To celebrate the five-year anniversary of me up and moving my ceramics workshop to Iceland from Ireland, I am curating a retrospective of some of my favourite pieces. The mission of my work is to explore aesthetic properties latent within natural materials readily available from the world around me, and to transform these materials into useful totems of everyday life: invariably, tea bowls. I love tea!
For example: volcanic ash from various eruptions (Veiðivatn 1477, Hekla 1875, Eyjafjallajökull 2010!) can be excavated and then melted in the ceramic kiln at very high temperatures to create a beautiful glaze on the pottery (a glaze is not like paint: it’s more like creating glass via a kind of alchemy). In fact, ash from all kinds of incinerated stuff: cigarettes, banana skins—even corpses—can reveal amazing results at various temperatures! I shall be exhibiting a wide variety of these experiments at the show.
I come from a background of Critical Theory and Architecture but many years ago—dismayed and frustrated by the bureaucracy and the bullshit—I chucked all that over my shoulder and headed off in pursuit of something unmediated and authentic: something REAL. Around this time, an archaeological dig was taking place near my home, so I got down on my knees and asked for an opportunity to dig. The work was hard, but led to an epiphany, which changed the course of my life. Finding a shard of local prehistoric pottery in my neighbourhood revitalised my understanding of everyday life and the Earth on which it happens.
It’s a shame that “craft” or “Hönnun” is generally dismissed as being necessarily of less value than more conceptual artwork. I reckon it is precisely because of their position of origin and usability within everyday life that so called ‘traditional crafts’ are disqualified from the sphere of modern art and therefore considered less meaningful. Personally, I couldn’t give a toss about the modernism debate anymore, but this status coupled with the reality of insanely inexpensive imports of cheap-ass mass-produced stuff means that those of us in the local craft business can barely give our stuff away for free, let alone make a living maintaining what are often vital, indigenous industries, i.e. not just for the tourists.
It seems that for a variety of reasons, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves via globalization, technology and advertising, people are rather confused or, dare I say, misled about the valuation of “The Object” as it occurs in many facets of daily life.
The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction
I have never liked using moulds to reproduce my bowls. I find both the process and results to be monotonous uninspired and sterile. However I constantly find my work unfavourably compared to the “perfection” of mass produced stuff of the big household stores. As if I should hide any trace of the human hand from my work. On the contrary: I accentuate it. The moulding technique was originally [sic] developed as a means of copying and reproducing the works of the artist. Now, apparently, the “craft artist” must copy the uniformity and homogeneity of the machine in order to be considered good.
Is the photocopy of a person’s signature to be considered more accurate/authentic than another signature by that person? Why should the quality of the work of a realist painter be judged according to “how much it looks like a photograph”? In short, a humanist reality is surpassed by a mechanical reality. This is plain fucked up.
I hope the reader will not consider this to be a self-indulgent rant about the under appreciation of one man’s awesome skills, but rather a highlighting of the evolving crisis of indigenous vernacular skills unfolding right now, right across the board. (Sigh.) Anyway, as someone once said “you don’t find the passions that you seek, but other ones will find you”. I’m sticking with mud and I’ll be enjoying this journey, this upward spiral, wobbles and all, till I return to the earth from whence I came.
Fuck you IKEA.
Show opens Saturday, June 5 at 17:00. It runs for a week in a basement space beneath Einar Ben Restaurant, Ingolfstorg, 101 Reykjavík.