An earthen landscape cradling evocative clay sculptures and earthen seats by eleven contemporary artists is currently housed at the Richard Saltoun Gallery in London. This exposition, comprising showcases spearheaded by female artists, was organised by London-based creative studios It’s a Local Collective and contemporary artist Yushi Li as part of the Architectural Association pop-up summer school. Titled Born From Earth, the art exhibition aims to celebrate the materiality of clay through an array of contemporary artworks and ceramic sculpture art pieces crafted by pioneers and young stalwarts in the industry. It attempts to present the similarities between art and architecture by bringing to focus the value of earth and clay in both disciplines. Comprising a line-up of eleven female artists, the event will remain open from 5 July 2022 to 13 August 2022 at the British art gallery. It also aims at exploring, understanding and communicating women’s role in unveiling the full potential of ceramics. The pieces on display feature both traditional motifs as well as contemporary elements.
For this exhibition, the immersive design of which was sponsored by New York skincare brand MALIN+GOETZ, Lisa Chan of ‘It’s a Local Collective’ created a 13 metre long earthen platform that could hold the sculptures made out of clay. The platform, made out of natural earth and lime, sets the stage for a biophilic design enclosure where visitors can move calmly, with ease. The exposition, thus, presents a conspicuous dialogue between art and architecture. This physical presentation of abstract sculptures is accompanied by a series of talks and events organised by Chan and Chinese artist Yushi Li. The convergence of this literal sculptural exposition and a curated dialogue by Chan and Li attempts to explore the responsibilities of architectural practice and the possibilities that can be created by making architectural research more accessible and inclusive, both to diverse cultures as well as professional disciplines. “Can we push for resilient partnerships in a new education model where the research process is made more accessible and inclusive to the public?” questions Lisa Chan, founder of ‘It’s a Local Collective’.
Various ceramic art sculptures at the gallery attempt to present the many ideas and layers associated with femininity. For instance, British artist Rose English’s colourful porcelain dancers present female danseuses in their most jubilant element. It’s almost as if the joy felt by the dancers leaks out in colours through their skin onto their bare body parts. Another renowned artist, Judy Chicago, a staunch feminist known for developing complex artworks that dare to challenge the gendered structure of contemporary society, presents her ‘Six Erotic Cookies’ artworks and sculptures which are compositions made out of scooched bodies. Feminist artist Florence Peake’s mixed-media sculptures and Shelagh Wakely’s delicate clay fixtures are other pieces that evoke curiosity about the feminine body and mind.
Belgian artist Jacqueline Poncelet’s uniquely shaped untitled series of artistic creations are beguiling. They sometimes appear like elongated reptilian body parts fixed against each other in an uncoordinated manner, and at other times like abstract and organic compositions expressing some elusive emotion. Another artist from Belgium whose works are being showcased at the gallery is Carmen Dionyse. She was known for creating busts and masks inspired by Greek and Biblical mythological figures. Her works are being showcased in the UK for the first time. Dionyse’s animated miniature sculptures can intrigue and scare spectators at the same time.
British modernist sculptor Ruth Duckworth’s abstract sculptural art pieces appear in heavy contrast against the ostentatious sculptures by other artists. They offer a peek into the possibilities of this unique material. Duckworth is known for paving the way for experimental usage of ceramics in the second half of the 20th century. Her delicate porcelain showcase at the exhibition offers a peek into the various explorations she conducted with clay and the myriad ways in which she utilised its sensual materiality during her lifetime. Lili Dujourie’s sculptures, too, are abstract creations that softly provoke a poetic engagement with themselves. Sculpted to resemble the simple flow of fabric, it presents a unique way in which clay can be moulded.
Another prominent name, responsible for strongly influencing the British ceramics scene in the late 1970s, is Carol McNicoll. She worked as a machinist for prominent fashion designers and was responsible for making stage costumes before she began her experiments with ceramic. McNicoll carried the abstractions from her previous career onto clay and began to mould ceramics like origami sheets and cloth pieces. The result was a unique style that established ceramic vessels as an abstract form and influenced many new stalwarts in the industry, such as Gaia Fugazza and Holly Stevenson, both sculpture artists whose works are also on display at the gallery. McNicoll’s sculptural works, dotting the earthen landscape of the exhibition, compel visitors to come and take a closer look in order to confirm their materiality. Stevenson’s creations, on the other hand, are closely inspired by issues of gender and femininity and use ovular forms to represent the ovules and phallus of female and male genitalia, respectively.
Some of the other events organised by the curators with the Architectural Association include an artist talk with photographer Yushi Li, an AA Public Programme ‘House of Tableau’ and a student exhibition ‘(if) the whole street is a House’.
The exhibition ‘Born From Earth’ will remain on display from 5 July to 13 August 2022 at Saltoun Gallery in London, UK.