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Canadian Clay Symposium - a recap

The Canadian Clay Symposium this past March at the Shadbolt Centre in Burnaby drew enthusiasts from across BC, Washington State and further afield, all attracted to the potent mix of highly skilled artists, topical discussions, and social connections that have characterized previous events. Registrants were able to pick and choose from a plethora of dynamic presentations, as well as browse through a trade show marketplace and view several on-site exhibitions, including the Mug Wall, Road Show, Presenters’ exhibit, Makers/Collectors display, a K-12 digital show, and the Mobile Airstream Gallery show “Form”. The Maker Labs organization had a display highlighting the potential of using 3-D printing and CNC technology in ceramics.

Several of the guest artists were paired up giving simultaneous demonstrations. Katrina Chaytor and Samantha Dickie shared information on the creation and use of plaster molds, both traditional and paper plaster techniques. Sunshine Cobb and James Watkins shared personal anecdotes while working on typical signature pieces, Sunshine cutting and piercing a basket, James throwing a variety of forms. Watching Ruthann Tudball and Simon Levin’s simultaneous demo was like observing a tennis match; the audience turned their heads back and forth during this pottery match, cheering and in awe of their techniques. Simon worked slowly, while Ruthanne moved quickly and you had to force yourself not to blink or you would miss her moves!

Vancouver sculptor Brendan Tang moderated the “Cyber Craft” panel, which included Katrina Chaytor, Sunshine Cobb, Aaron Nelson and Steven Young Lee. As the digital world collides with the ancient material world of clay, Brendan framed the conversation around words like ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ to give each of the presenters an opportunity to discuss how their own analogue practice with clay has intersected with the digital world. Topics covered in this panel ranged from Kickstarter campaigns, 3D printing technology, and fuel efficiency afforded by computerized gas kilns, to mining the decorative language of computer iconography and the opportunities artists have to soften the clinical and often very digitized world of medical treatment with the intervention of handmade objects.

Even with the theme of technology meets tradition, there remains a palpable hunger for knowledge of process and skill development. The Symposium reflected the current shift in the practice of ceramics requiring clay artists to employ a variety of technologies beyond hand-building, wheel-throwing or traditional firing methods. Artists were invited to explore and embrace new ideas and approaches to making that are now possible through the use or integration of technologies. A sage observation from Ruthanne Tudball helped put the theme into context. Ruthanne pointed out muscle memory is controlled by the right side of the brain, while talking and communicating employs the left side. Using both sides simultaneously is a difficult skill to master - like synchronized use of both analogue and digital skills. For many makers in clay, the focus is on the analogue; getting our hands dirty, employing muscle memory and our right brain. The shift to the left brain, to digital technology and a multi-media approach is slower, less natural and yet necessary as we understand and incorporate new approaches to making and more tangible ways of communicating our intentions and love of this material to others.

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