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This hand is your hand.

IN A RECENT ISSUE OF CERAMICS: ART AND PERCEPTION, Adam Welch contributed an article titled "The Margins: Theory of Resistance in Contemporary Ceramics". This review presented an image of artists coming together not only to exclude "traditional forms" of ceramic art but to rebel against them. Indeed the exhibition's title The Margins does speak to a perceived distance from a centre but what is the source of this perception? The author seems to attribute this separation to the curators and participating artists and assumes that we celebrate or even define ourselves by it in an attempt to establish some false sense of superiority to utilitarian or sculptural works of the past.

This exhibition, its title and the essays included in the accompanying catalogue certainly do highlight and, thereby, ask us (ceramists) to reconsider our own understanding of the historical and contemporary context in which we operate. The history of ceramics (alongside the rest of the human-made) has seated indivisibly within it a tradition of experimentation, boundary testing and self-reevaluation. When the critic protests that "traditional forms" were excluded from the exhibition, the term itself confuses the issue and leads down a path that can only end in polar opposites. Not only is there nothing nontraditional about experimentation or transgression of established conventions of art or any other field but indeed any field lacking this vital mechanism ceases to evolve, becomes sterile and dies off due to lack of relevance to the ever-changing needs of those whom it was intended to serve.

In the concluding paragraph of his article Welch writes, "These artists are merely a finger on the hand of tradition." He is right. But this particular finger is pointing away from itself in a field where some others are curled back into the palm forming a kind of closed circuit of too often overly self-referential thought and, therefore, work. Certainly any who are inclined may engage in elitism about how 'ceramic', how historically grounded, or how 'now' their work is or is not but nothing is to be gained by any of this. We are all connected in our pursuit, but to question or move away from a common point of origin is not to reject or rebel against anything at all. Perhaps if more of these fingers extend we may see the hand open receptively. If growth is a concern, then let us make these gestures that celebrate the continuing exploration, expansion and diversification of our field.

A Response by John Chwekun

John Chwekun is an artist whose work was included in The Margins exhibition in 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona, US.
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Author:Chwekun, John
Publication:Ceramics Art & Perception
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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