April 4, 2010

NCECA Report: Glenn Adamson, Part I

I. Alas Poor Cup, I Knew You Well

Glenn Adamson's "...And into the Fire: Post-studio Ceramics" stood out among the general hum and drum of good-enough thinking and speaking at the panels and lectures that I caught at NCECA. This was anticipated; after all it was the "distinguished" lecture. Agree or disagree with his thesis, his performance at the podium upholds—well, maybe in our field it's more a case of creates—a very high standard of discourse. (Jody Clowes was another exceptional presenter. I’m sure there were more—I could only make it to so many panels.) Adamson spoke his speech trippingly on his tongue, with a temperance that did give it smoothness. His argument as I understood it, that the increasing vulnerability and precariousness of the practice of studio-based craft—that's us potters—and the decline of the studio as a sacrosanct space, is a given. The way forward lies in "distributed authorship" a kind of partnering between studio, factory, with a good measure of reappropriation of artifacts thrown in. He points out that craft has always been present on the factory floor (skilled workers cast, glazed, and fired the Great Urinal that Monsieur Mutt signed). He cites John Roberts's—not the guy who recently enshrined the corporation's own First Amendment protection, though given the abstruseness of the logic, could be—idea of a dynamic triangle of "skill" (we know what this is) /"deskilling" (selecting objects)/"re-skilling"(re-engaging those objects in an artwork); any skilled labor can be claimed and re-contextualized into practice—and therein lies a craft. We are left with either the "China syndrome" wherein anything at all can be made cheaply with amazing skill (by people whose working conditions are what?who live how? and are paid how much?) to the specs of our pay-as-go and ship-it-out whims. Alternatively, there are "disappearing acts," studio-based use of non-studio based techniques (sandblasting grandma's china for example), a dystopia of reskilling: subtracting, curating, editing down; the physical and cultural abrading of reappropriated objects. A heap of shards from a doomed pottery industry is piled against a wall in a museum. Clare Twomey's bluebirds for-the-taking are strewn about the gallery floors of the V&A, her swan song in blue to the end of a good run for clay in the Western world, perhaps the one really moving—rather than simply interesting—image shown.

Adamson’s closing remark that monuments to death are some of the most powerful artworks seemed grimly nuanced: Alas poor cup (produced by factory or studio domestically), I knew you well. R.I.P.

[ed. note-- to be continued on Monday, Part II. A Quintessence of Dust, Eating from Tubing, and Tiny Shoots of Hope]

Mark Shapiro is a potter, workshop leader, and occasional curator from Worthington, MA. Mark is reporting from the 2010 NCECA conference in Philadelphia and will join the Sawdust & Dirt bloggers thereafter.
Mark Shapiro has made wood fired functional pots in Western Massachusetts for the past twenty years. He is a frequent workshop leader and panelist. Mark's pots can be seen in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Racine Art Museum, the Mint Museum (NC), the International Museum of Ceramics at Alfred,NY, and the Currier Museum (NH).
Mark can also be reached at mark@sawdustanddirt.com