Playing with Fire at the MOA

Ceramics are more than just bowls to gather dust in a cabinet, especially in the cultural commentary present in the works displayed in Playing with Fire: Ceramics of the Extraordinary. The art installation showcases 11 celebrated B.C. artists at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology (MOA) Nov. 22 and runs until March 29, 2020.

There is no doubt that B.C. ceramics is the vanguard of the crafts of Canada,” says Carol E. Mayer, Head of the Curatorial and Design Department at MOA.

This new exhibit will present the viewer with the endless possibilities for clay and its ability to speak as loudly as spoken words.

More than just a brown pot

Many ceramics will be displayedat MOA.

Mayer has been working with B.C. ceramics for 30 years. Feeling ceramics is under-represented in the art world, she has steadfastly encouraged its presentation at the MOA.

“There remains something very special about holding a cup or bowl that is handmade and even knowing who made it,” she says. “I have enthusiastically added pottery to MOA’s collection – we now have a growing collection of about 7000 ceramics from all over the world.”

Mayer wants to showcase ceramics so the public can have a different perspective on this dynamic medium.

“When many people think about B.C. ceramics, the image of a brown pot persists,” says Mayer. “I have done a number of exhibitions based on these beautiful wares and I thought it was time to work on one that was as much about the message as it was about the medium.”

Ceramics and cultural identity

Ying-Yueh Chuang is one such artist displaying her work in Playing with Fire. Chuang came to Canada in the early 90’s with the hope to learn English and go back to Taiwan, but almost 30 years later she is still calling B.C. home.

Deterred by the lack of encouragement in pursuing an art degree in Taiwan, Chuang came to Canada. While taking classes at Langara and Emily Carr University, she found her passion for ceramics.

“I think that a lot of painters usually spend time alone in the studio,” says Chuang. “But clay is a very different thing. It’s a community. You do things together, you help each other, you have food together. That’s why a lot of potters/ceramic artists are good cooks. It’s a really unique thing in the clay community.”

When Chuang isn’t focusing on her ceramic work, she is teaching aspiring students at Kwantlen Polytechnic in Surrey. Being featured in the MOA is a dream of Chuang’s and she is excited to share her works in such a prestigious space.

“I love that museum and the award winning architecture, and I’ve been there so many times. It’s just stunning, the lighting, the collections itself,” she says. “I never thought I would ever, ever, be able to show anything in that museum. So when I was asked I went ‘of course, I’ll do anything!’”

Universal messages in pottery

Carol E. Mayer, Head of the Curatorial and Design Department at the Museum of Anthropology.

In this exhibit the artistic function of clay is being tested, as well as the eye of the viewer. Everything is not as it initially appears. Playing with Fire hopes to challenge our preconceptions about clay as well as the headier issues of censorship, racism, and social injustice.

Clay is much more than a craft medium any child can play with – it’s a medium where the artist is fully present in its creation and presentation.

“We can all pick up a ball of clay and make something – a bowl, a cup, a little statue, whatever,” says Mayer. “However, it takes skill, dedication, perseverance and vision to manipulate that clay into something quite extraordinary – and that is what we have in Playing with Fire: Ceramics of the Extraordinary.”

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