Strange Clay: Ceramics in Contemporary Art at Hayward Gallery
Clay is probably the most tactile of mediums, one of the most ancient and easily accessible but also one of the most volatile and unpredictable in terms of the essential blind luck of the firing process. It is also one of the most unforgiving of mediums and simplicity of form can be one of the hardest things to achieve. It is an ever-present in our lives from the tiles on our bathroom wall to the cups we drink our tea and coffee from, so ubiquitous that it melts away from our conscious perception.
Strange Clay brings together work by 23 different ceramicists, over half of whom are based in the UK. There are well-known names Grayson Perry and Edmund de Waal alongside lesser-known artists. The first room belongs to Jonathan Baldock’s Facecrime (2019). It combines anarchic clay tubes with disembodied lips and pipes expelling uncomfortably bulbous shapes with clay coins stamped with emojis and baskets of dismembered stuffed toys. It is haphazard but successfully unsettling.
Lubna Chowdhary’s series of ceramic tiles (Signs, 2022) achieves a depth of colour in the glazes, glossily lucent, and precise geometry in the design. Emma Hart also works in tiles, creating “windscreens” (various, 2018) of ceramic tiles fitted into metal folding frames. The tiles work on both sides which must have taken some planning and skill. One side is the view into the car, the other view is what the passengers in the car would see, so there are manically zig-zagging roads on green hills and lights through pouring rain. The series is mysterious and ingenious.
Lia Jianhua’s Regular/Fragile (2002-2003) recreates everyday objects in spectral white porcelain. There are nearly 1,000 objects from teddy bears to motorbike helmets to old-fashioned phones that evoke the fragility of human life through rendering permanent the ephemeral detritus we leave behind.
Lindsey Mendick creates a nightmare vision of domesticity, fraught with unseen forces spilling over in Till Death Do Us Part, 2022. The dimly lit room shows several tableaux of rooms in a house. A dining table lurches into chaos, a toilet houses a kraken, the kitchen is the scene for a battle royale between mice and slugs (each figurine in a hat: top hat with red feather for slugs and tricorn with green rosette for mice). In the main arena of the kitchen floor, the slugs seem to be dominating but if you look into one cupboard, the mice have commandeered a container of salt to the slug’s detriment. It is both a meticulously made, fully realised world (from the 3D stained glass of a lampshade to each character’s motivation) and utterly bonkers.
There is plenty here to amuse and amaze, from the gleefully strange to the formally accomplished. For those who like pottery, it is a must-see.
Image: Lubna Chowdhary
Strange Clay: Ceramics in Contemporary Art is at Hayward Gallery from 26th October until 8th January 2023. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.