The future

By Michal Fargo

Coming back home to sunny Tel Aviv and getting back to life after this amazing opportunity and the wonderful trip I had in Australia has not been easy at all.

Sunrise from my rooftop apartment

It’s really difficult trying to create without a defined mission like I had these past six months. It’s also very difficult getting used to the Israeli iced coffee after having the Aussie version with vanilla ice cream!

But like it or not, life goes on and you can’t live without coffee and the projects are piling on so I guess my vacation is over. :)

Setting up my studio

At the moment I’m setting up my studio at my new rooftop flat in south Tel Aviv. Thanks to the Sidney Myer Fund Australian Ceramic Award, I got a shiny kiln and a brand new compressor so my studio is starting to shape up and feel like the real thing.

At the moment I’m starting to work on a new exhibition that is scheduled in a couple of months and I’m planning some new projects as well. Some porcelain spoons, lighting fixtures and dishes for a new restaurant are in early design stages, waiting to happen.

Keep an eye on my website to see how I go with them and other projects and thanks.

Room with a view

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Back in Israel

By Michal Fargo

Michal Fargo. Photo by Amina Barolli

Installing my exhibition at the Shepparton Art Museum was a very different experience for me. From my brief installation history, I was expecting a stressful week, long nights and last minute disasters. This is what usually happens.

However on my first day of installing I was surprised to see that no one around me was stressed. Just me. Everybody was calm and reassuring. I guess it’s a cultural thing and I really liked it. After a couple of days I was also less stressed and just enjoying the experience.

At the end of the installation we had the grand opening. It was such a great night. Despite missing my friends and family, I had so much fun sharing the evening with the great people I had met in Shepparton.

In the studio

Most of my preparations for the exhibition were made back home in Tel Aviv. It was my first big exhibition and I had so much work to do but not enough time or hands. I didn’t even ask for my friends support, they were just there – lifting heavy things, photographing artworks, driving me places, helping me pack and listening to my constant blabs. I really wanted them to see the outcome of these crazy six months. Well, they got to see some pictures, that’s good enough I guess. :)

The opening was surreal, in a good way of course. I couldn’t believe that the exhibition was done, working on it was such a huge part of my day to day life for such a long period of time. I was sad that I’d no longer be working on it and at the same time I was happy to be there and see all three exhibitions, which I felt really related to each other beautifully.

The week I spent in Shepparton was so great and I guess the opening was the final highlight. I’m definitely trying to apply for the next Sidney Myer Fund Australian Ceramic Award!

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Back at the wheel

By Kirsten Coelho

So here I am one month after the opening evaluating the pieces that were in the exhibition, thinking what could have been better or different – it can always be better. (That’s what propels me forward) Did the works match up to the original idea?  I am always trying to learn to be more adaptable. On one hand I want to have a sense of what I want the visual outcome to be but on the other hand, learning to let the unexpected be part of the outcome plays a large role. It can be challenging at times. You can only have a slight sense of how something will be before it comes out of the final firing. The results can be good or bad, or completely unexpected.

Throwing on the wheel

There were so many layers this project. There was the concept and the visual realisation of that original idea and then there was the day to day making of the pots. Sitting at the potter’s wheel throwing pots, your mind drifting through all the different considerations. Wondering if a pot is too thick, too thin or too high. Is the neck of the pot long enough, the shoulder round enough? Is the pot in proportion? Then there’s the glazing, which can often take longer than the making and finally there is the exciting, yet nerve-wracking, firing of the pots.

All these processes have uncontrollable elements to them so while you can think your ideas are fully formed, the outcomes are usually different to what was originally in your mind. In a way it has to be like that because you have never seen it before – it was just an idea.

Close up of throwing

Now I am back at the wheel starting the process again, beginning with smaller objects – cups and bowls, then building up to larger jars and open forms. Ideas for new shapes form in my mind and it is only through repetitive making, days sitting at the wheel, that these creations begin to take hold with any amount of assuredness.

I’m starting on a new body of work, thinking of developing some larger scale works, possibly for exhibition next year. It feels good to have time to experiment and consider new ideas.

Lovely days back in the studio listening to the radio and sitting at the wheel.

