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Ornamentation and detail: Tazra Miller finds a reference to art history in the work of Joni Moriyama.


WHENEVER I VISIT A MUSEUM, I tend to focus first on the details of the object rather than its significance and cultural identity. I lean in to admire the blemishes, the artisanship and the surface. I crouch down low to meet it at eye level or, if it is free-standing, I slowly walk circles around it, allowing my eyes to dance over ornate patterns and layers revealed by crack and wear. Noting its place of origin and time period then allows me to marvel at the object's stubborn resilience, its eroded beauty and to wonder who its mysterious maker could be. Because the true significance of an object is obscured when collected and categorised in a museum setting, I connect to the tangible details. The association is more emotional than intellectual and I fill in the blanks to reach an understanding of the past.

Similar feelings arise when contemplating the work of Canadian clay artist, Joni Moriyama. Without the focus of a fixed narrative, the varying surfaces and patterns take centre stage. The muted earth tones, sandy textures and abstracted forms mimic details found and admired in art history objects and artifacts. The details are familiar, and I associate them with nature, culture and religion. In contrast to this, bold culturally specific elements are also represented. Screen-printed illustrations cover eroded glossy surfaces. Bold geometric patterns mingle with architectural details and elegant forms. Contradicting elements are collaged together connecting the past and present. The impression is both familiar and mysterious.


This only scratches the surface. By working within a continuous cycle of production and reflection, Moriyama has written her own history into this series. When not maintaining her teaching position at The Ontario College of Art & Design, she is busy experimenting in her studio. In this body of work, retired moulds, past surface treatments and even her son's creation, Bambo, come together through various explorations. Her love of past civilisations and organic abstraction also find their way through to her surfaces. By working intuitively, concept and process guide one another towards conclusions.

Towards Agora is an example of Moriyama's refined under standing of the relationship between form and surface. In this piece an abstracted form leans against a composition of two tiles. It stretches across and curves off the surface, both resting and investigating. A Maori textile pattern of ivory scrolls on sandy terracotta is matched with a smooth uncultivated matt green surface. The curious form tapers and points up. It arches towards the polished and pristine glossy rosette that sits at the top like a crown. Animated and seemingly curious, the form is intriguing. Is it exploring or receding? Is it reaching out towards spiritual enlightenment or is it being seduced by cultural refinement? As the questions and conclusions arise, the simplistic form narrates the story we create.

Moriyama plays with scale and form in Bambo and Bambo Frieze. By using the same surfaces in different ways, she illustrates how associations and meanings can change. The refined hourglass form of Bambo frames the screen-printed illustration in an elegant way. In this frame, the fine line drawing appears delicate. A circular stamp is used to adorn the tips of the form like architectural details. Surface, in this case, appears to be a decorative indulgence. In Bambo Frieze, the simplistic form allows Bambo to star in a narrative role. Placed beside an Algonquin petroglyph of a walking bird, a story begins to unfold. The thick tablet serves as a surface to express visual ideas. Alongside and at the same scale sits a fully adorned tile. The same circular pattern that decorates the tips of the hourglass of Bambo systematically covers the entire surface. Displayed in this format, the pattern is without a specific context. It is also almost unrecognisable as being the same pattern, when revealed in its entirety. The stamp is seen singularly and as a collective. The tile itself can also been seen on this level. Is it a part of a greater framework?


Joni Moriyama's latest body of work is a compelling collection of ideas, surfaces and processes. By contemplating the world around her and fusing them with past and present studio explorations, she has blended the familiar with the ambiguous. Like the art history object and the artefact, they allow us to be both the spectator and storyteller.

Tazra Miller is an artist and writer from Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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Author:Miller, Tazra
Publication:Ceramics Technical
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 1, 2007
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