Review: Ji Yeon’s Think Tank

Review: Ji Yeon’s Think Tank

The subject of this review is Think Tank: A Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition by Ji Yeon Kim shown at the Anna Leonowen’s Gallery in Halifax N.S. March 12-23 2013 comprising of delightful ceramic sculptures and functional work dealing with the complexities of being a South Korean in Canada. Themes of culture shock, fear and adaption run through each work in the Think Tank, however the show is anything but dark, rather the work is Ji’s joyful manifestation of overcoming difference with a childlike resilience embodied in wonderment and playfulness.

The exhibition is named Think Tank in honor of Ji’s professors Neil Forrest and Rory McDonald. Jars rendered as portraits of all three are the feature of the exhibition (see photo above) and act as repositories for spectators comments written on doilies. With this action the think tank is ever being replenished and expanded. It is a great example of the interaction and playfulness Ji promotes. The original triad has been pivotal to Ji’s progression and studies at NSCAD University. Coming highly technically skilled from previous training in South Korea and used to working in a constrained environment Ji’ explains, “their personalities are really open and they are whimsical, funny individuals” (interview) their interactions allowed her to experiment and play in all aspecting of thinking and making. A sense of coy play permeates all aspects of Ji’s practice. Ji’s studio at NSCAD, a secretive place you must have the a password to get into (for your information the password is “little monster”, shhh!)  “is the gateway to [her] artistic practice; the most important ideas in [her] practice are play, color, culture, language and interaction with people. [Her] work is about more than simple playfulness. It is a ceramic investigation into a cultural adventure” (thesis). With this playful and respectful tone Ji asks us all to take a look at her work and join in her story, a story such that every traveller knows.

Walking into the exhibition we are faced with a wall painted in undulating light blue and lime green lines of color and adorned with more doilies, Ji’s preferred paper to sketch on. These bright colors and sketches are translated straight from Ji’s studio space, it is her way of reaching out to the viewer and an extension of Ji herself, always the bright and cheery artist. The colors mask the white walls of the gallery not only to comfort us but also Ji. Ji is afraid of the color white, for in South Korea white is the color of mourning and so tells the story of death. This fear is actually what led Ji to clay because clay is a warm hue unlike a stark white primed canvas, Ji relaxes when working with the medium. More themes of cultural difference arise as in her artist talk Ji explains how shocking it was to see how Haligonians have old cemeteries in the middle of the city and real estate around them is costly- in Korea ghosts would not be welcoming neighbors. Thus Ji surmises that Canadian ghosts are friendly and ghosts become her mascot in Canada. The three jars we encounter next and sure enough Ji’s self portrait depicts Ji wearing a hat with ghosts on it happily flying around in the night. In her eyes we see drawn a question mark and exclamation mark depicting what every piece in the show communicates. Likewise in McDonald’s portrait shows him dawning his toque, which he always wears, where Ji surmises he keeps all his power and energy and secrets. Forrest’s portrait bares no wrinkles or sign of aging with electric green hair he embodies his youthful demeanor, he has no hat symbolizing his sharing and blunt nature.

