Jesse Birch says the Nanaimo Art Gallery is lucky to have a large collection of West Coast ceramics and starting this month the curator will finally get to take those items out of storage and show them off to the public.
From July 30 to Oct. 3 the NAG presents We Do Not Work Alone. The exhibition features more than 65 pieces by B.C. artists dating as far back as the 1960s. The show also includes new work by contemporary artists and ceramics available for purchase from the Tozan Cultural Society.
“It’s not usual that we will centre an entire exhibition on our collection,” Birch said. “So it’s really been nice to spend time thinking about what it means to host these pots and how we can make them exciting and active.”
Birch is making some of those pieces “exciting and active” by creating a ceramics “library” where visitors can pick up the art works and interact with them. The items will be “activated” in different ways, Birch said, like using vases to display flowers and using teapots to serve tea.
“When things go into a collection that were originally meant to be used, their meaning shifts,” Birch explained. “And so I wanted to bring them to the public view in a way that respects that and maybe can play with their new role in the gallery, while still activating them somewhat like how they would have been originally in the homes of their original owners.”
Other pieces will be behind glass and off-limits. The “archive” section features work by Kawai Kanjirō, Hamada Shōji and Maria and Santana Martinez, artists Birch said are from an earlier generation and have had “profound influences” on West Coast pottery. There is also film showing Shōji and other Japanese ceramicists at work.
The four contemporary artists Birch approached to create works that respond to the exhibition are Kate Metten and Steven Brekelmans from Vancouver, Chilliwack’s Laura Wee Láy Láq and Roy Caussy of Hamilton, Ont.
Wee Láy Láq is displaying cracked pots made through the “precarious” sawdust firing process, Brekelmans made a series of photographs of clay scraps and collapsed pots as well as some tall vessels, Metten is showing kinetic wall sculptures and Caussy created porcelain beer cans.
“All of them in some way or another are thinking about either the pots in our collection directly or some of the ideas that the pots in the collection express,” Birch said.
He said the show relates to the gallery’s thematic inquiry “What is progress?” because it considers how influence moves forward and how tradition and values can shift and change across time.
“No potter really works alone. You’re either working in collaboration with others literally or you’re working in collaboration with others across generations through influence. Through tradition,” Birch said. “But then the other side is that you work in collaboration with those people who are using your pots. They only come to life when they’re being used.”
WHAT’S ON … We Do Not Work Alone opening reception takes place at the Nanaimo Art Gallery, 150 Commercial St., on July 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. Show continues until Oct. 3.