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From the front desk

By Patsy Killeen and Lyn Patone

Lynne Parker in the SAM Shop

From the perspective of the front desk at Shepparton Art Museum (SAM), the Sidney Myer Fund Australian Ceramic Award (ACA) has been well received by the public and particularly by ceramic enthusiasts that have travelled specifically to view the exhibition. We extend an invitation for all visitors to look a little closer at the work currently showing in the ACA of winning artists Michal Fargo, Kirsten Coelho and Alexandra Standen.

The 2012 catalogue

In our role of direct customer service for SAM, we love listening to people who are amazed by the technical skill and imagination of the awarded artists. At the SAM Shop we have been gathering a list of order requests from visitors that wish to purchase the exhibition catalogue for their own records. Now that the catalogue is back from being printed, we will send copies off to those anticipating its arrival.

Here are some impressions and comments felt in the last few weeks of the show.

The Australian Award winner Kirsten Coelho’s white porcelain calms and soothes the soul by way of a grounded, solid perfection that connects to a place and time in history where our collective memory lingers. Kirsten seems to mislead our first visual impressions of her work by exquisitely replicating the appearance of vintage enamelware in fine porcelain clay. This idea has its roots from an issue in colonial times, where people had a preference to use porcelain household wares but because of their fragility, they could not be easily transported by European migrants on the voyage to Australia. To overcome this problem enamelware was developed as a hardier material substitute. Kirsten appears to have turned this historical problem back on itself, in a return to using porcelain built in the image of enamelware. This reversal could be a signifier of how western migrants have progressed and become more established on this land to become presently, free to become indulgent once more.

Visitors in the museum

Michal Fargo’s fragile and delicate pouch-like vessels speak to us through a pure physicality that is underpinned by different and experimental material processes. The surface of Michal’s seemingly abstract organic forms have a powdery, corroded appearance that may parallel the hot dry climate of the Middle East from where the work was made. These works also evoke a similarity to the structures of mineral geodes, rough with fine miniature cavernous spaces. These brittle mineral formation-like surface structures have been minutely shedding crumbs that we brush away with a soft brush.

A sensory comment about Michal Fargo’s work stuck in our mind – a visitor warned her young child to take extra care around them as ‘those sponges will not bounce, dear’.

SAM Shop ceramics

The whimsical, elongated shapes by emerging artist Alexandra Standen float low on the gallery wall space and flow on to a multitude of ladders positioned in an upwards arc reaching to the moon. Alexandra Standen’s work has received lots of positive comments by visitors led to dream and perhaps reflect on their own desires in the installation’s skyward escape. Viewers of this work become more endeared by knowing of Calvino’s story that inspired the piece. The animation however extends the story into a contemporary medium, where the original story about adventures to the moon fade and the ladders themselves become animate antlike creatures that crawl about on recognisable Australian grounds.

If you haven’t already visited, come into SAM to see the exhibition before it ends on Sunday 18th November.  SAM is open every day from 10am – 4pm and on public holidays from 1pm – 4pm.  The shop stocks a range of publications including the Sidney Myer Fund Australian Ceramic Award catalogue, exhibition catalogues, books on Australian ceramics and art, and art magazines. We support a number of local and interstate artists and their unique art, craft and design work is also available for purchase in the SAM shop.  Gift wrapping is free and gift vouchers are also available.  Hope to see you soon!

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A change in guard

By Julian Bowron

Julian Bowron

My brief time as Acting Director at SAM has been very much associated with the exhibition phase of this project and I will be sad to leave it behind.  Arriving at work every day to rediscover this beautiful exhibition is a delight and even on the busiest day a glimpse of Michal’s vivid objects, Alex’s soaring ladders or Kirsten’s serene installation is such a treat.

The catalogue for the 2012 exhibition arrived last week. I love that sweet, acrid ink smell from a publication just printed. The handsome aqua cover looks fine and it’s been worth waiting to have the installations documented so professionally.  I am nostalgic already to see the artists portraits in there and cant help wondering what new adventures their work is taking them on.

It seems to me that the Sidney Myer Fund Australian Ceramic Award is taking the lead in showing what some of the most exciting artists working in ceramic media are doing both in Australia and internationally.  It also seems certain that the award will continue to evolve as the passionate conversations around it do.

