Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

This field module was not simply a “holiday”, but a great opportunity to immerse myself into the creative life in South Korea and questioning, comparing, contrasting, thinking and acting on cultural differences, similarities, and opportunities that these experiences provoke within my subject area, ceramics.

An advantage of a stereotype is that it enables us to respond rapidly to situations because we may have had a similar experience before. A disadvantage is that it makes us ignore differences between individuals; therefore generalizing makes us think things about people who might not be true.

Graphic artist Yang Liu has a sharp eye for cultural comparison, honed by personal experience. In 1990, at the age of 13, she moved from Beijing to Berlin. After exactly 13 years there, she started an illustrated project to document her dual experiences in China and Germany. Originally created as 47 simple blue and red posters, Yang Liu’s nonjudgmental series playfully captures the difference between cultures: from workplace hierarchy to restaurant etiquette. It has since been shown at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Germany and was published in 2007 by art book authority Taschen with the title East Meets West.east_west_spreads_4east_west_spreads_8east_west_spreads_5east_west_spreads_1Prior to my trip to Korea, especially not knowing much about the country I was about to explore, I had a few misconceptions and some stereotypes that were re-enforced such as people eating kimchi, everyone owning a Samsung phone and wondering why are Koreans so good at whatever they do and on the other hand, some stereotypes were demolished, such as, perhaps people eating unusual things such as dog or cat, everyone loving K-pop and Korean dramas. All of these stereotypes are generalizations that are feed to us by the media, the internet, family, friends, teachers, etc. Even though these stereotypes are not that outrageous, it’s fair to say although a group of people might identify within a category it doesn’t mean we have to label and stereotype a whole nation or mass. Often people are put into categories (Colour, Sex, Sexual Preference, Religion, Social Status) and this leads to hate and discrimination.

However, I have been intrigued as to why I believe Koreans are so skillful and have a different perspective to detail. Looking why these ‘Cultural Others’ produce work in a vast amount with such skills, it is very much about based on commercial values, pricing, target markets, popular culture, small, cute, aesthetically pleasing, tableware. Something that is reflect around them within their culture and they have to catch up if they want to make it. I began to interact with the students, trying to get myself informed. A way of reinforcing and rejecting stereotypes within their culture and education. It really intrigued me how some students were talking about how they only made ceramics just for the joy  of making it, not really looking at contextual or conceptual aspects. In addition, a student went into the extent of saying western ceramics is “more creative”. But why? Perhaps, over here being more of a multicultural society where there is a bigger and more diverse way of making and designing where different ideas are shared and therefore being “more creative”? However, they are taught in a very specific way. While lurking around the university studios where some students were (and the facilities were not that different from here), I noticed a teacher going to  the students and telling them on how to improve aesthetically their work. There is something specifically they look for in a piece. But I believe it is up to the artist/maker/designer to evaluate what is aesthetically pleasing. Also, students are encouraged to stay and work for long periods of time on their work which as a society is also equated and is reflected on their skills, where as here, students only go to lectures they have to go and that if they even show up for it.

The clash and harmony between the local and the international is a common issue in non-Western countries. But when multiculturalism happens, is there loss of identity. Do things stop having a sense of identity?

Looking into what is Taste and the theory of Cool by Pountain (2000) has insight me a potential view as to why perhaps I view Koreans as skillfull. Taste is the shared cultural values of a particular social community or individual. Learned through social class, cultural background and often, education. ‘Cool is not inherent in objects but in people, then what is seen as Cool will change from place to place, from time to time and from generation to generation’(Pountain, 2000:19).

I am very interested in ways artists use their hands to produce artefacts either in a way of expressing themselves or in a way of production and making. How can I bring cultural values into my own work? Exploring the Craft Narrative: The Place, Process, Perspective  exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art has been a great inspiration, especially the work by the astonishing KiHo Kang.  His which work relies completely on the potential and possibility of clay. The technique of coiling relies absolutely on time and the senses remembered on the fingertips as the thumb and index finger press the clay for it to form into a certain thickness and to stick together. Such way of working applies minimum use of tools and machines, and completely adapts the body of the artist. Through craft, objects are invited to return to the human life where they belong, where they can provide the psychological foundation for us to realize humanity and establish bonds and exchanges with each other.


