I can’t remember things before they happen
(A catalogue essay by Glenn Barkley for Jam Every Other Day by Georgia Harvey and Dawn Vachon shown at Tinning St Gallery, October 2016.)
Ceramics is in essence a collaborative act. The social aspect of making ceramics is often a surprising and compelling reason to make work. As the larger national institutions slash and burn their ceramic departments, paradoxically, people are flooding to ceramic courses across the country, with the act of sitting together making stuff part of the appeal.
Even when an artist is at work in their singular silos, there is still a need to talk to someone – ‘Do you know where I can find some frit 4143? Have you got a recipe for a chrome pink? Who knows a good electrician to fix my kiln?’
But there are other less tangible collaborators too. Every time you step into a studio it seems to be filled with ghosts – ghosts of all of the makers and their work. Their handprints left all over their stuff, now fired and fixed for eternity – or at least closer to eternity than a video work. The anxiety of the remake and of the performance, which pervades much of today’s contemporary art, now finds its echo in the ceramics studio. These anxieties stretch way back to pre-history. The evidence of life inscribed on a beaker jar links us to the makers of the past in a way that no other art form can.
Brought together, under the rubric of a set of self-imposed barriers, Dawn Vachon’s and Georgia Harvey’s body of work Jam every other day is a glimpse into the alchemical world of two technically skilled artists. They are brought together through a mutual appreciation of one another’s work but also through working as kiln technicians at a pottery studio. Harvey and Vachon, were, perhaps unwillingly, collaborators, with all of the work that moved through their hands.
Often those on the technical side of the art world (registrars, preparators, kiln technicians) have a heightened sense of the way things are made as well as what things might mean, and they have the insight to know that to make something interesting the work must be a perfect, or even imperfect, fusion of concept and material.
In the body of the sculptural work created for Jam every other day, Harvey and Vachon have created a direct connection to each other, contrived, purposeful and conscious. They have created a conceptual system where one artist engages with the work of the other and with one of the only limitations being that both work in a sculptural non-functional mode usually on a small, though no less monumental, scale.
Let’s look at how this all starts with the eager poetry of the maker:
These words, and I did take some out for the sake of brevity, are the starting point for the body of work made by the two artists. They exchanged these words to create a form of cues in the same way that a group of musicians may riff off a recurring motif. I have mixed them up in the spirit of the works, which, being passed back and forth are neither here nor there, the lines between authorship blurred.
In the work Jam every other day, there was initially a go ahead given to borrow from the other artist’s aesthetic, technique or material – ‘giving ourselves permission to thieve aspects from each other or use each other’s work as a launching pad’. 1
Through a series of back and forth gestures, the collaboration took place through aesthetic and technical exchange, in a kind of high-wire act of working out how and where to step.
Tellingly, coming to the end of the process, there was a feeling that the process itself could have been more important that the ‘artifacts’ themselves. A consolidation of ideas and forms were then developed independently but as if in the shadow of the other’s work.
One of the great things about being an artist, and a concept one should hold onto deeply, is the role of ambiguity in a practice. One of the failings of a lot of recent contemporary art is its irritating habit of leading with meaning. Once the meaning is established there is nowhere else to go. Art succeeds when a multitude of meanings and sensations are brought together – somewhere between the visceral and the intellectual – that is the anxious place in which art should seek to reside.
In ceramics, there is a constant push and pull between dichotomies – hard/soft, hot/cold, shiny/mat, form/function, that are implied by the nature and history of materials themselves. Jam every other day shows us work that is risky in its own way and that speaks directly to these dichotomies.
To give over your work to another is an anxious act and the works are a physical manifestation of this anxiety. We see this tension, made real, and existing in a hard and fixed form.
1 Georgia Harvey email to the author 4/8/16
Georgia Harvey is a ceramic artist with a background as an art conservator and painter. Her handbuilt forms are treated with low temperature firing techniques that encourage unique surface developments.
Dawn Vachon is a Canadian-born ceramic artist who makes utilitarian ceramics and sculptures form her studio in Melbourne. Her work investigates the subversion of traditional ceramic processes.