Sunday, March 25, 2012

Launch of Hon's video titled, and the ship sails on. Solo Exhibition @ Elegance Jewellers; 27 March at 18:00

Solo Exhibition by Eugene Hön: ‘and the ship sails on’
A solo exhibition of ceramics, jewellery, drawings, artists books, projections.
Elegance Jewellers, Melrose Arch Johannesburg

There is something compelling and disturbing about beauty.  Beautiful objects; ‘idols’ are made to be self-contained, self-referential, self-sufficient. They are valued for their own sake rather than for their function or utility.  An object imbued with beauty detaches itself from its function and ultimately from its maker and in the process makes itself complete asserting its autonomy.  For this reason, objects that possess beauty have an uncanny hold over human beings because they, like us seem autonomous. Idols, unlike fetishes and totems, as WJT Mitchell argues in his book What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images , are objects so beautiful that they possess extraordinarily seductive powers, the ability to make demands on us humans. They entice their viewers, collectors, owners, lovers. Idols want more than just love and fidelity. Like the deities they often represent, idols crave worship and human sacrifice! One would guess, following Mitchell, that objects of extreme beauty appear to us humans as quintessentially self-aware which makes them powerfully seductive.  It is no wonder then that throughout history exquisite objects have fascinated and seduced and ultimately posed a threat to the authority of the rich and powerful. What better symbol to encapsulate the power of the exquisitely beautiful image, the image as idol, the sublime capacities of terrible beauty than the archetypal Chinese Dragon?  And what better art to embody the idea of beauty, idolatry, autonomy and self-containment than that of ceramic practice? Eugene Hön latest body of work is committed to and celebrates this idea of the power of beauty.

Launch of the video, and the ship sails on. 
Animator Lukasz Pater.
Videography: Hannes Botha.
Editing /sound design Mocke J Van Veuren. 
View the ceramic installation with projected animation titled, and the ship sails on,  follow link to YouTube. The editing and sound design; Mocke J Van Veuren - view his videos at Vimeo.

What strikes one in engaging with Hön’s work is his fascination with the creative process. This is especially evident in his sketchbooks where the artist’s marks, notations, visual references comingle into painstakingly rendered forms that are pregnant with symbolism and beauty. The process of drawing for Hön is analogous to a crucible for form making or better yet the work of the kiln. The exquisitely cross-hatched ball point sketches seem to evolve automatically (in the Surrealist sense) with each skein of mark-making carefully overlaid with the next to produce an enigmatic form. Paging through his books it is as if the symbols and forms congeal and manifest on page through the chemistry of heat, wind and water.  Hön’s sketchbook forms remind one of the way in which currents the movement of water, wind, fire shape forms. The forms on these pages, although they are ‘designed’, appear to have manifested from natural processes reminiscent of Da Vinci’s seemingly effortless studies of water, knots, plants and clouds. And the ship sails on, a ceramic installation first presented at the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture Collaborations/Articulations exhibition in 2012, now reformulated as a projection provides a generous insight into the artist’s modus operandi (Follow link to view video at You Tube).  Hön is able to integrate all of elements of his practice: sketches, formal designs, ceramic practice and now motion into seamless, aesthetic wholes.  Whether Hön is experimenting with the ceramic surface, designing jewellery, his work is a testament to fascination provoked by beautiful forms.

Neglect, regeneration
However, that being said, it may be argued as Peter Dormer has, in his introduction to The Culture of Craft that crafts such ceramic practice, are modes of human endeavour that are largely neglected today because of industrialisation, mass production, modernity and more recently post modernity. Under the spectre of modernity, the ceramicist thus seems to signify a certain arcadian nostalgia and loss; a yearning for time when art was linked to authenticity, truth, beauty and virtue.  For many, the crafted object epitomises John Ruskin and William Morris’s ‘old world’; a time when consumable objects were not the product of alienated labour or the machine, when there was a possibility that the beauty and embellishment monopolised by the aristocracy could find its purchase everywhere. Specifically, the ceramicist today emblematises through the complexity of their individual labour a time when the relationship between human and object was more direct, unaffected, immediate and sensuous.  One thinks here, for example, of Jose Saramago’s humble, elderly potter character Cipriano Algor in The Cave who, in the face of the proliferation of inexpensive plastic kitchenware gives up his practice, retires and and moves to the metropolis and ultimately alienates himself from his own existence.    Similar to this is A.S. Byatt’s tempestuous character, the master ceramicist Benedict Fludd who, in The Children’s Book, is plagued by violent self-doubt because, as the novel implies, his identity as a ceramicist has been made redundant by the emergence of art Nouveau, the fashion industry, the industrialisation of culture, mass production at the turn of the 19th century.  The title of the exhibition registers these difficulties with resonance. And the ship sails on, as a title, is at once an assertive and a resigned statement. On the one hand it laments the disappearance of craft and ceramics in an industrial society and on the other hand it assertively resists this.

Craft, rhythm and disruption.
For Hön, ceramics must ‘sail on’. However, for him, it seems, in order to do this it must somehow simultaneously retain its commitment to humanity and history and evolve to address a new set of societal conditions where mass production, standardisation, high technology and cultural fragmentation are the norm. It is no surprise, given his optimism around an expanded practice of ceramics, that Hön evokes the symbol of the Dragon, an image that, in essence, represents the generative principle of life (creator of rain, fertility, the lengthening of warm days, rhythm), the pure product of imagination (bird, snake, pig, rainbow, water, deer, demon, crab, carp, ox); a symbol that is known to unite opposites- pattern and chaos, death and life, the old and the new, creation and destruction, anima and animus within itself. It is notable that in his ceramic installation And the ship sails on the dragon is cast as a playful, trickster figure that enters into the static, duck decoy ceramic configuration and disrupts the uniformity of the ceramic installation with its playful and rhythmic embellishments. In a simple gesture, Hön dramatises the dragon as a figure that disrupts tradition, in this case the tradition of surface decoration in ceramic practice. Hön’s recent interest in animating the ceramic surface and employing ceramic thinking as a catalyst for other forms of form-making such as body adornment, photography, the artist’s book speaks powerfully to Hön’s commitment to the relevance of beauty and craft in contemporary society.  