Ji says that her work here is more childish compared to what she would have made in Korea, her initial language barrier rendered her verbal communication childish and so she began to artistically communicate using childlike sentimentality. In this way we are reminded that words aren’t even necessary, exchanges can happen in different ways on many levels. The participation aspect is new to Ji’s work and came from a happy mistake, a letting go of sorts. The piece Jay Rider, 2011 is a ceramic rendition of a rocking horse but instead of a horse it is Ji’s dear friend Jay one is asked to mount. Ji had made a similar piece depicting her father in Korea.When she created Jay in Canada the piece developed a hairline crack on the belly, Ji changed her mind and thought, “maybe everyone can ride his back” (interview). Even knowing the crack was there I paradoxically really wanted to participate, even knowing I could literally be the straw that broke the horses back. This exemplifies just how strong Ji’s work draws the viewer in to engage and enjoy.  The crack was liberating and freed Ji to make art objects that physically engage the audience such as Whimsy Whimji Bridge, 2013 a play on the song “The London Bridge is Falling Down” a life size sculpture with hands raised to the sky asking you to join in the game. Further more participants are invited to decorate the white apron worn by the figure, an effort to cover up white voids with meaningful bright human interaction. Ji says, “spaces of play are where children (and adults) get to explore, discover, create and imagine” and so with her work she creates that space for us. In the center of the Anna LeonOwens is the three Think Tank jars,  Whimsy Whimji Bridge and Jay Rider occupy the middle of the gallery floor and on the walls are tiles and plates.  A series entitled Homesick Sometimes, 2013 consists of three self portrait wall tiles narrating Ji’s personal triggers- the cold winter, missing her dogs and culture shock. The pieces are dark yet delightful. Ji uses imagination for comfort and communication. Ji says “life is unpredictable, busy, complicated, and dramatic. It has ups and downs; it can be joyful exultant moments or heartbreaking disappointments… [she] likes to indulge [her]self with daydreams. Sometimes they take [her] away from reality” (thesis) this is something we all feel and need. Further along the gallery wall we encounter Aww Oh! Sign, 2013 a wall piece that protrudes out into the room like a shop sign and depicts a shocked Ji, mouth agape. Ji says many things are shocking about Canadian Culture like marijuana and overt sexuality sometimes her only response is “Aww Oh!” and we’ve all had that reaction before! Next two sets of plates entitled Two Missing Plates, 2012 tell of Ji’s forays into Halifax trying to find ingredients to make Korean food and having no such luck. My personal favorite is Meal with a bowl of rice, soup, and side dishes. At last we see the piece I don’t want to wake up at 9AM because Canada’s winter is too cold, 2012 a set of three plates decorated with sleepy bears unwilling to emerge from the warm covers of their beds. Once again a feeling every Canadian knows well.

Ji’s work is largely autobiographical but anyone who has ever been a foreigner somewhere or spent some time in Canada can relate to the themes put forth by Think Tank and Ji’s personal experience. The exhibition is a profoundly personal one and acts as a reminder to view the world in wonder and stay open minded.

Please take a moment to explore Ji’s past body of work at

Exhibition Review: Position as Desired

Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 10.10.46 PMBody Politics Series,  Explain Balck

Position As Desired / Exploring African Canadian Identity: Photographs from the Wedge Collection is the current temporary exhibition featured in the Ralph and Rose Chiodo Harbourside Gallery at the Canadian Museum of Immigration Pier 21, curated by Kenneth Montague, in Halifax Nova Scotia and the subject of this exhibition review. The exhibition features work from emerging photographers Shyronn Smardon, Megan Morgan, Christina Leslie, Stacey Tyrell and Dawit L.Petros and is accompanied by various contemporary portraits framing vernacular stories of African Canadian identity. The contemporary works are juxtaposed with archival portraiture of African immigrants throughout the 1900’s and document excerpts of Canada’s torrid historical immigration policies.

I wish now to verbally walk you through the gallery examining the various works and exploring their larger conceptual relations to ideas of identity formation through story, the wronging sentiment of tolerance in multiculturalism and the importance of ongoing redefinitions of self and community. I will show how these concepts weave between the three main themes of the exhibition “Historical Perspective, 1990s Identity Politics and Contemporary Viewpoints, intended to overtly or subliminally challenge the “single story” of African Canadian identity” (website) and in tandem critique the curatorial objectives outlined in the exhibition catalogue which are “to introduce the complicated topic of black identity in a multicultural and diasporic setting such as canada…. [and] to reflect on what it means to be African Canadian” (15) to the gallery audience.

Upon entering the gallery space one faces an introductory wall panel that states, “Position as Desired includes a selection of works that promote discussion about how each of us feels about our place in the Canadian landscape”. All photos in the gallery are blocked or obscured by this wall excluding the work Sign by Dawit L.Petros, a portrait of a stoic faced African Canadian mid aged male dressed in a hooded black parka signing something with his hand, the backdrop of the portrait is dark. This is the chosen promotional image for web and print use and so has likely been seen from the view before. But now it spans the wall vertically to five feet. Beside the piece is a quote of Austin Clarke largely written on the wall:

“How do I resist the dermatology of Canadian Culture imbued in me all over these years, and have the racial forwardness to regard myself as African? And why should I? Merely to give my protest a sharper context?… If I permit this am I saying Canadians are white and Africans are Black? And if one is Black one cannot have been born here. One cannot be Canadian.”

