Updated: Aug 6, 2020
by Amy Gogarty
Malleable: Changing Notions of Women, Gender and Relationships is the fourth and final installation in Gendered Voices, a series of exhibitions curated by Angela Clarke at the Italian Cultural Centre. While earlier exhibitions examined historical factors shaping women’s experience, Malleable, on view through December 10, 2019, looks at contemporary women working in ceramics. As with the changing lives of women, clay in its wet state is malleable, requiring will, vision and physical manipulation by the artist to attain significant form. The exhibition features twenty-one artists, whom Clarke invited to imagine the future of women’s lives unrestricted by traditional gender norms. Not surprisingly, responses are varied, and no one aesthetic or approach dominates. (Review continues below)
Artists showing in the exhibition include: Lea Abubo, Laurie Bricker, Suzy Birstein, Amy Chang, Ying-Yueh Chuang, Ileana Lee Cramer, Susan Delatour, Samantha Dickie, Linda Doherty, Jackie Frioud, Anyuta Gusakova, Elizabeth Harris, Cathi Jefferson, Shelimar Lakowski, Georgina Lohan, Alwyn O'Brien, Patty Osborne, Michelle Sirois-Silver, Louise Solecki Weir, Julie York, Eva Zogaris
IMAGES (clockwise from top left):
Jackie Frioud, Rupture, 2019, Raw clay, 4’ x 1’ x1’.
Julie York, Cup in a Cup, American/English, (detail) 2012, porcelain, plastic, glass, 5” x 6”.
Amy Chang, Cinderella, 2010, clay, underglaze, glass, 12” x 18” x 11”.
Louise Solecki Weir, Entangled, 2019, ceramic with oil paint and ghost net. 40” x 16” x 24” (without net)
Alwyn O’Brien, This Decorative Life, 2019, clay and glaze, 22” x 11” x 9.5”.
Figurative work, often dealing with mythological themes, is prominent. Anyuta Gusakova’s dream-like Bunny Princess evokes childhood fantasies and fears. Suzy Birstein reworks Jean Fouquet’s Renaissance Virgin and Child into a more playful set of figures, and Susan Delatour invokes family narratives with her subtle and poignant Crossing. Whimsy and surrealism characterize Amy Chang’s Cinderella, which features an enormous patterned foot supporting a tiny glass slipper. Chang suggests women must find their own happy endings, and that trying to “fit” into patriarchal conventions is no way to proceed.
Louise Solecki Weir’s contorted mermaid Entangled struggles to escape from an engulfing net, a possible reference to the Internet, and Georgina Lohan’s The Return, a massive installation of ceramic birch trees, harbors a figure of the Great Goddess. Linking adornment with armor, Laurie Bricker’s ceramic and metal jewelry also invokes mythological women warriors.
Samantha Dickie pays homage to feminist icon Barbara Kruger with Your Body is a Battle Ground, a series of nine tall forms that resemble standing figures clothed in a visceral lava glaze that suggests resistance. While not figurative, Patty Osborne’s Ball Project, 175 thrown and raku- or sawdust-fired forms, similarly acknowledges an artist, Gathie Falk, whose well-known Apples were made in the 1970s.
Connections between women and flowers or gardens are made by Elizabeth Harris, whose textured vessels and tiles writhe with organic imagery, and by Eva Zogaris, whose Garden Delight celebrates the cycle of life and nature’s abundance. Ilena Lee Cramer finds inspiration in beekeeping and gardening for her ceramic thrown and altered forms.
As a staple of ceramics and traditional female symbol, the vessel features in a number of works. Linda Doherty and Cathi Jefferson each contribute masterful examples of atmospheric firing, a practice which, until recently, often excluded or marginalized women makers. Doherty’s A Sip of Water consists of two tapered mugs and a pitcher animated by a thrusting spout, while Jefferson’s hand-coiled Stones evoke nature with generous curves. Both works show kiln-flashed, orange-peel surfaces.
Jackie Frioud’s unfired Rupture features robust forms thrown in a colorful range of clay bodies. Shortly after throwing, Frioud blew into each vessel until it burst, leaving a ragged crack. Whether this suggests anger, violence or an abstract rendition of the female body remains up to the viewer’s interpretation. Lea Abubo’s broken and re-constructed raku vessels speak to the strength of women’s bodies and courage in the face of adversity. Michelle Sirois-Silver plays with the irony and humor that comes with age in Matrons of the Universe, a mixed-media work that includes clay, paint, metal, fibre and wood.
In Julie York’s Cup in a Cup, American/English, decorative shards of a traditional teacup can be glimpsed through a glass lens capping a contemporary cup and saucer. Invoking notions of container and contained, this work suggests the interplay of history and fragmentary memories resonant in everyday rituals such as taking tea. The taking of tea is also referenced by Shelimar Lakowski’s vividly textured teapot, which honors the roles of service and comfort so often performed by women.
Two remarkable takes on the vessel are contributed by Alwyn O’Brien, whose This Decorative Life takes its form from an eruptive matrix of slender, pinched coils, and Ying-Yueh Chuang, whose set of six Plant Arrangement on Hybrid Historical Chinese Plate combines delicate castings of exotic fruits and vegetables with elegant variations on traditional Chinese serving dishes. Referencing art history, decoration and traditional vessel forms, the works of both artists transcend easy reads through consummate craftsmanship and material sensibility.
This exhibition highlights the achievements of women in an age with fewer restrictions deriving from traditional, patriarchal assumptions and norms. The variety in the work is its strength, indicating expansive possibilities not only for the medium, clay, but also of the capacity of these artists to envision and execute exciting, provocative work.
The exhibition is on through Dec. 10, 2019 at the Italian Cultural Centre, 3075 Slocan Street, Vancouver. WEBSITE