Bachelor of Fine Art (Honours) (Object Based Practice) RMIT
Please tell us a little about yourself and what prompted you to study ceramics at RMIT?
It was a long road to studying Honours in Object-Based Practice (Ceramics) at RMIT actually. I originally studied painting at Monash University in my undergraduate visual arts degree, graduating in 2013. The year after that I went on to do Honours in Fine Art at Monash. That year I had originally intended to focus on my interest in ceramics and craft-based materials, but over the year found myself drifting back to painting, partly due to the lack of ceramics department and expertise in this realm. During this first Honours year in 2014, I undertook some short courses in ceramics for fun at Box Hill Arts Community Centre (where I now work). I ended up loving the medium so much I went on to do a two-year diploma at Holmesglen in ceramics. However, by the end of the two years at Holmesglen, I still wanted to learn more. I also wanted to put the technical skills I had learnt at TAFE to good use, and towards a conceptual application. I hadn’t been entirely satisfied with how my final Honours year at Monash had turned out, so I decided to re-do Honours at RMIT, this time with a different focus, being ceramics. This journey leads to my final project exploring issues around the medium, tensions between painting, sculpture and ceramics, remediation and mimicry, and an exploration into the material and the technical support.
You speak about the tensions in your work between object and support, surface and material — what is it about these relationships which interest you as a maker?
At the start of last year, my research was focused on the idea of “expanded ceramics” – taking inspiration from Rosalind Krauss’s seminal article Sculpture in the Expanded Field (1979). Krauss talks a lot about the idea of the “technical support”, arguing that this term is more useful than the word “medium” when referring to the material used in artmaking as it is more inclusive (going beyond traditional mediums such as painting or sculpture). A support also means that which bears or carries the weight of another object in space, such a shelf or plinth, or to suggest the truth of something – supporting findings, and so on. Exploring this idea of “support” lead me to investigate certain forms such as shelves, plinths and frames, and their role as “supporting” objects in the gallery. Plinths and frames are often treated like invisible “gallery furniture”; objects which traditionally obfuscate themselves, to disappear, beneath that which is more “important”, the “art”. Subverting the medium through the process of remediation lead to an investigation into surface, texture and material, and ways that certain materials could mimic others. For example, I made papiermâché to look like clay and clay to look like papiermâché, I cast paintings into ceramic and created frames out of acrylic paint, using it as sculptural material in its own right. When I was primarily a painter, I felt that certain materials and mediums were “out of bounds” to me. In my undergraduate degree, I rarely considered materials such as clay, concrete or plaster as these were the materials of “a sculptor”! Maybe being in a painting major did this to me; even though we were always allowed to experiment with other materials, I felt I didn’t have the skills to be able to do it effectively. Definitely playing around with the tactile materials involved in ceramics helped me disassociate myself from this unhelpful way of thinking, and opened me up to the material opportunities available more widely in the visual arts.
You were one of the last students to study a Diploma of Ceramics at Holmesglen, can you talk about your transition to RMIT and the impact on your practice?
Going to Holmesglen to study a qualification in ceramics was an invaluable experience that lead to the point I am now. I cannot recommend TAFE enough for students who want to develop technical skills before going to university. I kind of did it the wrong way around – going to art school, and then coming back to study practical skills at TAFE afterwards (and then going back to university again!). At TAFE the focus was mainly on developing practical skills in ceramics, such as hand building, wheel-throwing, glaze development, mould-making and ways to set up oneself as an independent business. There were units that helped students develop an individual style and concepts too. Tragically when I was halfway through my diploma the upper management at Holmesglen announced that they were going to cancel the course, the last Diploma of Ceramics left in the state. This put a lot of pressure on existing students to complete all remaining units in a very tight timeframe if they wanted to graduate. This made no sense to us as ceramics had become so popular but no matter how much campaigning we did and petitions we signed, Holmesglen had already made their decision that they weren’t making enough profit from the course. The final year at Holmesglen was extremely exhausting, attending five days of classes, often ten-hour days, with classes back-to-back and no studio time outside of these hours because the administration refused to pay staff to supervise them. However, I met some extraordinary teaching and technical staff within the course itself, who were just as passionate as we were about ceramics and keeping the course going. I decided at the end of that year that I would go to RMIT the next year, as it was the last place left to study ceramics. Moving from Holmesglen to RMIT was interesting as my work went from being primarily functional, to primarily non-functional. The emphasis at university is definitely on making art pieces and being able to rationalise and conceptualise one’s work. I found through doing more reading, research and experimentation, my practice changed vastly over the year. Being around other experimental Honours students too and participating in regular art criticism sessions definitely helped the way I think about my own art. Having a strong group of ceramics students in Honours too was so helpful – later in the year we set up our own reading group so we could discuss issues surrounding contemporary ceramics and object-making. Last year helped me strip back unnecessary references and decoration from my work, to get the core of what I was looking at – exploring the meaning of material itself and its relation to the concept of the “medium”.
