April 5, 2010

NCECA Report: Glenn Adamson, Part II

[ed. note-- this a continuation of Mark's coverage of and reaction to Glenn Adamson's lecture at NCECA "...And into the Fire: Post-studio Ceramics", originally published in Sawdust & Dirt on 4th April 2010]

II. A Quintessence of Dust, Eating from Tubing, and Tiny Shoots of Hope

That we are at the end of something is undeniable. It is reflected in the decline of domestic Western ceramics industries just as it is in the decline of studio pottery and ceramics programs generally. Capitulation to, or appropriation of, the strategies of Big Art will always be the arc to which ceramics will have to bend to justify its place within academic art departments and art museums where, however ennobled by theory, it will in the best case still be tainted by the valueless dirt under its fingernails. Academic and museum ceramics exist in a precariously funded environment of shrinking budgets where everything—especially culture—is being put to the sword. Everything, that is, except for the sword-makers workshops, they being indispensable to the unstoppable expanding military and national security complex. No doubt the recent economic collapse has put the squeeze on us all (I know a couple of recent PhDs in micro-electrical engineering who can't find jobs). While studio pottery may be an increasingly small dot on the increasingly small map of non-pop culture, it claims a space within the growing slow-culture critique of late-day capitalism. The buy-local, artisanal, unhurried foodies are interested in connection/specificity/place/ethical production/haptic experience in the face of an increasingly unsustainable and devitalized world order. They bring together concerns around health, ethics, aesthetics, sustainability, and community. They are buying pots at studio tours, home shows, and (Glenn Adamson did allow for the internet's yet-to-be determined dynamic influence) web-based sales directly from the potters themselves, though that doesn't mean it's easy when nobody except the super-rich seem to have any dough. The international movement that announced itself in Seattle in 1999 was a manifestation of a more general reconsideration of the unpaid costs of global capitalism. That rejection runs the spectrum from DIY through backyard gardening, to the hand-couched loaves at upscale farmer's markets, and yes, knowing who, how, and where both your coffee and its cup was made. Any incipient doubts about free-market capitalism’s future were vindicated by the market crash of last year. While we potters are economically minuscule players, we are part of something enduring, radical, and important that begins in its small way to address an alternative vision of a viable future. We are not sentimental dreamers, but contemporary interpreters of ancient continuities that are more relevant now than perhaps ever before. Until we eat and drink from tubing, pots will have a future. As the center becomes more and more aridly self-referential—a sterile promontory—the margins offer 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 be reached at mark@sawdustanddirt.com