Symposium 2000    
  Gabi Dewald      

In her presentation Gabi Dewald addressed the question: what is the purpose of an electronic journal for ceramics? In her opinion it would certainly not be to repeat and duplicate any existing print format. The technical possibilities of the new media are regarded as useful and without a doubt exciting but in a way as second-rate. Using these new possibilities means a change in content and attitude instead of merely celebrating new technical ways of presentation. Dewald warns against misunderstanding and abusing the www simply as one more media to spread out european – and american-centric ways of looking at the world. We should rather think the other way around: the significance of a www based format is that we can gather new knowledge, information and opinions from all over the world and really discuss it. The aim is to use the new media as a brilliant tool instead of a fascinating toy. Dewald shares the opinion that Interpreting Ceramics could fill the gap in serious critical writing and she offers some useful conclusions as to how the journal might develop.

Thoughts,ideas, associations on the subject of Interpreting Ceramics

Gabi Dewald

Reflecting on an electronic journal... how much electronics does ceramics need... and what for? Six academics as permanent editors, twenty seven renowned international ceramic experts as Editorial Advisory Board, moreover, "the first refereed electronic journal" with "academic approach and highest scholarly standards" ...Above all, there is mention of the "possibilities of the new digital media".

Illusions: Between flying saucers and web-based Ceramic Review

I recall the flying Ceramic Millenium cups of Jerome Bechtold from Holland, floating above their saucers, like topped eggs. Each of them escorted by oval, ring-like satellites flying next to them, not touching them and held by some magic force of attraction... These kinds of tricks, even more oddly amusing in animated state, can nowadays be performed in whatever length and variation by any ceramist who wishes to keep up with the times. However, no serious sculptor would want to give up clay modelling for the sake of the new electronic media (as I have frequently been told by many an artist.)

So what does all this talk about "exploiting the possibilities of the new digital media" mean? It is of course fascinating when visiting an exhibition in Wellington, to virtually move by mouse click through a parallel exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam – the famous virtual stroll. Yet, is that what we need? Especially when talking about "the highest scholarly standards"? Furthermore: what exactly is meant by the term "historical"?

I turn my attention to the sentence in the Editorial Statement that says: "Our collaboration has come through shared research interests in recording, interrogating, interpreting and communicating the practice and history of ceramics." And I would like to add "and its presence".

What is the greatest, most revolutionary potential of digital media? It actually interlinks all corners of the world; it is interactive, communicative, easy and cost-efficient, and available everywhere regardless of the size of the information. In database form, it is accessible everywhere and extremely user-friendly. The image resolution, however, to me is rather average. At least in comparison with print results and as far as software programs and monitors of an affordable, hence available quality level are concerned. In my opinion, we do not need a new digital Ceramic Art and Perception on our monitors replacing the paper issue sent out by mail, nor another Ceramic Review on the World Wide Web. The Editorial Statement supports my view in this respect.

A short interjection: Money & Rights

There are a few fundamental questions I would like to see answered. What is the financial scope of the project? Is it fully subsidised or will it be financed through advertising? If it is a pure research project (of the universities), then what is the planned duration of the project? Is there a fixed number of issues per year? Or will the magazine be continuously updated? If it is to have the "highest scholarly standard" and praises itself on being the "first refereed electronic journal" (I presume this refers to the quality of the articles), then who will be the potential readers? The inaugural issue also somehow suggests that the magazine will not and does not have to depend on a certain number of readers. Does the magazine want or have to reach a public at all? Or is the idea rather to establish a foundation of academic texts on ceramics, a kind of exclusive archive whose main purpose is documentation and research in the field of art history.

What strikes me as particularly strange is the high demand on the quality of the submitted articles in combination with the fact that authors, photographers and the members of the editorial group of experts are expected to work for free. As I learned from the very detailed submission guidelines it is naturally assumed that the authors of the texts deliver the pictures and negotiate the rights and free usage of the material with the photographers and artists. In addition, the submitted texts must have a length of 3,000 to 5,000 words and be first publications. This is certainly proof of a highly astonishing level of self-confidence on the part of the publishers. Who on earth has the time and the inspiration to take on the honorary task of contributing a text of this length and expected quality to the journal? The price is quite high for a completely unknown product read by a small circle of insiders.

Yet I firmly believe that there is a lack of sound theoretical works on ceramics (and on crafts in general). It is a deficit that is a continuous disadvantage for our field. The initial approach of the project, however, appears to be very academic, in a very traditional and northern European sense of the word. If the "possibilities of the new digital media" amount to nothing more than the possibility of simply attaching files and images of any size and form to this "magazine", turning every Interpreting Ceramics issue into some kind of a text and picture monster, demonstrating and celebrating the new technical possibilities then I find these "new possibilities" are just used as a new funny toy instead of a new brilliant tool .

Emphasis on the "refereed" format in connection with the very complex and fixed rules the authors have to fulfil if they want to see their texts published in Interpreting Ceramics suggests a certain, let’s say feudalistic approach. It sounds a bit as if it has finally been set up and put to work: the high court of superior writing. And we, dear colleagues, are the strict, infallible and, above all, indispensable judges and guardians. For the sole sake of ceramics and ceramists, of course.

A further question: Three categories are mentioned regarding the way submitted texts are dealt with. These are "accepting, modifying and rejecting". As far as "accepting" is concerned, editorial changes will be restricted to web-enabling the texts, by a simple change of format, for instance. But what is meant by "modifying"? It sounds as if it goes beyond the usual editing. What does "modifying" refer to exactly, who will do the job, and how far will these modifications transcend the usual editorial changes? Will these alterations be discussed with the authors?

