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Catalogue Text – ‘Flux: Exhibition of Contemporary Clay’, Niland Gallery, Galway, (19th September – 13th October 2013)

September 3, 2013

Following on from the successful 3×2: Exhibition of Contemporary Clay, this current showcase of Irish and international artists aims to further probe the shifting parameters of contemporary clay practice.  The choice of terminology is significant here, with ‘clay’ denoting not just the medium of focus, but a direct and immediate engagement with material. This pre-occupation with materiality, while reaching beyond the traditional confines of the craft genre, seeks to retain a vital connection with its inherent processes and historical legacies.



A durational engagement with the material nature of clay, through the hand-crafting techniques of the making process, has always been synonymous with ceramic work. Ruminations on dirt, daub, rocks, land, and chemical elements are presented in the exhibition, aligned with the physical acts of digging, moulding, unearthing, and hollowing-out. This serves to highlight the organic and temporal nature of clay, while embodying technique and process. Technical and material knowledge are further amplified in the oozing, crackling glazes and fluid, ephemeral patterns enacted upon surfaces. Weighty references to ceramic heritage can be identified in references to the porcelain production industry, where nationalistic and traditional processes have been updated, even subverted, for contemporary consumerist appeal.



In situating current practice within a canon of exploration, Contemporary Clay draws influence from a range of art historical perspectives.  Engagement with the ‘catharsis-making’ qualities of clay – reminiscent of Fluxus and performance art of the late 1960’s – presents the substance of clay as incidental remnants of the expressive process and the force of the human body. Corporeality in this context embodies ritual and repetition. The assimilation of found objects into the realm of contemporary clay acknowledges the Dadaist ready-made as an important devise in the expansion of visual culture. In this exhibition, objects function as archaeological props, excavating history, replicating domestic life and marking punctual moments in memory and the passage of time.  The conversation of Objecthood in ceramics, previously pre-occupied with utility and functionality, opens up to consider audience engagement – a remit previously reserved for installation and conceptual art (underpinned by frameworks such as Relational Aesthetics). Such discourse has laid the theoretical foundations for critical exploration within contemporary ceramics[i]. The assimilation of new media into the contemporary clay arena has resulted in the integration of digital media and time-based activity into the ceramic vernacular.  Increasingly this exploration has rendered ceramics physically absent from the work of ceramic artists, conjuring a decentred approach[ii].

Locating Process

This notion of decentredness in contemporary clay practice has evolved as a way for ceramic artists to negotiate the genre’s technical burden and vastly overwhelming history of tradition and ‘anti-intellectualism’.  Within a conceptual art arena, which often values ideas over skill or technique, clay work retains a ‘hand-touched’ sensibility. This tactile attachment to material substance, coupled with a fidelity to the making-process, and a connection to ‘craft’s past’[iii], all display crucial connections to the formulation of concepts and ideas, denoting important ways in which contemporary clay is finding new ways to retain the history of its own making.

While contributing to an evolving ‘vocabulary of clay’[iv], this exhibition provides a timely exploration of the medium’s ambiguous status in relation to other disciplines. In terms of classification, initial impressions suggest that contemporary clay is as marginalised within craft as it is within applied, fine and contemporary art disciplines. Conversely, it has been widely argued that existing ‘between’ (and being subject to theoretical influence from other genres), might actually prove liberating in carving out an ‘expanded arena for ceramics’[v], marking the ‘beginning of a whole new paradigm’ [vi] and an exciting juncture for a discipline in flux.





[i] Imogen Racz ‘Sculptural vessels across the great divide: Tony Cragg’s Laibe and the metaphors of clay’, Journal of Visual Arts Practice Vol.8 Issue (3), pp. 215–227.

[ii] Andrew Livingstone, ‘Decentred Meaning: Ceramic Materiality – Relocating Process and Technique’in Leena K. Kaukinen (Ed.)Craft Science Parallel Session Papers –Proceedings of the Crafticulation & Education Conference, (NordFo: Helsinki, 2009) pp. 101-112.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Adrian Zulharli ‘Jason Üm’s Clay Addiction’ Ceramics: Art and Perception, No. 79, 2010, pp. 12-17.

[v] Andrew Livingstone, ‘Decentred Meaning: Ceramic Materiality – Relocating Process and Technique’ in Leena K. Kaukinen (Ed.)Craft Science Parallel Session Papers –Proceedings of the Crafticulation & Education Conference, (NordFo: Helsinki, 2009) pp. 101-112.


[vi] Garth Clark ‘Going for the Gold’, Ceramics Monthly, Oct 2001, Vol. 49 (8), p36


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