The pieces in FRESH! see you working with both somewhat delicate materials, i.e. papier-mâché alongside ceramics and concrete. How did your work change through the process of engaging with these materials?
For a long time I’ve been interested in the intersection between “craft” materials (traditionally considered “low art” materials) and so-called “high art” materials such as paint and canvas. Part of the process of breaking down the notion of the medium has been remediating forms ordinarily associated with certain mediums. For instance, canvas is usually associated with painting. In response to this relationship I have created casts of stretched canvases and transformed the canvas fabric into clay, perhaps making the viewer question what is this object now and where does it lie on the spectrum of traditional material hierarchies? The plinth is often made of wood or marble; I have created a plinth in papier-mâché, and another in ceramic. The frame is usually associated with being on the outside of a painting; I have cast a frame out of paint itself. Objects when cast, challenge the concept of the “real”, playing into ideas of authenticity and mimicry. Pushing the process of experimentation further has included incorporating materials that are not traditionally associated with fine art at all (although many contemporary artists use them): materials such as concrete, render, MDF, and cardboard. There is definitely a subtle political act in treating objects that are so often treated as “lower” or “higher” than others as equal – papiermâché objects made out of toilet paper being equal to a ceramic vase, or to a painting. My work has definitely changed through challenging the idea of a hierarchy of material and medium existing. I am also acutely aware of the history of craft practices, such as ceramics or textiles, being treated as “lower” artforms than artforms such as painting or sculpture. It’s difficult to tell whether this is to do with being a practice often associated with women, or with functionality, therefore considered “lower” than other artforms. I do know however, that this idea is definitely changing in the contemporary art scene as more ceramics, textiles and jewellery are being accepted in contemporary art galleries and treated as valid practices, worth more than simply relegation to the gift shop!
If you could collaborative with any artist, craftsperson or even company — who would you choose and what would your dream project be?
That’s a hard one, because moving from being an abstract painter using really vibrant colours (with favourite artists such as Matisse, Laura Skerlj, Katherina Grosse) to focusing on making more pared-back textural pieces, my influences have definitely changed, especially over the last year! I definitely am incredibly inspired by local ceramicist Kirsten Perry. Kirsten Perry is an artist that uses mould-making and casting as a central process in the making of her artworks. Her practice is based around ceramics, however her main focus is casting objects and textures that are not traditionally associated with ceramics, such as paper, foam, polystyrene and cardboard. According to Perry, the casting process “has the ability to transform the object’s original purpose and value-disposable materials become worthy of consideration” (c3 artspace website, 2017). Perry is interested in the element of chance and error that can occur when creating her ceramic objects, often highlighting imperfections in the found objects she casts. Rather than creating exact replicas of entire objects through casting, Perry focuses on casting the textures of non-ceramic materials to later make vessels and artworks. I also have an interest in creating intriguing textures, not only through casting but also by experimenting with alternative materials such as papier-mâché, plaster and paper clay, and creating forms that would usually be made from other materials such as vessels, plinths and frames. I’d love to work on a project with her where we really pushed the limits in terms of capturing unusual textures and forms. I can picture a room full of weird, textured objects, challenging viewers’ ideas of what they’re looking at, creating a kind of wonderland of sensation and perception!