One of the things that intrigues Garth Johnson about the artists represented in Recorded Matter: Ceramics in Motion, “is that there isn’t a tremendous obsession with where the art lies,” he says. Johnson curated the exhibit, which is on display at The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design through Saturday, May 21. He adds, “There is a confidence that video is just one more aspect of the way that we experience the material.”
For more than four years, Johnson had been exploring the intersection of ceramics and video. Collecting his reflections into a showcase, he sought to include artists who demonstrate a wide spectrum of approaches. “This exhibition, in a lot of ways, bore out some suspicions and thoughts and interests that I had about ways that younger artists operate, and ways that younger audiences engage with craft,” he says.
The CCCD show includes 10 videos, four of which are paired with physical objects. Some of the videos reveal the creation or use of an art piece, a form of craft documentation that is often seen in artists’ marketing of their work on social media. Watching a video about how London-based artist Sam Brennan creates his coiled clay pieces can endear viewers to those unique springlike forms.
“These are artists who, in a lot of cases, have grown up with video, the Internet and social media, and they’re able to use video in a much more fluid way than my generation or generations that preceded them,” says Johnson.
This is the first exhibition that Johnson curated since being appointed, 13 months ago, as the curator of ceramics at the Arizona State University Art Museum Ceramics Research Center in Tempe. Asheville is the exhibit’s second stop, following its 2015 premiere at Arizona State University. However, Johnson is quick to note that even if the show hadn’t gone on the road, it would have had an afterlife thanks to the continued presence of the videos online.The Arizona installation was well-received by collectors and ceramics enthusiasts, but it also had an appeal to the wider public. “Routinely we were having young viewers spending 45 minutes to an hour watching every video, interacting with the exhibition in a way that we just don’t see for most exhibitions of objects that are mounted in the space,” says Johnson. “That engagement, and that letting one generation speak to their own generation and younger generations, is a huge part of this exhibition.”
Some of the videos even go beyond artistic documentation. They explore “the taboo of breaking things,” as Johnson describes it. Finland-based artist Man Yau handcrafted skateboard decks out of porcelain — but instead of stopping with an object-based commentary on material, Yao hired a videographer to capture her pieces being used by a professional skateboarder. “It’s amazing to see the abuse that the porcelain skateboard decks will take. Until they don’t,” Johnson says. And not to give too much away, but “There’s a little bit of blood in the video.”
The catchy concept for the video almost has a Buzzfeed aesthetic to it, with a wait-’til-you-see-what-happens-next hook. Johnson says this video is where he often begins when leading tours because it creates an instant connection with viewers.
Also included in the exhibition is the work Recycled China by Thomas Schmidt and Jeffrey Miller. They were inspired by the massive ceramics industry of Jingdezhen, China — a town that produces a shocking 1 million pieces of porcelain wares per day and has done so for the more than 100 years. Taking discarded pieces from Jingdezhen’s production, Schmidt and Miller create artworks and architectural tiles from a process of steamrolling porcelain into shards that are then incorporated into molten aluminum castings in a foundry in northern Beijing. Though the objects themselves are interesting, the accompanying video adds the narrative of the process, creating contextual understanding for viewers.
Both the Recycled China piece and Center-Peas by Cheyenne Rudolph, which was at the CCCD during its Back to the Drawing Board event last year, will be acquired by Arizona State University’s permanent collection. Part of Johnson’s work is to continually incorporate contemporary ceramics trends into the university’s existing holdings.
Johnson will give a curator’s talk at the CCCD. The multimedia presentation “Showing/Making,” according to Johnson, “will be about as far from a normal, droning slide presentation as possible.” In addition to talking about the historical context for artists who have embraced performance as an aspect of craft or material exploration, Johnson will also include an erotic poetry reading — which he includes because it is a crowd-pleaser — as a visceral and personal approach to material that strays far from an academic paper.
WHO: Garth Johnson presents curator’s talk “Showing/Making”
WHERE: The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, craftcreativitydesign.org/recorded-matter
WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 11, at 6:30 p.m. Free. The exhibition Recorded Matter: Ceramics in Motion is on display through Saturday, May 21