HYPERCLAY: A review by Altair Roelants

HYPERCLAY – A review by Altair Roelants

Object’s national touring exhibition, HYPERCLAY: Contemporary Ceramics (Sydney, 8 October 2011 – 8 January 2012), is a postmodern take on the ceramics show, in both content and display.

HYPERCLAY explores the work of eight Australian artists who are pushing the boundaries of conventional ceramic practices and, subsequently, notions of a ceramic artist – they include Walter Auer, Roderick Bamford, Stephen Bird, Jacqueline Clayton, Andrea Hylands, Addison Marshall, Pip McManus and Paul Wood. What unites them is their celebration of, and vision for, ceramics in a contemporary practice which is imagined through stimulating, experimental projects that merge traditional ceramic techniques, with contemporary art and design practices, digital media and cutting-edge technology. Accompanying the art works is a digital exhibition catalogue displaying more than thirty videos1 including insightful interviews discussing the artist’s processes2, and both academic and student views. The audience is invited to engage with the catalogue via gallery-based iPads, our viewing of which becomes crucial to understanding these exciting creative endeavors.


We often consider new-media and digital art practices at an entirely different end of the spectrum to ceramics – not in HYPERCLAY. Pip McManus’s evocative video piece Watershed 2 (2010)3 captures three white ceramic figures submerged in light dabbled murky water, red dessert sand tumbling over them. Symbolic of three wise monkeys, their hands make scissors, paper, rock gestures, referencing infallibility and indecision4. In the work, McManus successfully melds the material history of ceramics with the contemporary screen-based encounter to explore the permanence and impermanence of natural cycles.5 Aligning their inherent properties – stillness, organic materials, movement and visual documentation – to allow a reflective view of this dialect. In contrast, Stephen Bird uses computer generated animation and stop-frame Claymation to bring an energetic and playful enquiry to his practice. The artist aims to challenge notions of authorship and ceramics as solely a fixed, object-based, art form and rather as a “way of thinking”.6 In one of Bird’s exhibited pieces7, I Don’t Believe in Ceramics (2011), projected digitally animated8 designs dance across white china plates and dishes. This effective work draws on the viewer’s memories of domestic objects to enable a perceived physical synergy between these lively patterns and the ceramic’s surface. Pushing the medium further into the world of futuristic manufacturing and ‘one click’ aesthetic choices, is Roderick Bamford’s 3D printer.9 This ingenious machine dissects Bamford’s computer generated 3D ‘virtual objects’10 into thousands of slices which it traces with a clay-filled syringe, slowly replicating the virtual form into tangible ceramic pieces, which he then assembles, fires and glazes. The resulting vessels in HYPERCLAY echo the traditional Toby jug to bring issues of consumerism and environmental damage to our table, and enable the viewer to see the artist’s “trained accidents”11 with clay.

HYPERCLAY also highlights progressive experimentation that reflects current trends in contemporary art, craft and design practices to revive found and recycled objects and materials. Paul Wood’s Guardians of a Goddess (2011) comprises three opulent ceramic garden figures – a goddess and two roaring tigers – their faces smothered with melted, vintage, coloured glassware. Below their feet is a bed of warped ceramic tiles. Referencing Australian suburban garden features, Wood hunts for second-hand objects12 that will “speak of an era”13 and lend themselves to his risky kiln-based experiments into slumping, melting and warping14 in which “catastrophe is a part of the work”.15 Wood’s theatrical ensemble creates a conversation between different ceramic traditions – the kitsch garden sculpture, the domestic object and the work of art. Also drawing on the viewer’s responses to everyday items is Walter Auer’s collection16 of curious second-hand teddy bears that are preserved through a fascinating process of ‘mummification’17, where they’re stuffed with wood chips and slip before being repeatedly soaked in a terra sigillata slip to build up the heavily textured surface, and then fired inside sealed steel drums. While Jacqueline Clayton’s installation Rilke and the Autoclave18 (2011) incorporates clay as both a material and a conceptual component to critique female identity constructs. The work consists of an oppressive metal vintage steriliser (autoclave), its drawers bursting with glass laboratory vitrines holding delicate flowers which are individually modeled and sculpted by Clayton from a resilient compound of porcelain and, cleverly, face powder19 – a clay-based product of the beauty industry.

Also working on a smaller scale to reference the individual and collective is Andrea Hyland, whose exquisite work New Warriors (2010) – fifty-five slip cast bone-china vessels sitting atop a black found wooden base – is a contemporary rendering of China’s Terracotta Warriors20. To create her army, Hyland poured bone china slip into a two part spherical mold, stopping the process at various stages to create objects that all have a personality of their own. Hyland’s minimal and lustrous forms capture the essence of the terracotta army through her engagement with each individual shape and her sensitivity to her materials. With a similar focus on the singular within a collection, is visual artist Addison Marshall’s piece Satellite Series (2010/11), an assembly of hanging and standing coloured ceramic disks supported by thread, wooden skewers and toothpicks. Marshall’s “low-tech”21 ceramic and mixed media installation draws on conceptual visual arts practices, design, craft and fashion, to investigate form, material and disciplines, and is reminiscent of childhood string games or retro sci-fi props.

HYPERCLAY builds on ceramic’s history and traditions, and our cultural memories, in order to imagine its future, and in doing so illustrates clay’s flexibility – materially, aesthetically and conceptually – and its potential both within and beyond the realm of ceramics. Similarly, the show’s digital thread raises some interesting questions regarding the gallery experience and art object, when exhibitions move more into the virtual realm, and further from the experiential or the material. This is a new integrated approach for Object, and despite obvious benefits that can enrich the viewer’s experience and audience development strategies, I personally would like to have seen an equal emphasis placed on the display of the ceramics and processes within the gallery space. As I know from experience, not everyone will take the time (within Object’s gallery or online) to watch the digital component, without which the audience loses much of what is interesting about this exhibition – the artist’s hands-on experiments with clay.


1 The HYPERCLAY digital exhibition catalogue is downloadable as a free iPad app from Object’s website http://www.object.com.au.
2 Over the eight week exhibition a weekly artist was profiled by Object Eye which includes videos, images and text. Available at http://www.object.com.au.
3 Watershed 2 (2010) is a 22minute video
4 Pip McManus discusses this on the artist’s process video on Object Eye viewed at www.object.com.au.
5 Pip McManus discusses this on the artist’s process video on Object Eye viewed at www.object.com.au.
6 Quote taken from Stephen Bird text on the Object website http://www.object.com.au.
7 Stephen Bird’s second work is the darkly funny Claymation What are you laughing at? (2010) which imagines sculpted clay figures in a post-industrial dancing bash-up inside a kiln.
8 The animations evoke traditional blue and white china, kitsch designs of the mid twentieth century, sixties colours in echasketcha type reliefs and a flurry of insects in a more narrative scene.
9 Roderick Bamford gave a talk and demonstration of his 3D printer at Object Gallery on the 8 October 2011. For extensive information about the printer and processes visit http://www.object.com.au.
10 The virtual designs are initially rendered from a sketch made by Roderick Bamford.
11 Roderick Bamford discusses this on the artist’s process video in Object Eye viewed at www.object.com.au.
12 Paul Wood looks for his pieces in garden stores, charity shops and e-bay.
13 Paul Wood discusses this on the artist’s process video on Object Eye viewed at http://www.object.com.au.
14 This process involves trialing forms, material, temperatures and importantly, positioning – some angles lending themselves more to the effect than others.
15 Quote taken from Paul Wood in Object Eye at www.object.come.au
16 The titles of Walter Auer’s works in HYPERCLAY are The Anarchist (2011) and The Insider (2011).
17 Walter Auer has been developing the ‘mummification’ process for seven years.
18 The title refers to the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke whose writing explores beauty, solitude and death.
19 Originally using sugar paste, Jacqueline Clayton developed the face powder and porcelain compound for its strength.
20 Andrea Hyland developed the idea for the work while being involved in an exhibition in China that was located near the site of the Terracotta Army.
21 This is the term used by Addison Marshall on the artist’s process video on Object Eye viewed at www.object.com.au


{jb_blackbox}HYPERCLAY: Contemporary Ceramics is Object’s largest touring exhibition, and will tour extensively until 2014. For venue details and dates, please visit www.object.com.au

Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, NSW, 20 January – 11 March 2012

Watson Arts Centre, ACT, 5 April – 29 April 2012

Cessnock Regional Gallery, NSW, July – August 2012

jamfactory.com.au, Adelaide, SA, 8 September – 20 October 2012

Redland Gallery, QLD, 2 December 2012 – 20 January 2013

Broken Hill Regional Gallery, NSW, February – March 2013

Wagga Wagga Regional Gallery, NSW, April – June 2013

Tamworth Regional Art Gallery, NSW, July – September 2013

Cairns Regional Art Gallery, QLD, September – December 2013

Noosa Art Gallery, QLD, March – May 2014

Western Plains Cultural Centre, Dubbo, NSW, May – July 2014

Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery, Launceston, TAS, August – October 2014

Please note some tour dates are to be confirmed, and are subject to change. Check back closer to the date for final details.{/jb_blackbox}

Author: Australian Ceramics

In 1956, The Potters Society of Australia was formed to encourage and foster the development, appreciation and recognition of potters and pottery. It was the first ceramics organisation in Australia. In 2006, our name was changed to The Australian Ceramics Association to more fully reflect the scope of practice of the members. We are a national, not-for-profit organisation representing the interests of practising potters and ceramicists, students of ceramics and all those interested in Australian ceramics. We actively support and promote quality, specialist ceramics education nationally. T: 1300 720 124

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