Enough. Constructive Notes

I will try to bring existing articles in Interpreting Ceramics, the electronic dummy in the web and my own ideas together and propose my visions:

First point: Interpreting Ceramics is not an electronically animated, world-spanning imitation of existing specialised magazines on ceramics. Neither by virtue of content nor by virtue of the envisaged readership.

Second point: Interpreting Ceramics endeavours to close or fill the gap of theoretical discourse on ceramics, including all forms of expressions and fields of ceramics as well as its history and historical classification. The mentioning of "practice and history" leaves open the extent to which technical questions should be treated and archived.

Third point: Interpreting Ceramics is a magazine that does not deal with the direct presentation of ceramics/ceramists. Instead, it is a journal interpreting, classifying, examining, assessing and communicating ceramic art. Interpreting Ceramics helps to draw a historical picture of ceramics. It is a publication for a network of experts working on ceramics, and not a promotion or self-promotion of individual artists or bodies.

Furthermore, I would like to refer to paragraph I of the Editorial Statement that describes the publishers’ methodological ways as follows:
1. recording
2. interrogating and interpreting
3. communicating

I have tried to draw up a very rough outline of a structure supporting these concepts with the most prominent possibilities of the new media being, as pointed out in the beginning,
a. the creation of a worldwide network
b. the aspect of interactivity and
c. the possibility of attaching an available and current archive of any (growing) size to a living medium of communication.

The processing of text or images with the aim of producing hyper-text or hyper-fiction presents, in my opinion, merely a possibility of media-specific layout. As far as the desired possibilities of the new digital media are concerned, I do not, however, regard this as a substantial, that is to say knowledge and realisation-oriented additional value.

Illustrations, in my view, should always have an explanatory function. And although the internet allows for files of undreamed-of sizes, Interpreting Ceramics still presents itself as a magazine, hence as a journalistic service. And this includes the selection, or rather pre-selection, of offered information reducing it to an amount manageable by the reader. Hence, Interpreting Ceramics should very clearly differentiate between an archive part and a current, communication-oriented part and make this division visible. Even the most intellectual, top-class avalanche remains an avalanche. And people do not like avalanches too much!

Alongside the above mentioned methodological ways I would like to outline a possible structure of Interpreting Ceramics by dividing it into three sections:

1. Recording: the archive part. This part could be extended with every issue. It would be the most static part, although continuously being extended and updated. Possible issues:

  • Building of an historical archive (books, articles, talks). Division into different branches (architecture, sculpture, design, craft, architecturally applied ceramics).
  • Building of a technical archive (documentation, research, empirical reports, book articles). Possible division into different problem areas.
  • Building of an expert file (authors and critics, professors and scholars, exhibition organisers, curators, gallery owners, collectors, auctioneers, technical specialist, etc.)
  • Here, the new format is clearly superior to traditional archives due to its fast and unlimited extensibility.

2. Interpreting and Interrogating: new building elements. These could change with every issue, which means they would be replaced completely by new elements. Possible venues:

  • Art theory (essays, papers, talks, lectures)
  • Art criticism (reviews, speeches, essays, talks)
  • Reports / information on conferences and symposiums.

It might be of advantage for this current part of the magazine to suggest a topic (in the fields of art history and art criticism) for every issue that will be taken up – at least in the main articles.

Here, due to new possibilities in the processing of text and images and of making links with parts of the archive, the new medium has enormous advantages over possible print versions.

3. Communicating: interactive platform. Here could be for instance

  • Two experts talking with each other: Public chat at a fixed point of time on questions previously selected and discussed in Interpreting Ceramics. In addition, a chat with a presenter could include questions of potential guests. Possible forms:

    a) a group of experts publicly discussing academic or art history questions for a period of approximately a year, or

  • b) a long-term topic discussed by different experts

  • Technical blackboard (mailing list). Here, current problems and published findings/insights could continuously be commented, added to, criticised and updated.
  • Financial affairs: List of 100 (50) best paid ceramists in the world. Reports on auctions, trade fairs and exhibitions, and prices.
  • Guestbook.

Here, the internet magazine benefits from its interactive aspect connecting users from all over the world in real-time.

I understand Interpreting Ceramics as a knowledge base helping to establish an inner framework of the ceramic scene. In my opinion, the frequent call for a "ceramic language" is absolutely nonsensical. Art is art, and nonsense is nonsense. Be it of clay, of wood or of canvas and oil. I do realise, however, that in the field of ceramics there is a lack of serious examination of the forms in which it occurs. Especially after the massive entrance of ceramics on to the art market, we do need serious art criticism. Interpreting Ceramics may use this as a starting-point and bring about changes in this respect. Naturally, this does not eliminate the necessity to open up and leave the ceramic ghetto. In this case, however, Interpreting Ceramics would serve as an instrument of work in the inside, because it could create a foundation that, in my view, is still missing as a pre-requisite for any further action.

I very strongly suggest avoiding any kind of "american- and euro-centricity". The fact that Interpreting Ceramics as a product of the World Wide Web will be in English is excluding already many people. There is only one single woman from the Pacific Rim sitting in the Editorial Advisory Board. Africa, South America and Asia are missing completely – although, viewed historically, the representation of these continents is absolutely essential. There is no-one from Japan, no-one from China, no-one from the Islamic countries – all of them important ceramic traditions! The revolutionary force of the WWW is not that we are now able to spread out our opinions and parameters up to last corners in the world but that we are able to include people from all over the globe into our research and debate. I am very much in favour of some kind of quality control – but also of a discussion of what is good, on as broad a base as possible. What do we want to build up? A ring fence around a mass of sovereign knowledge, or as complete a survey of the map of ceramic events and epicentres as possible? I opt for the latter. Let’s go for more!

Gabi Dewald, September 2000
Copyright: Gabi Dewald

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Symposium 2000 • Issue 1