Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Placement at Oriel Davies

I went along to the opening of Placement - Ceramic Collection: Wales & Scotland  at Oriel Davies in Newtown on Saturday evening. The exhibition has been curated by ceramicists,  Lowri Davies (Wales) and Dawn Youll (Scotland) and brings together artists working in ceramic from both these regions.

This is one of the best shows I have seen for some while, I really enjoyed the choice of artists, the subtlety brought to the show by the curation and the physical layout of the gallery. The artists chosen for the show are: Stephen Bird, Claire Curneen, Lowri Davies, Ken Eastman, Nick Evans, Laura Ford, Anne Gibbs, David Shrigley, Cecile Johnson Soliz, Connor Wilson and Dawn Youll. 

The artist which both curators had on their wish list for the show was Laura Ford, and through making that connection they found that other suggestions unfolded around the ideas of ceramic in the widest contexts; the boundary between fine art and craft is truly irrelevant in this show. 

"Placement explores the subject of place, whether geographical or make-believe, and associated ideas around arrangement and placement, whether located to a place or within history. It aims to highlight important associations in the field of ceramics concerning location, geography, geology, ritual, commemoration and souvenir. Works by eleven artists reveal how ceramic objects can, and have been, used to articulate a particular language: telling stories and connecting us with both past and present."

There is such a feast of exceptional work in this show it's hard to decide on any favourite artists or works. Dawn Youll's work is stunningly well resolved in every way, it combines ideas about form, semiotics, materiality and concept effortlessly and elegantly. There is a major article with her in this month's Crafts Magazine which is featured on the front cover - very much worth grabbing a copy.

Stephen Bird's chaotic ceramic sculptures crackle with a nervous spirit of obsession. Much of his work is a subversion of the traditional English figurine, playing with the inherent colonialism and notions of class they embody and muddling them up to create fantastic, hybridised figures and scenes which borrow across global and contemporary culture.

Claire Curneen's trees feel powerfully mythic, red earthenware with gilded roots and branches, these forms are subtly abstracted from her often overtly figurative work and bring with them a slightly darker and richer language. I had no idea that David Shrigley made ceramic work, but his objects (a pair of oversized black boots and a bomb) are extremely sharp and funny. Lowri Davies delicate tea service and vases are the result of a keen and modestly authoritative understanding of both materials and historical references. Conor Wilson brings a magpie's eye to his pieces, they feel like they have been assembled and made beautiful with eclectic borrowings from many different sources, they are slightly rude, slightly dreamlike, slightly decorative and shot through with a complicated narrative.

If you are anywhere near Newtown between now and 6 July,  I strongly recommend a visit. Whilst you are there you can also catch Jonathan Anderson's installation, Aggregates in the Test Bed space at the gallery. The confined square footage of the space brings a tangible sense of claustrophobia to the work, but the irreverent, anti-capitalist humour that is evident, especially in the 3 dimensional objects he has chosen for the space lifts it and brings it into an interesting conversation with the Placement works in the main gallery spaces.

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