A contemporary history of clay

Transcending notions of time, form and specificity, clay has been used as a sculptural medium for centuries. Through a cross-generational dialogue, the group show TERRA traces the use of clay from the 1950s with works by Lucio Fontana, and progresses into the contemporary practice of a younger generation, contextualizing the medium today.

In Europe, more specifically Milan, Lucio Fontana began working on the creation of sculptural objects and panels in ceramic, attracted by the earthly qualities intrinsic to the medium. Fontana thus described his experience with clay- “The material attracted me, I could press pure pigment on to it which the heat of the kiln would then amalgamate. The kiln was a kind of intermediary: it made the form and colour permanent.”

A tactile and performative quality is found in the use of clay, whereby the artist engages in an intimate contact with the earth, resting their flesh onto the raw material, and by tearing, spinning, pressuring, they engage their entire body, creating a symbiotic relation to the work. This material quality of the medium continues to inform the practice of artists such as Florence Peake, who delves into this dynamic which is brought to life in her performative works.
Often associated with archaeological findings, clay vestiges have been conductive to deciphering anthropological histories. Jonathan Baldock and Lindsey Mendick explore a contemporary language through ceramic pieces as “vessels of communication“ by incorporating symbols and visual associations in a reading of the old and new.
Mai-Thu Perret continues her ongoing investigation on feminist politics through ceramic works that address the medium’s entrenched association with femininity within a patriarchal canon.

The firing of clay, an enigmatic stage of the creation process, reveals an esoteric quality to the medium. Works entering the kiln as a dense and unified matter, may exit it as frail objects, sometimes cracked and perhaps broken, as the work of Laurence Owen demonstrates. The artist therefore surrenders the control over their creation to an unpredictable transformation within the kiln.
With many more interpretations and dialogues, this exhibition is an opportunity to examine the breadth and depth of themes addressed by this medium through a contemporary lens.