You certainly are a very strange ceramic artist,” a fellow ceramics student at RMIT said to me. I wasn’t sure whether to be upset or pleased, but I decided I may as well be pleased… What had I done to provoke this comment? Well, I’d plastered the studio wall with clay slip and was projecting a picture of myself onto it. Strange? Maybe, but exciting? Definitely!
Ever since first working with clay twelve years ago, I have wanted to do more than build single pieces - I wanted to create whole environments. My graduate exhibition work was a city skyline, interpreted in shades of grey and white and with the introduction of mixed media. Informed by my readings of the Situationists and contemporary architecture, I used light and shadow as metaphors to explore positive and negative aspects of urban existence, always with particular reference to Brisbane. That body of work won me the Craft Queensland Award and began my association with that organization, with whom I have since exhibited on a number of occasions. This culminated in being offered the Main Gallery space for a major exhibition in 2002.
In 2001, my interest in light led me to explore working with porcelain and in order to maximize its potential, I had called on a friend who was a lighting designer for advice. This resulted in the works entitled Facades which were exhibited in the Ivory Street Window, Craft Queensland.
For my first major exhibition, Livable, I envisioned a dramatic opposition of black and white, good and evil, clay and shadow. Collaborating again with lighting designer Andrew Meadows allowed me to create a real city of porcelain buildings with a backdrop formed by the city of shadows. In order to create an urban soundscape, I worked with musician/sound artist, Ian Thompson.
The exhibition also included smaller sculptures, which were groupings of porcelain buildings with photographs of scenes from around Brisbane projected onto them.
In late 2003 I moved to Melbourne with the intention of studying Art Therapy, although in the back of my mind was the dream that I might be able to continue my studies in art. Personal circumstances intervened, and it became clear that there was no way I could manage full-time study. The path was clear to pursue post-graduate study in the Masters of Fine Art (coursework) at RMIT on a part-time basis.
The coursework Masters is a cross-disciplinary degree and while based within the ceramics department for studio work, I mixed freely at tutorials and seminars with students from across the fine arts spectrum and was not even compelled to work in clay at all! This was a perfect environment for me, as it facilitated wide ranging exploration in an atmosphere where failure would be construed as “a wonderful learning opportunity”.
In the university environment, I saw how clay was perceived by those outside a ceramics perspective. This was extremely enriching and I began to explore using the raw material as a completed artwork. The enduring quality of ceramic works of art for thousands of years is beautifully juxtaposed with the ephemeral nature of unfired works.
While giving a presentation about my work to the postgraduate students, I showed images of Livable. One of my colleagues was curator at a community gallery in Melbourne and invited me to participate in a group show, entitled Home Ground. This time the porcelain buildings were displayed suspended from the ceiling by wires as an homage to the web of tram lines, suspended like a wire ceiling over Melbourne. Apart from the wonderful opportunity to exhibit in Melbourne, this show offered me the chance to re-work the pieces in a totally different environment, and this time, the pieces themselves were the stars, rather than being part of a greater gestalt.
Eventually I had to stop exploring and settle on a firm direction for my masters proposal - to investigate the ideas of process, transience and change. The work is informed by process philosophy and the Buddhist concept of impermanence.
Last year I had the opportunity to showcase a work from my masters in Brisbane as part of Prima Materia at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, in conjunction with the National Ceramics Conference. This was the installation Wraith, which was comprised of a low relief sculpture of a human figure in raw clay, anatomical drawings and a projection. The projection depicted the wraith, an apparition which visits as a portent of imminent death, beside the clay figure. As the clay dried, it fell from the wall, revealing the drawn anatomical details. The work uses the physicality and fragility of the raw clay undergoing a process (drying) as a metaphor for human life.
2007 will be a busy year for me with my plans including the completion of my masters, exhibiting Wraith in Melbourne late in the year and hopefully showing more of my masters work in Brisbane. You can follow my year here on my blog and also on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/amandaw-w/