Interpreting Ceramics | issue 12 | 2010
Articles & Reviews
To Eat, To Die, To Play
Linda Sikora, New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University
Following is a condensed introduction and approach to the above broad topic. My point of departure is two fold. One is from that of a medium specific practitioner working in the genre of functional ceramics/pottery (often an entry point for many who work with ceramics).
At Alfred University, my current employ, I teach undergraduate classes in this genre and advise at the undergrad and graduate level across genres. Secondly, I administer a program and work within a school whose strength is its studio-based program. It offers a non-major track of study at the undergraduate level and, three graduate programs based in fields of study, one being Ceramic Art, which support both specificity and multiplicity in theory and practice. The primary interdisciplinary activity in ceramics (not including cross-genre activity within the arts) is that of engineering and art, directed at materials research and, more recently, including 3D digital processes. Inter-institutionally we are working with the Central Academy of Fine Arts, City Design School in Beijing (a ceramic design program with factory internships – a linking of individuals on a ‘design education’ track and the phenomenal skilled labor force in China) and, beginning initiatives that involve upcoming collaborations with architecture and industrial machining/ design/fabrication programs at our neighboring SUNY institution, Alfred State.
In lieu of detailing the preceding, my introduction gestures towards the topic at hand by reflecting on the creative process and means by which genre specificity may be addressed - in its own right and, as a place from which multiplicity may issue forth. Following are two examples of addressing a traditional ceramic genre of specificity in this age – functional pottery. Sandwiched between these examples are a few comments on depth. The three sections, which are also three places from which to read/listen and teach are:
1. To Eat:
At one point the protagonist in the above soundtrack contemplates that he too is one of the objects in the room and will ultimately end up eating himself. In contemplating this, he wonders: ‘... if his mouth had to slowly fold over and around his own body wouldn’t the things his eyes had taken all those years to get inside of him soon be dumped out of him as he ate inward’. 2
This is a real question for someone who is eating the world and for anyone working their way through a world of objects, whether or not they have figured out how to eat them. It is a question of desire and knowledge – it is also a question about the meaning of objects, objects as performative, our assumptions about objects and space and, what it means to see:
‘I am I not any longer when I see’, said Gertrude Stein. 3
When one is truly engaged in seeing the world, the self (the ‘I’) disappears. The self is eaten. If one is truly seeing a cup, the cup disappears too.
2. To Die:
There is a multiplicity of non-repeating patterns that emerge in the imagination when one thinks of the longstanding and newly forming links and connections between disciplines taught in institutions of learning.
Within the theory and analysis of a discipline we can construct extremes or micro contexts. Although we may use theory and analysis to tease things apart; in culture and in practice, everything is connected. Multiplicity is a ubiquitous state.
This question of specificity and multidisciplinary is far from a new question for educators. In relation to this question, it seems two elemental patterns of research in the arts have been differentiated and can be described as ‘lateral and ‘vertical’. Metaphorically, we see the lateral movement as horizontal/breadth/expansive/multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary, and we understand vertical as depth/excavation/intense focus/specificity.
In considering these elemental ‘x’ and ‘y’ axes alone, one can cover extended territory either by eating their way across the universe or burrowing down through the earth and beyond. Quantitatively, the accumulated knowledge/experience gained by traveling each axis may be commensurate. If we agree that the 21st century embodies living into complexity and difference – is breadth or depth more qualitative, valid, relevant, or urgent for contemporary culture? Does one occur at the expense of the other or are they inextricably connected too?
As a medium specific practitioner teaching/advising within and across visual art genres, this question of breadth/depth is a lived question.
Regarding depth, I have followed Helene Cixous to the ‘School of the Dead’. In Cixous’ book Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, she takes us into the discipline of writing by first going to the ‘School of the Dead’ where we ‘ascend downwards’ - ascend because it takes effort to move downward – resistance is felt as if moving upwards against gravity:
To enter the creative process (Cixous’ ‘to live’), is to take oneself to the edge of life, to the edge of losing oneself.
This edge is commensurate with MacLennan’s and Stein’s places of disappearance:
Edges create energy:
Question: If I am going to speak of collaboration, must I also speak of desertion?
Question: Should we attend to, more acutely, the proximity of disciplines, whether or not they cross, and would this not present the most ‘preposition-ally’ profound possibility?
3. To Play
Winter Couplet uses two small teacups as a sound source – the teacups are ‘played’ and the sound registered in two small speakers in cardboard tubes.
(Copyright: New Plastic Music; Artist: Steve Roden – a sound piece inspired by the architecture of Shigeru Ban (b. 1957 Tokyo, Japan, known for use of elemental/recyclable materials – has used paper tubes as structure for refugee shelters and temporary public buildings.)
Listen now: Linda Sikora
Postscript: Follow Up Discussion (Q & A Session)
© The copyright of all the images in this article rests with the author unless otherwise stated
To Eat, To Die, To Play Issue 12