The set up is such as to ask ourselves what is a Canadian? Are we seen as Canadian, by who? What are the signifiers that identify one as Canadian? Why these signifiers? It is here we are confronted with the hyphenated idea of Canadianism, a tool used even in the title of the exhibition, Position As Desired/Exploring African Canadian Identity. Position as Desired “introduces new voices in the visual space of the Museum” (Catalog 15) but in doing so expresses a dichotomy of identity specified by geographical heritage. The gallery experience thus far is prefaced by those who have read the media statement or visited the website that display the chosen tag sentence firstly found in explanation body texts: “What does it mean to be African Canadian”? With this we are intrinsically asked “Who is African-Canadian?”. It is these labels one has at hand to self-identify with and claim identity proactively but also these labels that are used to subjugate and exclude. It is a tenuous relation. “It is argued that modern identities are based on binary oppositions of self and other and the notion of fixed homogeneous cultures” (Mackey 313) but in reality this no so. To the viewer without taking the time to discuss and thoroughly read and labels and statements the gallery space still operates within seemingly racist framework, a colonial framework that by complicating works, texts and exhibitions it is struggling to leave behind. Only when reading the exhibition catalog is the piece Sign presented along Old Master style paintings of white rich colonizing males, the much needed context to see though the colonized stigma of museum space and traditional portraiture. Here Position as Desired at Pier 21 has failed to bring forth a story of colonization so poignant to the framework which constricts the institution, a fault perhaps not found its original presentation at the Royal Ontario Museum where Old Master Paintings were displayed adjacent.

“Having a nation is not an inherent attribute of humanity it has now, in modernity, come to appear as such” (McKay 4). Before modernity humans were constricted more or less by the bounds of their terrain and mobility. This is perhaps why the constructed national narrative script relies so heavily on geography based signifiers and to who has claimed physical and emotional ownership of a land. In painting we see this claim evoked in regionalist/nationalist landscape painting. Official nationalist narratives, “constantly mobilize images of land- be it homeland, motherland or fatherland- to do the work of constructing a sense of ‘oneness’ from diverse populations which may never meet face-to-face” (Mackey 312). In Sign the parka worn, “alludes to the Canadian landscape and winter; key markers in the formation of Canadian identity”(Panel). Moving on past the main panel to “Contemporary Viewpoints”the first themed section in the gallery we see that only Shyronn Smardon uses geographical information to speak of identity. The work A Pixilated Image of Africville is just that, a map of photos in color and sepia that show bad, good, old and new elements of the Africville that is no longer: a repressed story of subjugation in the Halifax area. Here we see the artist and museum working against a prescribed collective forgetting, put forth by  by paralleling Pixilated Image of Africville made in 2003 with works from the “Historical Perspective” third and final themed section of the show particularly a 1909 Petition to Council for a community well by Africville residences, a well that was not granted and Bob Brook’s Photographic Portrait of Africville in 1962 and 1965 and collection of photos showing happy interacting families at home.  The plaque accompanying Brook’s montage reads:

“From 1849-1967 Halifax did not extended water, sewer or other municipal services to Africville. In 1962, as part of as part of an Urban renewal strategy, the city began the processes of eliminating Africville be relocating residence and eventually demolishing buildings”.

