TO BE OF USE: THE FUNCTIONAL CERAMICS OF MIKE HELKE, AYUMI HORIE, AND EAST FORK
Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019 – Sunday, May. 12, 2019
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft is pleased to present To Be of Use: The Functional Ceramics of Mike Helke, Ayumi Horie, and East Fork, a group exhibition that demonstrates the uniqueness, independent spirit, and social relevance found in the handmade, as it compares the different creative paths taken by three makers of contemporary functional ceramics.
As one of the earliest forms of material engineering developed by humankind, ceramics and the production of functional objects has been central to humans’ use of clay throughout history. Since the Industrial Revolution, however, the necessity of handmade ceramic ware has been diminished, just as the development of plastics has made the many ceramic forms originally used for storage obsolete. To make functional pieces by hand today is a choice made by the artist to go against the current of all other means of mass production, and the decision by the user to purchase these pieces represents a clear desire for the unique qualities of the one-of-a-kind over the ubiquity of all other options.
To Be of Use juxtaposes three very different solutions to the challenge posed by making functional work in clay. Portland, Maine-based studio potter Ayumi Horie sees her work as providing a crucial connection between people and their communities—a source for the daily interactions she feels are the primary means of social change. Horie’s use of social media brings followers and patrons from around the world into her remote studio, connecting her finished pots with their method of production and the charismatic personality of their maker. This use of the Web extends to Horie’s social advocacy, including her co-founding of The Democratic Cup, a project that produced a series of cups, created collaboratively by artists and intended to catalyze political conversation, and Pots in Action, an Instagram-based curatorial project featuring ceramic artists from around the world.
Stillwater, Minnesota-based potter Mike Helke has developed a body of work that engages with the traditions of handmade functional ceramics, while standing slightly apart. His forms—cups, mugs, plates, and “pouring pots”—are undeniably functional, but his exploration of the formal considerations of a pot, such as what form a handle should take to be recognizable and useful, make for a subtly uncertain experience. Combined with his seemingly unfinished, unrefined, and haphazard-looking techniques, Helke’s work tests the sculptural limits of recognizable function.
In contrast to the limited studio production of Horie, Helke, and the many other individual potters across the country, East Fork Pottery explores the feasibility of limited-scale industrial production of ceramic dinnerware made in the United States. East Fork began with potter Alex Matisse, whose own ceramic training and earliest production pottery was heavily influenced by the folk ceramic tradition of the Southeast. In recent years, East Fork has pivoted, adding individuals and growing into a company that produces an exclusive line of pieces from a combination of hand and industrial processes. Their ceramic forms, selection of neutral glazes, and appealing seasonal-edition colors—as well as the establishment of both a direct-to-consumer online presence and two brick-and-mortar locations—adopt the strategy of retail industrial design over that of the studio potter.
To Be of Use was curated by HCCC Executive Director, Perry Allen Price. Price described his inspiration behind the show: “Functional ceramics may be among the most ubiquitous objects in a person’s life—who doesn’t have a favorite mug for their coffee? But inviting artist-made pieces into your routine, such as those featured in this exhibition, illustrates the persistence of the handmade to affect one’s daily life in subtle but profound ways.”
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