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An Idea Needing to Be Made

An Idea Needing to Be Made is an exhibition centred predominantly around the idea of the vessel form and its continued use and reinvention by contemporary artists working with clay.

A fascination for ceramic objects and the process of their making has fuelled many ideas within our practice over many years. Also ingrained in our work is a deep appreciation for craftmanship and a curiosity to engage with technology to realise these artisanal techniques across many scales. 

When Lesley Harding - Artistic Director of Heide Museum of Modern Art - approached us to design a new exhibition that would question the place of ceramics in contemporary art, we didn't hesitate. The aim was to develop new ways of presenting objects that moved beyond conventional museum furniture to something more experiential. So we embarked upon a rediscovery of past projects and an exploration of John’s personal ceramic collections that would provide a foundation from which to draw inspiration for the exhibition.

  • Location Heide Museum of Modern Art
  • Exhibition Design JWA
  • Exhibition Construction Sawdust Bureau, Brian Scales 
  • Artists Alison Britton (UK) Kathy Butterly (US) Kirsten Coelho (AUS) Pippin Drysdale (AUAlison Britton (UK) Kathy Butterly (US) Kirsten Coelho (AUS) Pippin Drysdale (AUS) Ernabella Arts (AUS) Simone Fraser (AUS) Gwyn Hanssen Pigott (AUS) King Houndekpinkou (FRA) Nicolette Johnson (AUS) Kang Hyo Lee (KOR) Kate Malone (UK) Laurie Steer (NZ)
  • Artistic Director Lesley Harding
  • Co-curator Glenn Barkley
  • JWA Team John Wardle, Alan Ting, Ariani Anwar James Loder

It is foregrounded historically by the work of the Australian artist Gwyn Hanssen Pigott, whose interest in and interrogation of the vessel and the still life tradition ushered in a new way of thinking for ceramicists about function, display and purpose.

Most of the artists in the exhibition deal with one or more of the enquiries and ideas explored by Pigott: how can a vessel function as both something to be used but also about use; in what ways can an artwork be understood as a collection or suite of objects; and why is the past an eternal present in ceramic practice?

The introductory experience for this exhibition is a massive table made from 45 tables joined together that fills the first long space in Heide’s main galleries. The inspiration for the ‘Heide table’ came from an earlier piece created by John for Captain Kelly’s Cottage on Bruny Island. The original work joined together two individual tables with their own divergent histories to create a single structure, imbued with the richness of both the wood that the tables were crafted from and the delight of bringing the stories of their making together.

For the exhibition, we needed to create an installation that would allow the curators to group the works in novel ways. A ceramic vessel resting on a table evokes a timeless narrative of the domestic setting so central to the tradition of still life in Western art. Joining the tables enabled us to reconfigure this idea while also creating different territories and shifts in scale; a ceramicist with small works could fill a small table, while another with larger works could fill a larger table. The exhibition draws together the work of artists from diverse backgrounds, so the different tables became a way of representing this diversity.

In the workshop, the tables grouped en masse took on a different character. Those that weren’t individually beautiful examples of furniture design were transformed by the serendipitous coming together of legs nearly touching, edges meeting, and sinuous gaps between; an unlikely community of tables.

The Wunderkammer room, as we came to describe it, was conceived to bring together fragments and objects from the artists’ studios. An open brief was issued to each artist and tools, collected objects and ephemera assembled. Collectively they gently reference the process of making, the experience of visiting a studio and seeing work in progress— moments of translation and the workshop atmosphere in which works are created. 

A custom-designed vitrine in the last of the rooms displays test glazes, broken objects and those works that don’t make it to the showroom or gallery, capturing the high attrition rate inherent to making ceramics and the preciousness associated with achieving perfect pieces. It presents the otherwise unseen backstory of the objects that are part of the journey of the delicate process of creation. 

Finally, a beautiful centrepiece for the gallery window draws on the axial nature of the gallery space and was designed to display a work by the artist Gwyn Hanssen Pigott.

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