From slabs of baked clay to fine porcelain and a batch of “erotic cookies,” a new all-woman group exhibition organized in collaboration with the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA) in London is a celebration of ceramic art amplified by a series of architectural interventions.
Born from Earth: Women in Ceramics, at the Richard Saltoun Gallery in Mayfair until mid-August, includes pieces from eleven artists set against an installation designed by the show’s curator Lisa Chan, founder of architecture and art studio It’s a Local Collective.
The show sets out to foreground the work of women often overlooked as “agents of change” in the history of ceramics, and includes works from pioneers like modernist sculptor Ruth Duckworth, to multi-disciplinary feminist artist Judy Chicago.
These disparate artists are bound together by the materiality of clay, a connection reinforced by Chan’s 13-meter natural earth and lime pathway. This earthen trail weaves through the gallery as display infrastructure for the exhibits as well as artwork in its own right.
The installation also includes rough-hewn plinths streaked with raw pinks and greys; colour gradients Chan created by experimenting with the weight of the limecrete. The resulting material compliments the smooth surfaces of Jaqueline Poncelets’ 1985 sculptures and Holly Stevenson’s candy-colored surrealist vessels.
Stevenson’s forms—fleshy masses of phallic tubes and pearl-like spheres—are visceral explorations of sexuality and gender. It’s a theme picked up elsewhere such as in Rose English’s dancing figurines and U.S. feminist artist Judy Chicago’s 1967 platter of six biscuits in identical “cookie cutter” coital positions. Iced in hot pink paint, the plaster sculptures and accompanying drawings are a nod to the banality of domestic life and formed part of Chicago’s solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum’s Sackler Centre for Feminist Art in 2014.
Other highlights include a furious heap of scarlet by multi-disciplinary artist Florence Peake, created with nail varnish and enamel on ceramic, and Duckworth’s gentle folded pieces of porcelain, which hang like cuttlefish on the gallery wall.
Belgian sculptor Carmen Dionyse’s haunting mythic figures are exhibited for the first time in the U.K., though their position at foot-level means they lose a little impact. The exhibition also features work by the British potter Carol McNicoll and Italian artist Gaia Fugazza.
Alongside the exhibition, Chan and Chinese contemporary artist Yushi Li delivered a program of educational talks in collaboration with the AA, where they are both tutors.
Chan said it was “unusual” to have architects in a gallery setting, but that architecture practice was starting to engage more with other disciplines as a way of testing out its theories and connecting with communities. “I think that’s where it is very powerful. Art triggers emotions and can make that connection very, very deeply,” she added.
This playful group exhibition finds connections across generations of international artists and their different approaches to clay, a material London is built on. It’s also embedded in Chan’s DNA for while she grew up among Hong Kong’s glass and steel, the architect’s family hail from China’s Fujian province, known for its rammed-earth houses. “The artworks, the architectural installation, and even the artists ourselves. We are all born of clay,” she said.
Born from Earth: Women in Ceramics, sponsored by New York skincare brand MALIN+GOETZ, is at the Richard Saltoun Gallery on Dover Street until August 13.