I am back in the studio listening to the calls of the currawongs in the trees and reflecting on the amazing experience of taking an international exhibition to the U.S
In 2016 I was invited to demonstrate and present at one of the biggest international ceramic conferences in the world. Called NCECA and held in a different city in the U.S every year it was a four-day whirl of ceramics, artists, exhibitions, demonstrations and inspiration. When I returned I wanted to create opportunities for other Australians to exhibit at and experience this international event. Travelling overseas allows artists to experience great works first hand, this is especially important for craft artists. Travel is of vital importance for a vibrant, society where artists are able to experience objects not just look at them several times removed through a screen. Travel also brings fresh ideas back into our small nation keeping the gates open for exchange, preventing stagnation. I started a project called “Clay Voyage” to provide impetus and opportunity for Australian artists to travel.
Linda Fahey from Yonder, a gallery in San Francisco, and I curated an international exhibition for the 2017 NCECA in Portland, Oregon. We invited seven Australian artists and seven American artists to produce new work for the exhibition. Like the scientific expeditions of the great explorers “Omnus Terra” reaches out to far flung nations bringing a cargo of exotic, mysterious, mesmerising objects to a foreign shore. The artists explore the relationship between their landscape, ceramic history and culture, questioning the historical tropes of the ceramic medium through form and material.
I began my work for Omnus Terra thinking about the seven Australian artists travelling so far with a load of pots carrying our ideas to a foreign shore. This led me to the epic migration of the Artic Tern that flies 40 000 kilometers between the Arctic and the Antarctic every year. The vessels I made for this exhibition use drawings and paintings of the Arctic Tern, abstractions of meteorological and topographic maps and details of shoreline habitat to capture the endless blue and white distance of the open ocean, the fascination of new lands and the relief of seeing the shoreline, a destination, however temporary.
We arrived in Portland to grey skies, cherry blossoms and warm cafes! The gallery was a hive of activity as almost all of the artists came to be part of the spectacle. I felt a huge sense of relief and achievement as I saw the works emerge form their packing and boxes and sit side by side in the gallery. The exhibition design referenced the oceanic connection with large driftwood tables flowing through the gallery connecting the work on the plinths and walls. This exhibition juxtaposed work using vessel forms against the experimental and figurative, creating a space where artists from different cultures can connect and communicate through their use of clay as the “Omnus Terra” – the earth that connects us all.
Our first event to open the exhibition was a live taping of Ben Carter’s Tales of a Red Clay Rambler podcast. This gave the NCECA audience a chance to hear about the evolution of the exhibition and the work of Gerry Wedd and Joel Blum who were on the panel with Linda and I. Both Gerry and Joel are great storytellers and gave some surprising insight in to their lives as artists and how they came to be involved in Omnus Terra. Omnus Terra was also part of the Collector’s Tour during the conference. Tour host gallerist Leslie Ferrin took a busload of collectors around Portland to select range of the exhibitions that were on offer. It was a great chance for the artists to connect with those who had a lively interest in their work.
Arnold Eclarinal took this lovely photo of the live podcast. From left: Ben Carter, Shannon Garson, Linda Fahey, Joel Blum and Gerry Wedd
This was a huge project. When I first thought of the idea I had no conception of the logistics and sheer determination that would be needed to push it through. I was hoping that a project of this scale would get government funding which it didn’t so I became very determined not to let the arts bureaucracy prevent Australian artists from being exposed to all the opportunities a project such as this can offer. I couldn’t have done this without the generous support of all the artists involved. It was such a moving moment for me to see us all there, jetlagged, in a sea of bubble wrap and boxes with all the beautiful, amazing work emerging from the chaos. I hope this is only the beginning of an exchange of ideas and building of friendships and professional connections between ceramic artists internationally.
The artists are: