Saturday, June 16, 2012

Surfaces in a digital age, beyond the gloss. Seminar presentation (only thoughts)

Robert Dawson, Willow Pattern with Uncertainty.
This blog entry is a follow-on from a R&D seminar I presented at the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA) last week. The topic as captured in the title of the presentation, is an extension of an article published in Art South Africa titled, the Ceramic surface, a virtual crossover
The title refers to my latest work tiled, and the ship sails on - a ceramic installation with projected animation - image above (to view the video - follow the link provided to Youtube). The quote below provides a glimpse into the meaning behind the work and the focus of the published article including the seminar presentation published here.
The challenge for me as a ceramic sculptor was to create a conventional ceramic installation that would be transformed by a colourful, surface orientated, projected animation. The final statement had to celebrate embellishment. With its painted white base and plain slip sculptures, the installation was intended to allude to a blank canvas. In contrast, the projected animation had to be the transforming instrument, embedded in the ceramic craft tradition of surface decoration.

For the seminar presentation, I had to address a wider audience, consider all creative disciplines, especially those offered at FADA (beyond ceramics), the end result lands up being an all-inclusive and broader context for my own work. 
Hence the title, surfaces in a digital age, beyond the gloss. I therefore extended the range of reference material to include surfaces in contemporary crafts, product design, architecture and even food (images above). 

I started the proceedings by referring to archetypal ceramic statements that lead me to this point - because I am a ceramist and because for thousands of years we had history defined in terms of shards; ceramic forms shapes and surfaces from archaeological digs.  This presentation is merely a collection of thoughts – a concept for an article. It hopefully provides exciting visuals and reference material, insight into contemporary breakthroughs in surface development.
Contemporary Architects, designers and craftspeople are all obsessed with surfaces (be it texture, the form and or structure); even we as humans have become more obsessive about our skin. Recent obsessions include a fascination with tattoos - to express ourselves in a globalized society. Research into looking younger; Botox injections and reconstructive surgery, together with an ever increasing available range of anti-aging creams on the markets (even for men - Nivea for men), demonstrates our obsession in this regard.

CERAMICS.The first slide marks a changing point in history for ceramists and more specifically potters, when Kati Tuominen-Nittyyia was announced the Grand prix winner of the 5th International Ceramic Competition Mino'98 Japan.  She did so by submitting an altered white classical vitrified dinner plate titled, White Moon. The plate, the structure of which was flattened to one side, morphs into a disc, synonymous with the moon (hence the title). This award winning work, featured on the cover of the competition brochure / catalogue ironically titled ‘Poterie’, marks the end of an era. Eating off plain white plates (rather than pottery),has become trendy and fashionable, it adds to a concept of a healthier and cleaner lifestyle (show off the food best), but it is also more durable, almost unbreakable - see quote (slide above); echoing the desires of consumers as confirmed by Domer in 1997 in his book a Culture of Crafts. The surface is stripped of all decoration - almost modernist in its simplicity (form follows function) - equipment for serving food and stripped of embellishment because decoration was a crime.
This slide refers to the work of Robert Dawson, his contribution to contemporary surface development is the digital manipulation of traditional ceramic transfers, especially the  Chinese 18 century Willow Pattern and decorations on Victorian Tile . He refashions  traditional surface decoration digitally - his ceramic statements are firmly rooted in the present.

Jennifer Mccurdy's complex ceramic vessels looks computer generated (3D modeling systems). The forms and shapes determines the surface decoration (intuition). In fact these intricate pieces, are actually thrown. She then uses two metal ribs, one inside and one outside, to shape her cylinders. McCurdy flutes certain pieces, which she does by spinning the wheel faster and letting centrifugal force take over. Next, she traces the aspects she will carve with her index finger. “I cut away parts of the structure, which lets the movement take its course, but other times I shape it.” McCurdy uses a utility knife and a Kemper R3 trimming tool, carving curves on top of curves. “I try to think about building up and taking away, ending up with an organic-looking piece. ”Then, when the pieces are still greenware, McCurdy sands them before firing them to cone 10. But she often uses the kiln in strategic ways to experiment with their structure, such as firing pieces upside- down or in a chuck. Jennifer McCurdy's work may look like it is based on the natural environment, but it is actually based on the thrown form. 
The title of the ceramic work shown above says it all - white porcelain glazed with wool decoration. The ceramic product comes with the embroidery kit of your choice.

I next referred to the work of Marek Cecula - especially his Porcelain Carpet (porcelain plates with digital  transfers). The work draws parallels between products functions (utilitarian, decorative and expressive) as determined by its manufactured materials - the ceramic product being fragile and therefore more precious. His work in dust real (burned again) questions the validity and authenticity of industrial ceramics, by subjecting the products to a third firing -  in a Japaneses wood-fired kiln (an act of sacrilege). The final ceramic statements is arguably the most progressive ceramic surface statement of the decade if not the era. East meeting west (the merging of cultures - creolization) - the surface playing host to a variety of interpretations, depending on your own point of reference. I often look at images of the work (especially the stacked works) and it reminds me of the holocaust. 

DESIGNERS, like Devorah Sperber (work above), have for sometime now, embraced a craft aesthetics to make statements such as this fine example - the use of Letraset marker caps to make a carpet. Viewed from a distance, it begins to form a cohesive whole, especially through the convex viewing mirror on the wall. The image of a Persian carpet takes shape before our eyes, rich in colour and surprisingly real, yet completely artificial at the same time - see caption in slide for concept. 

