaide conference in 2012, this artisanal studio gig is a gift and ‘Stepping Up’ to it was a big step. But I’d do it again. And again. And again. There’s still so much more I want to learn and discover and explore and express with clay and through clay. Who know what the future actually holds! But I look forward to actively working on it.

Writing this post up has given me to ‘go do it’ chills and I just cannot wait to get into the studio tomorrow. So my challenge to you is: what do you need to Step Up to and how can I help you to do it?
With a big smile for you, Rachel.

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