The Handbook of Glaze Recipes – Linda Bloomfield – Page 48

Looking into traditional Korean Celadon glazes, it has intrigued me how could I could potentially explore them. Having a technical project running alongside my subject module where I can explore a technique or material in more depth I am interested in exploring Copper oxides and Copper Carbonate on glazes and exploring different firing atmospheres in which if fired on an oxidation the copper will give nice settled blues and in contrast the same glaze fired on a heavily reduced atmosphere the copper will produce beautiful copper red. A beautiful metaphor in the exploration of cultural differences yet its similarities. But why does it work? People are invited to interact with the objects are are told about the glaze and this might spark a conversation as to why multiculturalism is important and perhaps getting some feedback.


Applying Theory – Taste and Cool

Looking at the theory of taste and cool, arguably, museums and art galleries serve to demonstrate and educate about taste, demonstrating what is good and bad in art and objects. Taste is the shared cultural values of a particular social community or individual. Learned through social class, cultural background and often, education.

…’Cool is not inherent in objects but in people, then what is seen as Cool will change from place to place, from time to time and from generation to generation’ (Pountain, 2000: 20).

‘Cool is an oppositional attitude adopted by individuals or small groups to express defiance to authority – whether that of the parent, the teacher, the police, the boss or the prison warden. Put more succinctly, we see Cool as a permanent state of private rebellion’ (Pountain, 2000: 19).

Creative Thinking and Materiality

Working in the Rhizome (Deleuze and Guattari), it is a botonical way of looking at idea generation (alike a root system) where you start ‘in the middle’ (immersed and responsive) and work your way towards sunlight excited by the tension of not knowing. Often characterised by constant connections made between things, ‘… the rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, intermezzo’. In terms of creative thinking, your ‘Rhizomes’ simply never stop.

The notion of ‘creative flow‘ (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) is the point at which you are working at strech, just beyond your comfort zone but are feeling the rewards, a satisfaction of learning and finding out that causes you to be completely immersed in an activity, as if time has no meaning.

Looking at  Tim Ingold, where ‘material agency‘ is the idea that materials have their own voice, their own set of values; history, geography, memories even before you get your hands on them.

Lambros Malafouris explores Hylomorphism, the theory of ‘material engagement‘, that it is only human beings that give materials a voice, that they lie inert until we impose our control/knowledge/ and interpretation of heir value.

Transference – where you apply skills, approach, from one mode of knowledge (for example: writing/theory, drawing, material understanding) to another. It is all about exercising your mind.

Global Explorer or Tourist?

img_7700See the world through the ‘eyes of others’. See the world for ourselves.

‘plenty to see, little to understand’

Reinforced cultural stereotypes – Little cultural integration

Internationalisation – of the individual developing respect and understanding for others students interacting and engaging with ‘Cultural Others’ prepares students (home and international) for global work and leadership developing inter-cultural competencies

‘A curriculum which gives international and intercultural knowledge and abilities, aimed at preparing students for performing (professionally, socially, emotionally) in an international and multicultural context.’ (Nilsson 2002)

‘Change to make the curriculum more engaging and relevant for students from cultures different from that of the university itself, and . . . change to prepare students from the home and other cultures to live and work in settings and organizations quite different from those of the university’s home culture.’ (McTaggart 2003)

Bank’s Curriculum Evaluation, 1993

  1. CONTRIBUTIONS APPROACH: Celebrating individuals, foods, holidays, cultural occasions.
  2. ADDITIVE APPROACH: Content & lessons added without changing basic curriculum structure.
  3. TRANSFORMATIVE APPROACH: Curriculum structure changed. Students view issues from diverse perspectives, ethnicities and cultures.
  4. ACTION APPROACH: Students make decisions on civic, social and personal problems and take action to help solve them.

Brookes Format (2008)

  1. GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES: Knowledge of how your discipline is represented and understood within other cultures, widening your frame of reference beyond purely Western.
  2. CROSS CULTURAL COMPETENCE: Awareness of own culture and perspectives and the development of confidence to question one’s own values and others responsibly and ethically.
  3. RESPONSIBLE CITIZENSHIP: Developing one’s understanding of being a Global Citizen. Necessity to engage with issues of equity and social justice, sustainability and reduction of prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination.