ARTISTS. Last October, Ai Weiwei unveiled Sunflower Seeds, an installation of over 100 million porcelain replicas of tiny black-and-white seeds, filling the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. The little objects were fabricated by some 1,600 artisans from Jingdezhen over the course of two years. The piece was intended as a kind of interactive carpet, where visitors could walk on the field of ceramic seeds. “Each piece is a part of the whole, a commentary on the relationship between the individual and the masses. The work continues to pose challenging questions: What does it mean to be an individual in today’s society? Are we insignificant or powerless unless we act together?” Sunflower seeds have a particular significance in China, where they are a popular street food. During the Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao was often depicted as the sun and the people as sunflowers tilting toward him.
Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn” includes examples of Ai’s unprecedented use of Neolithic and Han dynasty vessels as readymades that the artist subjects to a variety of procedures. These include marking centuries-old clay urns with hand-painted inscriptions of the “Coca-Cola” logo, dipping them into vats of industrial paint, smashing them on the ground in performances for the camera, and grinding the vessels into powder. “Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn” seeks to infuse a polemic to the discourse about ceramics in the region and expand the scope of this discussion to include the broader concerns of international contemporary art.

ARCHITECTURE: Recent innovations in computational techniques, material systems and fabrication processes have revolutionized the design and manufacture of surface structures for architecture. These breakthroughs provide architects and engineers the knowledge and expertise  to apply their creative design skills to techniques and knowledge in the design application of folded plates, shells, and tensile membranes in a broad variety of materials (Adaptive Material Technologies). The quest for thinness and lightweight design translucent – (cement or concrete) is reaching unprecedented sophistication. Not only are computational form-finding and analysis robust, reliable, and advanced, but significant progress is made in high performance materials, smart materials, and intelligent systems. 

Architects have to embrace the role of artists especially as sculptors (with increasing knowledge of semiotics) as they form and shape our world and space with increasing creativity, incorporating surface textures, patterns and decoration - to enhance our environment, far beyond the constraints of form follows function (modernism - decoration is a crime).

Some of the most advanced lenses and fiber optical structures are not made by human manufacturers, but by marine organisms, such as brittle stars and deep-sea sponges. Nature is likewise responsible for some of the most complicated engineering principles, demonstrated by a squid that changes color and surface texture to blend in with its surroundings. Impressed by the way certain plants and animals adapt to their environments, members of the Adaptive Material Technologies Platform are looking for innovations at the bottom of the sea and from plants in a garden. Applying these natural design principles in new ways could result in materials that spontaneously darken in bright sun and roofs that expose tiny hairs to prevent ice from forming, collect water from rain, or harness energy from wind.

ARTISTS, ARCHITECTS and ENGINEERS working together. A recipe for success, applying collective intelligence to design and construct the ultimate in understated public spaces. The design of the pavilion allows for the water (pond) to hover above a utilitarian space below, acting as a roof, just above the surface. Splitting heaven and earth, as the water reflects the sky, the ultimate in green design, a pavilion that provides visitors to the park with a safe haven against the unpredictability of the British climate. The contemporary structure is an intersection between heaven and earth - environmental art and architecture.

Bravo Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei. The pavilion is innovative and yet it defies the breakthroughs of ostentatious contemporary structures built with the latest applied material technology mentioned above. Why you may ask, the architects statement below says it all. Herzog & de Meuron expressed pleasure with the finished pavilion, with the former explaining that the structure’s subdued presence was intentional. “We are in a beautiful park, and you don’t want here an object that’s crying, ’Look, I’m the pavilion of 2012.’” Ai Weiwei had this to say, “We focused on memory and the past,” Ai said of the subterranean design, “We made a study to dig into the meaning of this total act and from that a very interesting result came out, which I think gives this pavilion a new meaning.” 

MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY. (FOOD) Many of the molecular gastronomy techniques used by restaurants all over the world have been created by Ferran Adria. Using chemicals and additives, Ferran Adria changes the basic characteristics of food to change textures and intensify flavors. 

He is the creator of foams made with a siphon, airs created by emulsifying the foam on food that has liquefied, liquid spheres using the spherification method based on the reaction of an alginate with calcium and many others which are explained on this molecular gastronomy website. 
Reverse Spherification is more versatile than Basic Spherification as it can make spheres with almost any product. It is best for liquids with high calcium content or alcohol content which makes them great for cocktails and dairy products like cheese, milk, cream and yoghurt. 

His restaurant closed - guests feasted on a 49-course menu. containing dishes with baffling names such as 'mimetic peanuts and 'clam-merengue' – the fifty diners lucky enough to secure a place at what has become arguably the world's most revered restaurant when it opened its doors to paying customers for the very last time. 

Origami products versus the craft and design of folding. Paul Jackson has written 30 books on origami.  However when he started to focus on paper art and or more specifically the craft and design of folding paper, teaching the process to a variety of students from all disciplines, that he started to have major breakthroughs. It is not really so much about the origami products as it is about the process and the application thereof - depending on ones discipline specific needs and the creative application of the lesson learnt.  Today he is married to the chair of the origami centre in Israel. No wonder architects in this part of the world build structures like these - the images above speak for themselves. the result is not that successful - but as architects embrace and address the expressive as part of their skills transfer and technology - we should see better design and integrated results.