Without these multiple views and stories a “Mountie Myth” is perpetuated, the idea of Africville as a strong group resisting mainstream culture, “that utilizes the idea of Canada’s tolerance and justice towards minorities to create national identity” (McKay 4) and re-enforce the idea that we Canadians are a united mosaic where signifiers of difference are highlighted and tolerated. The very idea of tolerance deems a thing unwelcome and declares a hierarchy of allowance. As McKay writes, “How can we critically understand a cultural politics seemingly based on inclusion and tolerance rather than erasure and homogeneity”?  The piece Position as Desired, Digital Print by Stacey Tyrell from which the show takes its name depicts four girls on a bench in the United Kingdom during the 60’s the artists mother, of dark skin, is sandwich between three girls of light skin and the photo has been cropped to we only see from their bare knees to their shoes. The photo is a snapshot taken from the artist’s mother’s photo album. By cropping and displaying the photos in such a manner we are offered a new narrative. It is these vernacular tellings that we must actively listen to and let shape our idea of national identity. Curator of Oh Canada, Denise Markonish in her dissemination of what can is or is not be Canadian reminds us of Marshell McLuhan’s famous words, ““Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity” (19) but we are arguably not living well within the colonist storyline. “Tyrell re-photographed the images and in the process not only recontextualized private family images but also revealed the ways in which immigrants of color have negotiated and reconciled their precarious positions in diasporic spaces.” (panel).

This exhibition is what Monica Kin Gagnon puts forth as a Intergreationalist strategy that redresses, “the exclusion of artists of colour in written histories, and countering the enduring misrepresentations that proliferate within the cultural mainstream” (126). The exhibition does this well by contrasting through subjects and the three time period themes of display. The remaining artists in the Contemporary Viewpoints express ideas of heritage and identity visually in a variety of manners. Megan Morgan’s Re-Photography Series navigates thedifficult terrain of her own mixed race identity, adoption, and fragmented family history by re-photographing images of members of both sides of her immediate family”  printing them on wither white, orange of cream colored paper framed in a homogenized standarized wooden frame and displayed in a family tree like map on the wall.  The various color background are seemingly randomly chosen for each image- yet the eye looks to these colors and the shade of varying grey skin tones in hopes to depict pattern, “testing viewers assumptions- an autobiographical study of genealogical connections. However, it is also a window into carious histories and subjectives associated with heterogeneous Black Atlantic identities and a warning against unidirectional and essentialists reading if these experiences within a Canadian context” (Panel).

Moving on though the gallery to the display area of 1990s Identity Politics  “These artists, under the guise of ‘identity politics’ were informed by personal experiences and an acute political consciousness” (panel), their work functions to “refashion and reconstruct” ideas of African Canadian identity. Here we experience the work of  Michael Chambers’ Sunflower 1994 showing a naked black body, considered wild and savage obscured by sunflower a beautiful symbol of nature. Stella Fakiyeski’s  Untitled (from series Target Market), 1999  depicts a black male with a target market drawn his face alluding to hate crimes again blacks at the time. David Zapparoli’s You are just a child, 1992 Shows a child school photo with a “Progress Report” overlay at the bottom it states on a child’s hand “you are just a child”. Lastly of the four displayed together we see Buseje Baily’s Explain Black, 1991 naked portrait of herself a African-Jamacian-Canadian with a paragraph of text projected on her body, the words we can read most are “Explain” and “Black” a work once again questioning the hybridity of us all. These for works are particularly effective for when standing in-front of each you see your reflection super imposed in each portrait, a gesture asking us to question and empathic with the subjects at hand.

Leaving the gallery on the final wall of the Historical Perspective themed section we are confronted with the legacy of Canadian racism, official documents declaring Africans with “climatic unsuitability” as an medical excuse at immigration being turned away or due to a lack of education or skills. It is refreshing to see this story of exclusion told, a narrative so hidden in the Immigration Museum’s permanent display upstairs. It is a reminder of the manner in which broad narratives inform a nation’s idea of what is Canadian is and how those narratives are sanctioned by government and each other when we do not listen or seek out new perspectives. The exhibition effectively deconstructs our notion of what it means to be African Canadian or simply Canadian by bringing forth critical individual narratives to the engaged viewer who is forced to compare the known prescribed national narrative. The constant complicating of our identities and ideas adds to their wholeness and richness. It is an active pursuit to break away from  a hierarchical system of colonization and in the exhibition space such as this that is done.

“Cultural Identity.. is a matter of becoming as well as being. It belongs to the future as much as it does to the past. It is not something which already exists, transcending place, time, history and culture… like everything which is historical [identities] undergo constant transformations… Identities are the names we give to the different was we are position by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of past.”

