Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Eugene Hön: “…and the ship sails on” a review by Gordon Froud.

This review of my latest work (solo exhibition at Elegance Jewellers - March 2012) appears in the current issue of National Ceramics (spring 2012, Number 101, page six), the offcial magazine for the local ceramics organisation Ceramics SA. Follow the link to their website for information about local ceramists and more importantly the upcoming National Ceramics Awards Exhibition - the opening and awards (Judge - Daphne Corregan)  ceremony is on Sunday 7 October - see invitation below.

Eugene Hön:   “…and the ship sails on”

This was a remarkable exhibition by an artist that straddles the disciplines of ceramics, sculpture, drawing, artist’s books, digital printing, animation, video or digital projection Installation and ultimately design.

Hön has always been an artist that challenged the boundaries of the accepted canons of visual production, but not in an aggressive and confrontational way, but rather in an intellectual and aesthetic manner that has forced purists of Fine Arts or Ceramics each to admit that there was room for the other and in fact for a hybridization of mediums and forms. He has for years made ceramics like a sculptor, created decals and embellishments like a draftsman or printmaker and has taken his fastidiousness as teacher and designer into his ceramic sculpture.

Cover of latest Issue.
This exhibition was a second iteration of this body of work, - the first being part of the Collaborations/Articulations exhibition at University of Jhb’s FADA Gallery last year. At that showing, Hön and his collaborator Lukasz Pater began to marry the mediums of drawing, animation and ceramic sculpture into an installation. This was arguably the most successful of the collaborations on that show, but still had a tentative feel about it, and the viewer was left feeling that this collaboration could deliver much more. In this exhibition, the ‘more’ has arrived. 
The technical aspects of the animation and projection had been resolved and were accompanied by another whole body of work that referenced the initial installation. The result of which was an elegant, beautiful, thoughtful and provocative exhibition.  Hön has challenged the norms by mixing it up and combining aspects of creative practice in a way that may be seen as heretical to either camp but ultimately, in a Post - Modern way, works as good visual practice. 
I was reminded of the opening lines of Wilma Cruise’s catalogue on Earthworks/Claybodies (2003:3) in which she articulates the struggle of the visual artist in particular with reference to material. She says ‘…it is my contention that whatever the medium the artist uses, be it digital technology or humble clay, the medium should not dictate. It is merely the tool by which the artist wrestles with his/her particular demons” So thereby the role of the artist as visual thinker becomes more important than the sacredness of the material or medium being used. In this work, Hön fuses mediums into a hybrid that is at once ceramic/sculpture and projection. Similarly drawing becomes digital print, which becomes artist’s book.

Hön speaks of this in his article on the ‘Ceramic Surface’ in ArtSA “ …I did not want the ceramic installation to act merely as a canvas for the projection. Rather, the entire work had to reinforce the rich tradition of ceramic discourse. It was vital that the animation embody aspects of the craft of ceramics in its use of symbols, colours, shapes and textures. The animation was at first treated as a surface development exercise realized through preliminary pen drawings. Viewing the projected animation as a surface pattern and the ceramic installation as merely a canvas would have been a travesty, and hence the animation took center stage, clinging to the ceramic installation of slip cast decoy ducks in a new and exciting way – reinforcing the three-dimensionality of the final statement.” (2011:56)

In his exploration of traditional Japanese motifs such as water, sea, fire and the dragon itself, Hön makes them his own as they are not merely lifted from historical vases and vessels, but are hand drawn in an obsessive act of almost automatic drawing with layer after layer of crosshatched ballpoint pen lines employed to capture the form in exquisite beauty. His dragon, with the help of Pater, becomes animated, moving, revealing and concealing the ground plane and the decoy ducks in a manner that is both beautiful and beguiling. The viewer is drawn into the narrative of movement across the surface, we rest when forms are revealed and we journey on once the animation continue on its mesmerizing looped journey.

The title of the show refers to the acclaimed film “…and the ship sails on” (1983) by Frederico Fellini which engages with passage of time, history and ultimately with change. Hön’s work similarly references the state of craft and in fact art too, that as a reflection of history, signifies the passage of time and heralds the notion of change. In all this while, craft, art and the visual experience like Fellini’s ship sails on… even if the end result is something out of place and unusual … a bit like the narrator and rhinoceros in a rowing boat at sea that concludes the film.

There is a power in the making of beautiful objects that move beyond utilitarian function and that function as enticing autonomous objects. This power is in the hands of the artist resulting in an exquisite visual experience magnificently presented in the jewelry display cases at (NAME) an elegant, upmarket venue at Melrose Arch – yet another shift of boundary by Hön, in crossing the norms of showing artwork or craft in a gallery, but this time choosing an alternate space and designing his show accordingly.

Gordon Froud is a leading South African visual artist and senior lecturer in Visual Arts at the University of Johannesburg 

Cruise, W. Earthworks/Claybodies 2003 Johannesburg: Novel Promotions.

Hön, E. The Ceramic Surface. In: LAW – VILJOEN, B. Artsouthafrica Volume 10  issue 02 , Summer 2011. Cape Town: Bell – Roberts. Pp56.

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