Written by Brenden Gray

He is a lecturer in Graphic Design/Communication Design at FADA (Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture) at the University of Johannesburg. He is a practicing artist, arts writer, arts critic and published researcher. In 2010, Gray was awarded his Masters in Fine Art from Wits University (cum laude) in which he investigated the dialogical potential of drawing in informal settings. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Phumani Paper's Archival Packaging; Hon's limited edition of artist's sketchbooks.

Artist's limited edition sketchbooks.
Archival packing designed and constructed by Phumani Paper.
Today I paid a visit to the University of Johannesburg’s Archival Paper Mill, the handmade paper making research unit, associated with Phumani Paper.  A craft industries job creation venture, started my Kim Berman many years ago, linked to the Faculty of Art Design and Architecture’s printmaking unit, within the Department of Visual Arts. At one point 21 centres were set up across the country to facilitate handmade paper skills development programs mainly from invader flora and recycled materials. The unit grew substantially and eventually the R&D unit was established to ensure technological advancement in support of the handmade paper business ventures. Sponsored by the Department of Arts and Culture as well as research grants, Phumani Paper became arguably the most accomplished craft development initiative in the country.  The reason for my visit was to deliver a peony pattern print on acid-free paper that will form part of the archival paper constructed packaging for my limited edition artist sketchbooks – patterned inserts to give the final product that handcrafted decorated edge.

Sipho admiring his masterfully crafted archival packaging products

Featured here are the final products, both the leather-bound and foiled limited edition of artist sketchbooks (image on the left) and the Phumani Paper packaging (image above). The books were delivered this morning. It was a very special moment, when Sipho, the master crafts person who designed and beautifully constructed the boxes, submitted the products to see the envisaged end result. 
The choice of handmade paper and the colour was just perfect, ensuring an integrated and complimentary end result. The finishing touch of inserting a sleeve decorated with colourful peonies will add a decorative and luxurious touch of exclusivity to the end result. The final product will only be seen at the exhibition. It is always good to have that element of a surprise. Not to show and or share too much before the opening.

I spent some time at the archival paper mill located at the University’s Doornfontein Campus, and took some images of the papermaking and recycling process. This particular Hollander beater paper-making machine (first created in 1680) featured here was developed and improved upon in close collaboration with Centre’s of Excellence in the United States.  

Today the unit lends support on many levels to local artists and crafts people that wish to pursue creative art works in handmade paper. Every aspect of the craft is explored and developed here to great effect. A reputable research unit that has reached master craftsman status since it‘s humble beginnings many years ago. The meticulously crafted boxes satisfy on all levels, to this fact I can honestly testify.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hon's final preparations for his solo exhibition; printing, signing and framing the drawings.

Signing the limited edition of drawings, printed on acid-free paper
at the framers, The Art Room in Parhurst.
I am in the final phase of preparing for the solo exhibition, sixteen days to go. The invitation has been designed, ready to be sent out. The drawings were printed and are at the framers, the ceramic decoy-ducks are being guilded. The artist’s drawing book, printed on acid-free paper and bound in leather, available for sale in a limited edition are being bound, with my logo foiled in gold on the cover. Each book will be beautifully packaged in archival acid-free paper constrcuted boxes. One of which will be auctioned off for a student bursary.
A limited edition drawing printed on acid-free paper.
Artist's drawing book, bound in leather and packaged.

The printer of the limited edition of ballpoint pen drawings on acid-free paper was Amichai Tahor. Lightfarm, his digital production studio, is situated in Clamart House, Richmond in Johannesburg. The drawings will be framed in white mounting board and white frames to best showcase the body of preparatory and final drawings – the majority of which formed the basis for the development of the projected animation. 
preparatory drawings for the decoy-duck
Various combinations of patterns were developed for both the prints of the peonies and the water. A select few showcased here (below). 
One very large drawing of the water is particularly special, the patterns of which form the background for the invitation, to be featured on the blog within the next few days – watch this space. 

The drawings had to be signed in graphite pencil before they could be framed (see title image above). Each had to have a title and numbered to ensure authenticity. This was done at the framers, and was a very nervous undertaking to say the least. 
My handwriting is not my best, especially in a digital age. Doing it on the limited edition of digital prints; directly on the expensive German Etching slightly textured paper (310 gsm), made it that much more difficult. Having the support and encouragement of the framers made the experience less traumatic. 
The selected framer was The Art Room, shop 3, no 22, 4th avenue, Parkhurst, Johannesburg.  Follow the gallery / framer on Facebook. 
Interior of Gallery/framer The Art Room
4th Avenue Parkhurst.

I also had to sign the limited edition of digital prints, photographs (stills) of the ceramic installation with projected animation – printed on glossy paper Photographs by UJ Photographer - Jan Potgieter. Signing these were a nightmare. I used a permanent marker, which made the going even tougher. They are being framed in in black mounts and frames in sharp contrast to the ballpoint pen drawings (white mounts and frames).