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A week to remember

By Kirsten Coelho

It has been nearly four weeks since the opening of the Sidney Myer Fund Australian Ceramic Award (ACA). It feels as though it was yesterday. Time has done a strange combination of speeding up and slowing down all at once.

Michal, Kirsten, Elise and Alex at the opening

It was an amazing week running up to the opening at the Shepparton Art Museum (SAM) and one I will never forget. I would like to sincerely thank all the fantastic staff at SAM for all their support and encouragement and also the Sidney Myer Fund for their great generosity.

Installing the show was both scary and exciting. Work began by positioning the furniture that the pots would be placed on in the space.  Then slowly over the next few days, the pieces were put on the furniture and rearranged again and again until it felt right. It’s always a challenge for me to exhibit less work and I really wanted to ensure that I did not overcrowd with unnecessary pieces. I was fortunate enough to get guidance from SAM’s curator Elise Routledge, freelance curator Allison Holland and Mark Cain, SAM’s technician.

Bottle Cup and Funnel from SAM

It was really good to have a few days to install the work and I didn’t feel rushed into any decision. Bad pottery decisions (like life decisions) are always made at the last minute, often when you’re tired. You put something in the kiln thinking it will be fine and inevitably it isn’t!

The opening night was the night of nights. I was a bundle nerves but it was an evening full of warmth and friendship. It was wonderful having this experience with Michal and Alexandra and such a great week getting to know them both. I felt very fortunate also to have the support of friends and family who had made the trip to the opening, some of whom had travelled more than ten hours one way.

The breadth of this whole experience really hit home to me when I was at SAM with the staff, and Michal and Alexandra installing the works. Having the opportunity to develop and exhibit a new body of work with all the support from the brilliant staff has allowed me to think about how to exhibit my work in new ways – especially how space and light are as important as the work in trying to convey a certain idea or feeling.

Kirsten Coelho running a workshop. Photo by Amina Barolli

I will now go back into my studio with my head full of new insights and perspectives into my making process. Thank you to the staff at SAM, the Sidney Myer Fund for introducing me to these new possibilities.

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Don’t stop talking

By Alexandra Standen

Well here we are on the other side of an intense and exciting six months of producing work for the Sidney Myer Fund Australian Ceramic Award (ACA). The time has flown, as usually, faster than I could have though possible.

Talking at the forum

Having left Shepparton on Sunday 22nd October I am now sitting in a sunny spot in a quiet corner of a friends house in Melbourne and reflecting on what an amazing experience it was to exhibit with Michal Fargo and Kirsten Coelho.

I have to say one of the most exciting things was seeing Michal and Kirsten unpack their beautiful ceramic pieces on the first day of install. I felt so privileged to be in an exhibition with these two accomplished artists.

Over the week we spent installing we all talked a lot about this opportunity and the sensations of our own practice. This talking and understanding became a very significance part of the exhibition for me so it was great to take part in the workshops and presentations that took place before and after the opening night.

Ok, it was very nerve racking to stand in front of a group of people and discuses my work and intentions but both Rhonda and Angie, the public programs coordinators, did an excellent job at putting together the program and reassuring all of us that it would be ok. And you know what? It was.

The first thing was the workshop on the Friday morning. This was the first time I had run any kind of workshop about my own work. My hands were clammy with nervousness and I didn’t think I had anything to teach the lovely group of people but this was of course just initial nervous energy and it wasn’t long before I began to discuss my work with ease.

The great group who came to the forum

Unfortunately I couldn’t attend Kirsten’s demonstration in the morning but it was great to see Michal’s class and hear more about her processes. The workshops were great fun and a really gentle way to prepare for the presentations and forum discussions on the Saturday morning.

Although I was anxious about talking in front of so many people, I discovered it’s not until you try to explain yourself that you understand just how much you have thought about your project. I knew all along what to say because I had been living with these ideas and processes for such a long time.

Saturday’s forum and presentations was a great opportunity to listen and contribute to discussions about contemporary ceramics. After such a busy and concentrated week of install and the exciting opening night, it was really nice hear from Australian artists like Jeff Mincham and Kris Coad and discuss the direction of ceramic artists both in Australia and overseas.