Stuart Hall (panel)

Works Cited

Canadian Museum of Immigration. Position as Desired, 2012. Pier 21. 29 Feburary 2013 <http://>

Canadian Museum of Immigration. Position as Desired, 2012. Pier 21. 29 Feburary 2013 <http://>

Monica Kin Gagnon, “Building Blocks: Recent anti-racist initiatives in the Arts,” in Ghosts in the Machine: Women and Cultural Policy in Canada and Australia, edited by Alison Beale and Annette Van Den Bosch, 115-130. Toronto: Garamond Press, 1998.

Eva Mackey, “Tricky Myths: Settler Pasts and Landscapes of Innocence,” Settling and Unsettling Memories: Essays in Canadian Public History, edited by Nicole Neatby and Peter Hodgins, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 310-339.

Denise Markonish, “Oh, Canada or: How I Learned To Love 3.8 Million Square Miles of Art North of the 49th Parallel,” Oh Canada: Contemporary Art from North North America, edited by Denise Markonish (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012), 18-53.

Eva McKay, “Introduction: Unsettling Differences: Origins, Methods, Frameworks,” in House of Difference (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998) pp 1-19.

“Position as Desired/Exploring African Identity: Photographs from the Wedgewood Collection.” Canadian Museum of Immigration. Jan. 22 – March. 30, 2013. Panel.

Position As Desired Exhibition Catalog. Canada: Wedge Curatorial Projects on the Occasion of Position As Desired /Exploring African Canadian Identity: Photographs from the Wedge Collection, 2010.

A Paper on Joan Bruneau’s Fiddlehead Platter: Let’s Reclaim Meal Time

Our North American scientific and political histories have taught us to see food as nutrients not whole entities1. Our desire for fuel is devoid of our need for food and all the sensual pleasure accompanying what is put on the table. How is it that art has drifted so far from our tables? How is it that pottery has drifted so far from our food? How is it that food has drifted so far from humanity? What has become of the act of eating? I say act because it is with actions that we learn, test, ask and establish customs, that we question, cultivate and shape our cultures, that we perpetuate value systems and relations. Pottery enables the act of eating. It is the great mediator between our food and ourselves and can literally set the table for crucial conversations. No convivial conversation can take place at the table if we eat alone, rapidly or on the go. If we are to be healthy and have healthy food systems we must eat together and reclaim meal time as a manner in which to question, establish and perpetuate new food systems and traditions. Joan Bruneau, a Nova Scotian potter, has produced wares that ask us to change our perception of food and question our food consumption. This is accomplished by way of her work’s physical form, surface, presence, utility and function2. This paper will scrutinize exactly why and how her work embodies crucial food issues. Joan Bruneau’s work sets the table for vital food education, pleasure and debate in the private domestic  and public spheres, something that needs to happen if we are to live healthy lives.   

Berneau’s work raises many monumental issues around food production and consumption, however, due to the small scope of this paper it is impossible to cover all these pertinent issues. As a result I have selected one platter, Spring Platter with Fiddleheads (see fig. 1), one of many platters made since Bruneau founded Nova Terra Cotta Pottery, Lunenberg Nova Scotia, in 1995 to serve up three major food issues today: 1) We are out of touch with our food and unhealthy due to our privatized industrialization of food systems. 2) Food traditions, rules and education are skewed in the public and domestic spheres. 3) Regular pleasure in communal eating has been lost and must be reclaimed. Bruneau is currently making work for a show entitled Full Circle: Flower Bricks and Serving Vessels for Every Season that opens November 29 20123. These works together demonstrate that food issues have always been at the core of Bruneau’s work.

