Think you know your ceramics?
Well Strange Clay is about to shatter all those preconceptions.
The Hayward Gallery’s latest show brings together 23 ceramicists who are taking the medium to creative extremes and imbuing it with new character. Forget thumb pots and vases: for these innovative artists, clay becomes a suitable material for sculpture, painting, even a kind of fresco. It’s literally putty in their hands.
The show makes much of the artists’ decisions to embrace the imperfections of clay introduced during the firing process, and it’s a strange indication of the world we live in – one of mass-production and perfect replication made possible through technology – that the natural and the organic have become so alien to us. But you only have to look at the recent surge in popularity of hand-crafted, artisan products – and particularly, ceramics – to see how much this resonates with us.
So Strange Clay is really a celebration of the makers as much as the work itself. Clay is fragile, unpredictable, brittle; but in the hands of these artists it looks robust and resilient. There is fighting talk in these pieces, (sometimes literal) vessels for emotions and expressions of identity, from Woody de Othello’s anthropomorphic household objects and Leilah Babirye’s enormous statues, to Grayson Perry’s collaged vases depicting his female alter-ego. Liu Jianhua’s installation of almost 1,000 porcelain objects, conceived during a period of national and personal tragedy, was created to convey the fragility and value of human life. Clustered at the top of the gallery’s walls, and suspended by clear strings, the items seem to be in danger of falling and smashing – but those piling up on the floor somehow remain in one piece.
It’s a colourful, multi-textured journey through the weird and the wonderful. Lindsey Mendick’s brilliantly creepy installations take you through a house overrun with slugs, mice and wasps (and something extremely unpalatable living in the toilet). Upstairs you’ll find some of the most attention-grabbing installations, like Klara Kristalova’s surreal mossy landscape peopled by all kinds of strange ceramic creatures, like something out of a medieval manuscript. You’ll step awkwardly around David Yink Zi’s beached ceramic squid, washed up and left on the gallery floor in a pool of ink or oil, like some ecological disaster that’s impossible to ignore. And you’ll see Takuro Kuwata’s brightly coloured but somehow organic-looking pillars, like strange stalagmites growing in some distant thermal pool.
It was a hard act to follow after the runaway success of the gallery’s previous exhibition, In The Black Fantastic. But this show’s endorsement of playfulness, subversion and pushing boundaries is surely something we can all get fired up about.
NOTE: Strange Clay: Ceramics in Contemporary Art is at the Hayward Gallery until 8th January 2023 (closed Mon & Tues). Tickets cost £15, and you can book HERE.
Hayward Gallery | Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX
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