I’m back from my trip to America refreshed and full to the brim with amazing ideas inspired by the art and artists of the U.S. NCECA was an incredible experience. I was there as a demonstrator (see image below) as well as a participant and this made the experience very special. Thousands of ceramicists converged on Kansas City, Missouri for three days of exhibition openings, talks, and demonstrations. There was a whole layer of activity underneath the official program including hotel room sales, impromptu performances, swaps and ceramic items hidden all around the city. It was so inspiring for Australian artists to be in an atmosphere completely saturated in art works, art talk, and passionate practitioners. I went to many exhibitions and felt the thrill of finally getting to interact in person with artists and artworks I’ve seen many times in magazines and online.
The value of the online ceramics community was really bought home to me on the first night I was at NCECA. I went to the Heartland Table Dinner held at Tom’s Distillery in the Crossroads District. I went by myself and was drifting around eating delicious local food (largely based on pork) and drinking local beer when a loud, friendly voice proclaimed “Shannon Garson! It’s me! Judi Tavill!!! From your blog!” Judi Tavill and I met for the first time at that dinner but we’ve ‘known’ each other for more than a decade through commenting and posting on ceramic blogs. Judi swept me along with her and her friends to exhibitions and dinners. Judi was great company and the first of many artists I met in person whom I have interacted with online over the years. Without this introduction to artists through the internet my experience of the huge conference would have been a lot lonelier. Though my online connections I had a network of people who I already ‘knew’ in that strange, distant /intimate way of knowing folk online. Ten years ago when I first started blogging I realised that the internet was a way of getting to know artists from other countries but it would only work if it was bought down to earth with real life meetings. It’s been a slow burn but finally I see the enormous value in the 21st century version of a ‘pen pal’. For many younger artists I’m speaking to the converted, but for older artists who have been reluctant to engage with Facebook or Instagram and are unable to see the benefits it brings, I would urge you to reach out using online resources and find a group of internet peers that you can relate to and one day meet in person.
Above: Shannon Garson demonstrating at NCECA 2016; photo: Jen Mertz
Many artists I met at NCECA were very enthusiastic about coming to Australia. Robbie Lobell is one of the founders of the Cook on Clay (see image below) company that manufactures beautiful, elegant ceramic cookware that can go straight from the fridge to the oven and be used directly on the gas flame. Robbie was one of the organisers of the Heartland Table Dinner, a pre-conference event at NCECA that paired six local chefs with artisanal spirits and craft beers all served from Robbie’s Cook on Clay serveware. The Heartland Table also showcased the work of 10 national potters who were able to sell their work on the night. I spoke to Robbie on the night of the dinner and she expressed her enthusiasm for visiting Australia. Other artists who are very keen to come over include Molly Hatch, Paul Blais (founder and host of The Potter’s Cast podcast), and Paolo Porelli and Lori Ann Touchette from CRETA ceramic residency in Rome. TACA committee members traveling can foster interest from American artists in visiting Australia and I hope we will see a lively exchange of artists between the two countries in the next few years.
While I was in the U.S I kept my ears open for any opportunities that I could use to promote Australian ceramics. One of the most exciting was bought up by Linda Fahey from Yonder Gallery in Pacifia (near San Francisco). The next NCECA in March 2017 is being held in Portland, Oregon and Linda proposed that I bring a group of 6-8 Australian artists over to exhibit with her gallery in a pop-up exhibition held in conjunction with NCECA. Linda and I have been pursuing leads about a venue in Portland, and this exhibition looks to be a very exciting opportunity for Australian ceramicists to break in to the American market and experience NCECA. Although I will be organising this with the artists Linda and I have chosen, TACA can be involved by publishing an article about the exhibition, and promoting any fundraising activities. While I am over there I will be able to promote Australian ceramics to a U.S audience. Opportunities like this benefit the whole ceramics community by increasing the flow of communication, artwork and skills between ceramics communities internationally.
Diversity in the ceramics community has come up as a topic in our online forum recently. This ties in with a larger debate addressed by Theaster Gates in his keynote address at NCECA in 2014. Gates said, “institutional ambition should have people from all racial groups who will inform the process and ways it moves forward.”
I think that we at TACA should be aware of the conversation around gender and racial diversity. We all benefit from a diverse community, and it would be great to aspire towards our association being a reflection of the myriad racial, and cultural groups within our nation. You can read about Theaster’s inspiring speech here: http://blog.nceca.net/theaster.
On a final note I’m very much looking forward to the opening of OVERUNDERSIDEWAYSDOWN, our biennial exhibition at Manly Art Gallery & Museum tomorrow night. This exhibition once again highlights the diversity of practice within ceramics in Australia. There is room for many forms of expression within Australian ceramics and The Australian Ceramics Association encompasses members working within many genres. From woodfirers through to the makers of fine porcelain, through to those artists engaged in clay as a carrier of conceptual notions engaged with sexuality, function and culture, the Australian ceramics community reflects and comments on the diversity found in within Australia as a whole.
We welcomed these new TACA members in April and May 2016:
Nichola Leeming, Peta Berghofer, Ernabella Arts, Poppe Davis, Julia Burch, Virginia Leitch, Katrina Tweedie, Cita Daidone, Leia Sherblom (Grit Ceramics), Susan Llewelyn, Sheila Newman, Jules Irving, Carol Kenchington, Eleni Tsomis, Linda Tait, Bronwyn Clarke, Annie Clough, Kiyoshi Ando, Elizabeth Rowe, Lisa Rees, Susie Hall, Cynthia Tippler, Todd Pletcher, Aniquah Stevenson, Timna Taylor, Ian Jones, Mark Young, Northcote Pottery Supplies, Jean Swinyard, Karen Sentonaris, Alana Mitchell, Felicity Bury, Caloundra Pottery Group, Cheryl Hann-Woodlock, Kalamunda Modern and Holly Courtney.