Looking back at last weekend I know I have taken a lot from this experience. The chance to exhibit with Shepparton Art Museum and the wonderful friendships I formed with all involved in producing such a striking show is something I will never forget.

The amount of detail and care that went into involving the art and ceramic community was brilliant and the promotion of not only the art works in the show but also the wonderful activity that Shepparton offers was incredible.

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Or else!

By Michal Fargo

My works for the Sidney Myer Fund Australian Ceramic Award (ACA) are the evolution and refinement of my final project for the Bezalel graduate exhibition.

The project’s named Else.

Ceramics by Michal Fargo

The name Else stands for my search for something else, for different ceramic surfaces and for my examination of the gaps between craft and design.

To me, ceramic surfaces seemed sterile and unauthentic. I realised this was because of the moulds. Moulds restrict us designers and artists in many ways. They make us create objects with no undercuts and we always have to consider parting lines and pouring points. These restrictions create objects that are similar to plastics and other mass production products. I wanted to find unique shapes and surfaces.

Working in Benyamini

By creating a different working technique that does not require moulds I was able to design free forms that are not restricted by parting lines and pouring points. I was also able to get different and diverse surfaces.

After receiving the wonderful news about the ACA, the first thing I did was to order many blocks of sponge. The sponge soon took over all my studio space and even my bedroom.

Initially I started sculpting shapes by hand, but I also used a small saw and a Japanese knife. After finishing with the sculpting, I then soaked the sponge models into some especially made porcelain and kept it outside in the hot and sunny Tel Aviv weather.

Working at Bezalel

Firing these pieces was quite difficult as I needed an outside kiln due to the smoke that is caused by the organic materials. I had no choice but to drive to a forsaken place every time I needed to fire, a one hour drive from Tel Aviv. I know that in Aussie terms one hour doesn’t sounds so bad, but in Israel it is! :) I was fortunate enough to get the help of Haim, who is an important person here in Israel’s ceramic community. Haim is building the best quality kilns in Israel and he was kind enough to move a massive kiln to his workshop’s yard for me.

After working long hours and a bunch of wonderful white nights (that’s what we call all-nighters in Israel) I was lucky enough to produce 127 objects, some of which are now on display at the Shepparton Art Museum.

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Finding the Moon

By Alexandra Standen

Well I cant believe it…..the art works are installed and the exhibition has been open for a week now and boy does it looks amazing.

The exhibition installed

I have now had a bit of time to take a step back from the whirlwind installation week and the excitement of opening night. It is so nice to take a breath and reflect on all that has happened since March this year.

The pieces layed out and the wall

I can’t thank all the wonderful staff at Shepparton Art Museum enough. Their support and encouragement throughout the whole making and installation process was incredible and I couldn’t have done it without them. This experience has been life changing and I also can’t forget to thank the Sidney Myer Fund for this truly generous award. My art practise has grown and I was able to produce a body of work that tells many stories.

Italo Calvin’s story, The Distance of the Moon, was published in 1965 and as it says in the beginning, George. H. Darwin proclaimed the moon was very close to the earth, so much so that it almost got wet from the seawaters. In order to reach out and touch the surface one just had to row to the middle of the ocean and climb up a ladder.

Starting the installation

This story is about memory, love, infatuation, travel, and exploration, as a group of people set out each night to harvest the milk from the moon and discover her wonder and mystery. It is the ladders in the story that I loved so much and the idea that one could build a precarious structure tall enough to reach the moon (no less, stable from inside a row boat).

Not only is this tale beautiful and wistful, it is about going beyond the world itself and finding a reverence for the natural world that promotes a spiritual experience. Calvino’s story has had profound influence on my ceramics as I have tried to come to terms with the landscape or space that I exist in. After reading this story I began to see ladders everywhere in my day-to-day life, drawing me into an enchanted landscape, leading eye my up into the sky or into a secluded nook in between buildings.

This story is the foundation of my installation piece for the Sidney Myer Fund award.  The ladders are made with southern ice porcelain, constructed very thinly using slabs of clay. Very intentionally they were made to hang on the wall in order to cast shadows that allude to an unseen world within the landscape I live in. They draw on the space around them and pull the view up with them to the moon.