Kitano Model

  1. EXCLUSIVE: Fee paying Enterprise universities.
  2. INCLUSIVE: Culturally inclusive, cross cultural communication, international perspectives, cultural exchange. Academic as tourist.
  3. TRANSFORMED: Paradigm shift. Work viewed from perspectives of ‘others’. Students are considered to be capable, ethical and sensitive. Academic as explorer. screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-00-46-07

CoCA Project

IMG_6574.JPGThis project was an opportunity to visit the Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA) which insights the largest and amongst the most important collections of British Studio Ceramics in the UK and covers the entire British studio movement since 1900 to the present day. The collection is made of works bought by York City Art Galley over this period as well as accommodating considerable private collections loaned such as those of Anthony Shaw. I will be evaluating and reflecting on the overall curation of the gallery and the individual collections and archives accommodated within it and having a deeper understating of artefacts and their relationships with one another.

CoCA consists of mainly large gifts from significant private collectors, it retains the unique personality, passions and obsessions of its creators, providing an insight into the socio-economic development of the British studio ceramics movement. The British studio ceramics movement began in the early 20th century, carrying on a long tradition of producing objects by hand from clay. Studio pottery includes functional wares such as tableware, cookware and non-functional wares such as sculpture. Some major names from this movement include, Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie, Hans Coper and Gordon Baldwin. In Britain since the 1980s, there has been a distinct trend away from functional pottery, for example, the work of artist Grayson Perry. Some studio potters now refer themselves to as ceramic artists, ceramists, ceramicists or as an artist who uses clay as a medium.img_6372Often ceramics is diminished and dismissed as a fine art medium and curation throughout museums and galleries, where piles of ceramics are placed and categorised on glass cabinets in historical context are simply passed by and not taken very seriously. “The collector’s enemy is the museum curator’, wrote the porcelain collector Kaspar Utz in Bruce Chatwin’s eponymous novel, “In any museum”, he explains, “the object dies of suffocation and the public gaze whereas private ownership confers on the owner the right and the need to touch.” As makers we like to interact with objects, however, I understand how some of these objects are frail and not really made to be handled and therefore why careful curation should be taken with sensibility to its surroundings.

Fiona Green took us through the careful curation of the fine art exhibition where there is a considerate incorporation of ceramics into their fine art displays to imply a sense of equality and the importance of ceramics in the fine art spectrum.IMG_6380.JPGEwen Henderson studied pottery under Lucie Rie and Hans Coper at the Camberwell School of Art, but rebelled against both teachers by building vessels freely rather than on the wheel. He wanted to be a painter but was attracted to clay because of the exciting possibilities it offered. Painting and sculpture soon became one, using earth as the medium for his work, Henderson used extreme temperatures mixing clay with other materials to achieve unexpected results. Observing the intellectual placement of Henderson’s sculptures, Torso Form (1986-1987) and Reaching Sculpture Form (1999) in front of Philip Wilson Steer’s painting, Dover Coast and Dame Ethel Walker’s, Robin Hood’s Bay in Winter, immerses the viewer in a complete new level and materialistic context with the interaction of the painting and the sculptures where another dimension is added. A painting stops from being just a painting and a sculpture stops from just being a sculpture and there is a harmonious connection between the two possibly grabbing the attention of a wider audience.img_6398Similarly, the work of both Gustave Loiseau, Port de Goulphar and Martin Jenkins, Wave, although with different historical, geological and material contexts they still connect in a refreshing, contemporary and interactive way. It is said that the average person spends around 5 to 10 seconds observing a painting, if that. Most certainly if this Gustave Loiseau painting was just hung on a gallery wall with a little label on its side, people would probably just pass by, perhaps read the label, but I believe that integrations between other artists and mediums will grab viewer’s attention and perhaps shine a new light on some mediums that are not deemed as fine art, in which is a high priority of Fiona on the curation of this exhibition.img_6401In addition to the whole idea on curation of ceramics as decorative art alongside fine art paintings to quantify the importance of ceramics as a fine art medium by Fiona Green, we looked at a religious context among contemporary work by Loretta Braganza and 15th-16th century Italian painter, Bernardino Fungai. Braganza’s group of ceramic forms “Twelve Apostles” has clear connotations of religion. Her work is concerned with form and very much based around the four elements, earth, water, fire air and these four elements come together to create something. Originally inspired by the rock formations in the Victoria coast line in Australia which some have eroded over time, it has beautiful narratives with the whole idea around ceramics as a material of making something new out of something old and this in a way amplifies on its curation which tell stories throughout the centuries. In an endearing way the connotations of the three Fungai’s painting quantifies the work of Braganza’s ceramic work in a similar way, clay as a material.img_6396Moreover, curator Helen Walsh took us through the main CoCA collection which houses a selection of carefully selected ceramic work from the British Studio Ceramics movement which include around 600 artists and their main objective was to show the versatility of ceramics. Perhaps the biggest advantage of ceramics as a material is its prevalent in every country and culture throughout human history and independently of the place, religion, age or social status you had some sort of ceramic element around you and in a way its what unifies us all, in fact its what you are made of and this has strong narratives with the world around you.img_6421Consciously ceramics is not the most popular area of a collection in a museum for the general visitor, so there is an understanding of making sure the public is engaging with the work. The initial idea was to present studio pottery in a chronological order from the beginning to current ceramics, but the vast alleyways this material spreads to is immense and recognizing a ceramics artist and giving them the deserved recognition. Although the work is behind glass cabinets they are curated in an informative and inquiring manner. Totally 10 large cabinets with 10 predominant makers from this movement with their work on a shelf above and work that has inspired them, or work that has been inspired on by the artists themselves. These bodies of work have a range of contextual similarities and have connection throughout, either the time they have been made, artists inspired, colour, glaze, decoration shape, form, technique and its interesting how functional ware, non-functional ware, sculpture and figurative ceramics interact.

