Artists put avant-garde spin on ceramics

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Artists put avant-garde spin on ceramics

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At Yeoju Dojasesang, one of three venues hosting the eighth Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale, contemporary ceramic arts are being exhibited. Provided by the biennale

ICHEON, Gyeonggi - If you think pottery is all there is to ceramics, don’t tell the hundreds of participants of the upcoming Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale.

The potters - or artists to be more accurate - are attempting to show that ceramics can be considered closer to 3-D models that fuse other art genres such as installations, paintings, sculptures and even tattooing. They say the event is breaking down the walls between artistic genres.

Starting from Friday, the Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale, which is on its eighth edition, will be held in three venues around Gyeonggi for about a month until May 31.

The event’s international committee says it is crucial to find a direction for the future of ceramics at this biennale as it is the world’s largest that specializes in the art form and draws international attention as a result.

Under the theme “Color: Ceramic Spectrum” the biennale attempts to highlight the “color of ceramic art,” according to the organizers, through three venues, including Icheon Cerapia, Yeoju Dojasesang and Gwangju Gonjiam Ceramic Park.

“Each venue symbolizes the past, present and future,” wrote Park Kyoung-soon, the director of the biennale in a press statement.

In Icheon, visitors can witness three different categories of ceramics, according to Park.

“For the ‘Traditional Color,’ visitors can look at the traditional values embedded in Korean and East Asian ceramics, while ‘Distinctive Color’ is a pursuit of the broadening of ceramic art as a genre in addition to its interpretation and ‘Variegated Color’ refers to the diverse uses and stories of ceramics that enrich our everyday lives,” said the director.

A large lake surrounded by cherry blossom trees welcomes visitors to Icheon Cerapia. The small ceramic bell chimes placed on the trees clang whenever the wind blows and the colorful installations even before you reach the entrance of the building blatantly suggests that the theme of the event centers around “color.”

Two special exhibitions are being held in Icheon titled “Convergence and Transcendence.”

In the former section, pieces by ceramic artists from around the world are being exhibited.

But these are not bowls or dishes: the artists have adapted other techniques or materials that depart from the traditional in order to create unusual works.

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Forrest Gard’s “Can You Help Me With the Dishes?” is a performance piece that requires participation from visitors.

For example, young Japanese ceramic artist Katsuyo Aoki used tiles as a canvas and ceramic art to decorate her piece.

“Artists in this section focus on using unconventional methods and materials and mixing them with the traditional as well,” said Lee Su-jeong, the curator of the two exhibitions.

In the “Transcendence” section, pieces by artists who work in other genres but who are inspired by ceramic art are being exhibited.

Here, ceramic art amalgamates with different genres of art, which can even be installations or video art.

“So far, ceramics have just been pottery,” said Lee.

“But now, the influence ceramics have on other genres of art is getting bigger and artists who do contemporary ceramic art insist they continue to see the development of different mediums to be used in ceramic art. They say ceramic art is more like three dimensional modeling. It’s not ceramic anymore. It’s more fine art.”

Lee said many ceramic artists from outside of Korea are working to create pottery that can be used as bowls and dishes and something formative at the same time.

“It may seem difficult for ordinary people to perceive contemporary ceramic art as ceramics because they have a strong notion that ceramics are that traditional looking pottery we see in museums that have some sort of practicality,” said Lee.

“But young artists today try really hard to break that stereotype and break that genre wall. That’s what we are trying to show in this exhibition.”

For visitors searching for interactive entertainment, several international artists will be showcasing their performance works.

Patrons can compete with friends and family at the “Can You Help Me With the Dishes?” exhibition, for example, where two participants must try to stack bowls as high as they can for a minute and maintain the pile for 10 seconds without it falling on the ground and breaking.

Those who succeed can take a trophy - a ceramic bowl - home.

Another game-like display is one where visitors can throw a ceramic sock into a basket. If it makes it in they can take it home as a souvenir.

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At Icheon Cerapia, an artwork titled “Convergence and Transcendence” is being exhibited. Above is a glass and ceramic work by Chinese artist Yu Hongbing.By Yim Seung-hye

“Here, artists want visitors to escape from the conventional method of seeing an exhibition by participating in one,” said Lee.

There are two more exhibition halls in Icheon that are dedicated to the work of artists who participated in the International Competition.

A total of 1,470 artists from 74 countries were selected for the exhibition. Among them, 10 pieces were chosen to be given awards.

The Grand Prize went to English artist Neil Brownsword for his installation “National Treasure.”

Brownsword brought a documentary film that reveals the process of his work, the desk that he works at and six ceramic plates that feature paintings of ceramic factories to create an installation.

The whole piece expresses how the economic downfall and mass production has affected small companies that have had to close down.

In Yeoju, more contemporary ceramics informed by culture and art are on display as well.

This exhibition include some ceramics for everyday use, too.

At Gwangju Gonjiam Ceramic Park, visitors can witness the traditional beauty of Korean ceramics as well as East Asian ceramic art from Taiwan and Japan.

The “Beautiful Korean Ceramics Competition” has also been revived this year after its suspension in 2009.

An exhibition in Gwangju will show the results of the competition that “focuses on the traditional formative beauty of Korean ceramics and spirit behind it, which are reinterpreted to suit the sense of beauty and elegance of modern times,” according to the organizers.

Other than exhibitions, there are symposiums and workshops as well as hands-on activities for children.

Along with the biennale in three venues, three local festivals - the 29th Icheon Ceramics Festival; the 18th Gwangju Royal Ceramics Festival; and the 27th Yeoju Ceramics Festival - also start their own events from Friday.

For more information, visit www.kocef.org/eng/


BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [yim.seunghye@joongang.co.kr]

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