Halfway through installing

Along side the ladder constructions I have produce a stop motion animation that traces a journey of some of the ladders. I created different scenes for the ladders to move in based on different landscapes I experienced this year.  I travelled between Sydney, the Southern Highlands in NSW and the red desert in Central Australia before arriving in Shepparton. This became a very lyrical and playful element of the work and one that helped me to tell my own story and the story of the ladders.

Ever present in this body of work is the feeling of being trapped and needing a form of escapism or a means of climbing up to see things from a different perspective. The city is an immense and complex landscape, which one finds oneself suffocated by. The ladders are a reaction to this feeling and tie into a need for escape, to find a moon of my own where I can sit for just a little while and dream. To create this feeling, for the viewer, of being pulled into the life of the objects, the installation and the use of specific spaces become paramount.

It was with the constant support and guidance of Elise Routledge, the Curator at Shepparton, that I was able to work out exactly how I was going to achieve the feeling of being lifted to the moon.

Almost at the moon!

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A time to talk

By Julian Bowron and Angie Russi, SAM

An event like the Sidney Myer Fund Australian Ceramic Award (ACA), by its nature, brings together people with an abiding interest in ceramics so it makes sense to get a collective conversation going.  It was lovely to see ceramicists from all over Victoria and interstate come to Shepparton for both the workshops on Friday and the forum on Saturday. Studio ceramic practice is usually a pretty solitary affair and these types of opportunities to ‘chew the fat’ are important for ceramic practitioners to stay in touch, talk about the practice of ceramics and art in a critically meaningful way and contextualise the work that they do globally.

The ACA offers SAM the opportunity every two years to show new works and also provides artists from far and wide a chance to say ‘gidday’ to the collection which contains the works of all our notable potters, many of whom are no longer with us so, in a sense, it becomes a bit of a pilgrimage to see old mates! Sort of a roll call and check in!

Michal Fargo at the forum

The ACA is a generous award but when they get here we work the artists hard.  Saturday morning after the opening night they each gave a presentation about their background, influences, training and their current work.  This kind of opportunity to get an insight into what lies behind an artist’s practice is rare and we had a full house.  The artists reflected later that they were actually glad of the opportunity because otherwise it would have all been suddenly over after the opening and after such an intensive and enjoyable week that would have felt strange.

Jeff Mincham giving his talk

After lunch our star and keynote speaker: legendary Australian potter and arts advocate Jeff Mincham gave a history of Australian ceramics in 45 minutes titled Then, Now and Next: the Australian experience in art and clay.  Jeff spoke of the earliest days when the main game was bricks, the dilemmas created by the ‘Craft Movement’ and how it became “awkward to be an artist” for those working in ceramics and then the devastation wrought by the arrival of glass in the late 90s. In closing he stated that “we are in the comeback game” and “the future will be in individual expression and it will be in art”.

Artist and RMIT lecturer Kris Coad followed showing us the work of leading contemporary practitioners and some examples of what is being made by her senior students. Kris talked about the way in which access to travel and the internet has changed the way young artists see the world but at the same time that they are constantly reinvigorating past forms and techniques while looking across the spectrum of art making for ideas not just at what is going on in ceramics.

The forum wound up with a panel of all the artists answering questions about issues such as the role of design, the need for critical discourse (or not) and the relationship between artist and curator on a project such as the ACA.  One student declared that he had learnt more about the history of Australian ceramics in one afternoon at the forum than in his time at art school. Then it was time for a last quick look at the exhibition before everyone said their goodbyes and headed home.

The crowd at the forum

This year our award exhibition and public programs lead into one of the most important events for Australian ceramics and we have through the forums and workshops provided a warm up to the many conversations, exhibitions, demonstrations and events that will take place next week at the Australian Ceramics Triennale. Ceramic artists, teachers, writers and enthusiasts will converge on Adelaide for four days dialogue around this years theme, Subversive Clay.

It is fantastic to have contributed to this international focus on ceramics here in Australia. Jeff! You just may be right – we could be on a come back!

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