One of the most important and enigmatic potters of the 20th century, Hans Coper called himself a potter and referred to his work as pots, not sculpture, though that is how they are see by many today. In contrast, Alison Britton began re-establishing the vessel as an abstract form, she took inspiration from Hans Coper and Gordon Baldwin, moving away from the Bernard Leach’s (Father of Pottery) Anglo-Oriental style, towards a more modernist aesthetic. In her work, she challenges the notion of functional ceramics and the wheel-thrown methods used by production potters. Interestingly William Staite Murray identified how unacknowledged clay as a material was. Murray made it his mission to raise the status of pottery to the level of fine art, seeing pottery as the missing link between painting and sculpture as it combined elements of both. He gave most of his works titles, charged “high art” prices for them and shared exhibitions with painters such as Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood.

In the middle of CoCA is an installation of 10,000 bowls created by internationally renowned artist Clare Twomey. It is also her response to our collection of ceramics, the dedication of the artists that produced them and the collectors that supported them and then generously gave their collections to York Museums Trust. It was believed that each bowl took 1 hours to make which would suggest that a skill has been mastered, however it more a recognition of the artist involved in making up CoCA and not necessarily a mere skill being mastered. All artists unconsciously came together and mastered a skill which can be seen though out the collection as a whole.img_6511

The Anthony Shaw collection is a significant acquired collection of over 1000 works of art composed over the last 40 years. Focusing largely on contemporary ceramics, the collection is now on loan to York Art Gallery. He is mostly interested in ceramics as a medium as a way of expressing, not necessarily as pottery.  Shaw has always felt that these works of art are most at home in a domestic environment, although they are meant to be set in a domestic environment, it doesn’t stop from it being in a gallery setting. But when in a gallery, objects are displayed in a autocracy way where we view history and context in a set designated way where we don’t experience the whole story behind its history. That’s why constant curation is important to have a fuller experience and perhaps a smaller and more personal collection is more refreshing especially if displayed in a domestic environment, where we can connect with the collector and the artist simultaneously.

Some previous thoughts about relationships between two dimensional work and ceramics have been refreshed looking and how CoCA curated their work. The quantification and the values of ceramics as a material with its comparison to “higher art” and fine art have been propositions that never alerted me but definitely would like to explore more aspects about it. Looking at artists like William Staite Murray where he questions the values of ceramics to Gordon Baldwin which I have been looking into since last year, It is the relationship  between sculpture with painting that make Gordon Baldwin’s ceramics so innovative and unique. He broke entirely with the Leach tradition that form was all that mattered and has created ceramic sculptures which he still calls vessels and in so doing has challenged what is seen as ‘art’ and what is seen as ‘craft’.

The fundamentals of his art: the relationship between inner and outer space, the economy of the form reminiscent of Cycladic art, the depths of the glazed clay achieved by often using various pigments, the economy of the lines on the surface of the forms which tend to follow the vessel’s dips and swells, a preference for organic rather than geometric forms that are rounded rather than angular, all key aspects mimicked from paper to clay.img_6446