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Introduction to The Fragmented Figure

Jeffrey Jones
Conference Convener


The Fragmented Figure project arose as a response to a situation in which it was becoming increasingly apparent that, firstly, there were significant numbers of artists working with the human figure through the medium of ceramics and, secondly, little or no attempt had been made to theorise this development. There was consequently a dearth of critical writing, thus creating major difficulties for anyone researching this area. It was felt that this lack of serious criticism impacted negatively upon the practice of individual artists and the field as a whole.

This situation was addressed through The Fragmented Figure conference, where key issues related to the figure were identified and debated by researchers, by those writing critically on the subject, and by practitioners. This two day event was held at Cardiff School of Art and Design on Wednesday 29th and Thursday 30th June 2005. The conference was accompanied by a scholarly-curated exhibition, showing the work of six artists with accompanying interpretive material.

The notion of ‘the fragment’ is both powerful and timely. It is evident that many contemporary artists who take up the challenge of working with the figure often adopt a strategy of representing parts of the body rather than the body as a whole. It is as if the figure is given legitimacy as a subject by having something missing from it. Fragments are offered instead of the whole body with an implication that this is a more authentic expression of the predicament of the artist and also of his/her contemporary audience.

Ceramics as a medium lends itself well to a consideration of the notion of fragmentation; it is a vulnerable material that disintegrates easily yet it also survives and endures in spite of any damage or disfiguring to which it is subjected, either through accident or design. At the same time the idea of the fragment provides an invaluable focus for a consideration of the material basis of artworks and of the ways in which the choice of a medium such as ceramics, or indeed any medium, plays a significant role in the realisation of an artist’s intentions and in the meaning of the finished piece.

Although The Fragmented Figure project was conceived, planned and carried out at the Centre for Ceramics Studies at Cardiff School of Art and Design, it was the intention from the beginning that the conference should be cross-disciplinary. Insights and knowledge were shared across the two days of the conference by speakers from a wide variety of subject areas. The cross disciplinary nature of the project was especially apparent in the presentations of the four keynote speakers. Opening the conference, Dr Eugene Dwyer of Kenyon College, Ohio, USA, combined perspectives from both archaeology and art history to reflect on the way that the narrative of Pompeii has taken shape in the modern period through the exhibiting of the body casts of its victims. Speaking from a psychoanalytic perspective, Tessa Adams from Goldsmith’s College, London, discussed the paradoxical relationship between ‘the fragment as body’ and ‘the body as fragment’ with particular reference to the ideas of Lacan. The artist Doug Jeck from the University of Washington, Seattle, USA, spoke movingly about the genesis of his works, dealing honestly with the ‘shreds’ of personal, psychological and historical source information that have impacted upon his studio practice. The German curator and art historian Arie Hartog brought the conference to a close through a consideration of how the notion of fragmentation might relate to certain qualities of material, paying particular attention to the work of the sculptors Alfred Hrdlicka and Lothar Fischer.

Besides those of the keynote speakers, there were seventeen other presentations by theorists and artists from many different countries. The South African representation was particularly strong, with three speakers present. Unusually, conference delegates were given the opportunity both to hear the South African artist Wilma Cruise talk about her work and also to hear Professor Brenda Schmahmann of Rhodes University, Grahamstown, discussing Cruise’s works from an academic point of view in the light of the differentiation that Norman Bryson makes between those forms of viewing termed the ‘gaze’ and the ‘glance’. A notable feature of the conference plenary sessions was the sense of shared purpose and understanding; artists and theorists from within and without the field of art and design were able to put aside any limitations imposed by subject boundaries and instead respond to the richness of the theme. The wide range of papers published here is evidence of just how rich the theme of The Fragmented Figure turned out to be.

A key feature of this project has always been the importance placed upon the dissemination of the conference proceedings, together with images, text, video clips etc. from the exhibition, to the widest possible audience, alerting those previously unaware of the significance of the issues covered in the conference and exhibition and engaging those who are already informed in furthering the debate. Publication via the Internet in the journal Interpreting Ceramics is an ideal way to achieve this. Although the material published is in no sense definitive, it is, we believe, of sufficient scope and depth to set a benchmark for the field. In doing so it will both address the problem of a lack of published research and pose the question of how the insights generated can be further interrogated, leading to future initiatives and developments in the field.

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The Threshold of the Real: Canalizing the Body as Object Art

by Tessa Adams

Embodying Transformation

by Christie Brown

Heads and Bodies: Fragments and Restoration

by Jeanne Cannizzo

Partial Figures and Psychic Unease: an Artist’s Perspective

by Wilma Cruise

Presence and Absence: edited transcript of presentation

by David Cushway

From Fragments to Icons: Stages in the Making and Exhibiting of the Casts of Pompeian Victims, 1863–1888

by Eugene Dwyer

EVENTual BodieSpaces

by Fiona Fell

Material Evidence: Use of the Figurative Fragment in the Construction of a Social Sculptural Subject

by Sheila Gaffney

Things of Nature Unknown

by Edith Garcia

Mapping Figure and Material: Some Remarks on Fragment and Material in Modern and Contemporary Sculpture

by Arie Hartog

Giuseppe Spagnulo: Material > < Body = Form > < Idea

by Lisa Hockemeyer

Cut, Torn, and Pasted: a Female Perspective

by Charlotte Hodes

Cheating Time

by Doug Jeck

Watchers and Memory

by Alison Lochhead

Fragments and Repetition: Extending the Narrative of Sculptural Installation

by Virginia Maksymowicz

The Body Undone: Fragmentation in Process

by Babette Martini

Visualizing Mortality: Robert Arneson’s Chemo Portraits

by Mary Drach McInnes

Interrogating the Human Figure in Bridging the Ceramic-Sculpture Divide: Practice in Nigeria

by Tonie Okpe

Ceramic Sculptures by Wilma Cruise: Fragments and Feminist Transgressions

by Brenda Schmahmann

Figuratively Speaking

by Shelley Wilson

The Obsolete Body

by Gavin Younge

Touching the Body: A Ceramic Possibility

by Bonnie Kemske

Introduction • Issue 8