From October 26, 2022, to January 8, 2023, the Hayward Gallery in London has transcended from the ordinary to the extraordinary. A giant ceramic squid dies a perplexing death in its ink. At the same time, a walk through imaginary forests hosting clay-crafted witches utilises the material medium in a strange fairy tale. 23 international and multi-generational artists are highlighted in the expansive group exhibition Strange Clay: In Contemporary Art, presenting a timely reflection on the indispensable and well-liked medium of clay. The exhibition platforms an assortment of eccentric abstract sculptural art created by ceramic pioneers—Betty Woodman, Ron Nagle, Ken Price, and Beate Kuhn along with fantastical and almost uncanny artworks by—Aaron Angell, Emma Hart, Woody De Othello, Ken Price, Lindsey Mendick, and Takuro Kuwata, among others.
Curated by Dr Cliff Lauson, the group exhibition explores the unconventional side of ceramic art through large-scale-installations, evocative objects, ceramic scenarios from everyday life, and artworks that address multidimensional topics such as—architecture, social justice, domestic conflicts, existential dispositions, political overviews, and the natural world. Despite a diverse set of exhibiting artists and their practices—regardless of the route of material use and its output—every artwork is united by clay being celebrated for its sheer possibility and versatility. “Strange Clay brings together some of the most exciting artists working in ceramics in recent years. Using innovative methods and techniques, they push the medium to its physical and conceptual limits, producing imaginative artworks that surprise and provoke in equal measure,” says Lauson.
As part of the exhibition, the contemporary art gallery observes an invasion of vermin, created in a witty display of a multidimensional domestic battleground. The gory sculptural installation is a result of the artist Lindsey Mendick’s powerful vision, who is known for her ability to interpret the disparities of the world in a wild and almost baffling artistic disposition. Mendick’s Till Death Do Us Part (2022) is a visually explicit showcase of the ambivalent domestic setting, which is often a mixed bag of negotiations, complaints, and conflicts. Ridden by the home’s untidy misfortunes, Mendick creates different spaces in the house, as a war ground of dirty rodents and creepy vermin an octopus emerges from a toilet and swings its tentacles across the place; rats feast on the leftovers from the dining table only to capitulate into a food-induced coma; an intrusion off cockroaches takes over a place where they are most despised. Everything assumes the form of disgust and gore within the confines of a home, as Mendick elaborates on domestic disputes through art.
While Mendick’s installation reflects a disturbing reality, Sweden-based sculptor Klara Kristalova creates a micro fairytale inhabited by fantastical creatures. Her peculiar world appears as a strange escapade where silent residents present their sad and depressed selves to the observers. Far From Here showcases 18 ceramic sculptures that appear as—witches, gnomes, half-humans, and fantastical animals, emerging from a bed of dried leaves, reminiscent of a sun-dried field. Kristalova’s sculptures emanate a certain sadness and longing to escape the cruel fairytale and embark on their individual journeys. The contemporary artist leaves no stone unturned in uplifting the material use of clay to an outspoken narrative.
German artist David Zink Yi presents a rather interesting and thought-provoking exhibit, artistically posing the question: can identities be shaped after death? Zink Yi proposes his creative abilities to build strong visual narratives through his ceramic work Untitled (Architeuthis) 2010. A giant squid lays lifeless, and succumbs to death in a pool of its own ink, split across a stretch of five metres. The artist weaves an enticing narrative between collective and individual identities through the medium of a fantastical sea creature, made out of clay.
Takuro Kuwata, a Japanese sculptor, embraces traditions and cultural crafts through the radical interpretation of his Japanese tea bowls. Glazed in various colours, Kuwata conceives the bowls in colossal sizes, evoking organic forms through their textures. The artist succeeds at firmly grounding the tradition of ceramic arts with a kaleidoscopic contemporary design approach. Contrasting to Kuwata’s tea bowls, the iconic ceramic artist Woody De Othello reimagines everyday objects as anthropomorphic forms, appearing to reflect the personalities of the home they are housed in, and even the people they belong to. To him, a home is a place with an abundance of psychic energy driven by its habitants.
The Strange Clay exhibition pushes all boundaries in displaying ceramic art in all its forms, adaptations, and glory. Among some other exhibits, were the iridescent emerging artworks by Salvatore Arancio from Italy, theatrical ceramics by Betty Woodman, one of the strongest voices in post-war American art history, and the fragments of ordinary objects in clay by Liu Jianhua. The exhibition is preceded by a fully illustrated catalogue, with essays by—Dr Cliff Lauson and Amy Sherlock, texts by Allie Biswas, Jareh Das, Hettie Judah, and Jenn Lomax, and a roundtable discussion chaired by Elinor Morgan, co-published by Hayward Publishing and Hatje Cantz. “Vibrant, playful and provocative, Strange Clay brings together a diverse range of artists—from across the world as well as the United Kingdom—whose work is inventively redefining the place of ceramics in contemporary art. Their work celebrates the medium’s special characteristics in order to explore an array of timely concerns,” concludes Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Hayward Gallery.
The Strange Clay: In Contemporary Art exhibition will be held at the Hayward Gallery from October 26, 2022, to January 8, 2023 in London.