Fig. 1Joan Bruneau, b. Halifax 1963

Nova Terra Cotta Pottery, Lundenburg, NS, founded 1995

Spring Platter with Fiddleheads, 2006

Nova Scotian earthenware with slip and polychrome glazes

9 hx 53w x 39 d

markings: signed

Collection of Joan Bruneau

photo credit: Peter Eastwood

The platter’s motif of fiddleheads is a pivotal choice in Bruneau’s commentary about current food issues, it “grew from a series of platters designed to represent foods for each season – in this case spring and early summer, with the Maritimes delicacies of fresh fiddleheads and salmon” (Alfodly and Gotlieb 92). Here locality is connected to fauna and fauna to food and food to ceramics, we can see the direct path of Bruneau’s choices. Agriculture is intimately connected to ceramics. “After Man the Nomad settled, one of his earliest needs was to store the bounty of summer’s harvest, to allow him to get through the cycle of autumn, winter and spring before fresh crops were again available” (Hopper 20). This was done through impervious clay storage vessels. How far we’ve come since then, to eat every thing, from everywhere, all the time. We no longer recognized the seasons as a factor of what we eat due to globalized industrial food systems. “In just a few decades the out-of-season vegetable moved from novelty status to such an ordinary item, most North Americans now don’t know what out-of-season means” (Kingsolver 49)  at the sane time “a profit-driven, mechanized food industry has narrowed down our [food] variety and overproduced cornand soybeans. But we let other vegetables drop from the menu without putting up much a fight4” (Kingsolver 54). This a problem Joan Bruneau feels everyday and channels through her work. Do you reside in Nova Scotia? Do you eat fiddleheads come spring? Her platter by way of surface decoration asks you to entertain the idea. It is worth a fight.

Mechanized food systems are not only stripping our environments but, “our addiction to just two crops has made us the fattest people who’ve ever lived, dining just a few pathogens away from famine4” (Kingsolver 54). We believe there to be variety in our grocery stores but we are culling the world’s food to just a few tasteless monocultures5. Bruneau has a big qualm about honey crisp apples, she explains that heritage varieties of Nova Scotian apples “are all dug up and a [honey crisp] monoculture replaces the more diverse culture of apples. Honey crisp are grown espaliered, they are very vulnerable and spindly, and we live in a hurricane zone” (Bruneau, Interview). Bruneau is acutely aware that we must eat locally and seasonally to survive bodily and culturally. For her upcoming show Bruneau is juxtaposing handcrafted platters and slow local labored food with factory plates and main stream factory farmed foreign fruit. Slip cast giant red “Monsanto6” tomatoes will sit upon stark lifeless dollarstore white plates and be entitled “Everfresh” ironically “to counter balance the other pieces in the show meant for certain seasons- decorated with indigenously grown food and foliage and fauna. It is [her] comment about Factory Food on Factory ceramics” (Bruneau, Interview) and a call to action. The exhibition neighbors the Halifax Seasport Market and is key in thinking about the audience Bruneau is hoping to attract. “Somebody who’s a farmer at that market would so get [the Monsanto tomatoes]. They can be a catalyst to draw attention to the pots.” By taking domestic work akin to the Spring Platter with Fiddleheads (see fig. 1) that was designed “from a love of cooking and dedication to the presentation of food” (qtd. in Alfodly and Gotlieb 92), seasonal local food and pairing it with industrial food stuffs that are killing us and our ecosystems and placing it in the public sphere Bruneau is blatantly causing us to question our food values and systems. She is suggesting we could do better and suggests we do so by the sensual enjoyment and pleasure in eating.

Our general actions say we don’t value food. Jamie Oliver’s sure feels so. He states, “People don’t give a toss about what they put in their mouths every day… If you walk around your average supermarket, even though big efforts have been made, there are still lots of products riddled with additives, hydrogenated fats and a whole catalog of fillers-  fake food.” (Oliver 6) Jamie knows this must change. So what should we eat? Micheal Pollan has determined we should “eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants7”(In the Defense 1). North American eaters eat ignorantly out of season industrialized food-ish things synthesized in labs or in factories their growth dependent on chemicals and machines, our industrialized food now seldom touches the hand, with dire consequences. We live in a drastically disconnected and desolate foodscape. “So violent a change in a culture’s eating habits is surely the sign of a national eating disorder. Certainly it would never have happened in a culture in possession of deeply rooted traditions surrounding food and eating” (Pollan, The Omnivore’s 2).

We must make new food traditions and nurture old ones through eating and education8. Our cultures should codify the rules of eating in an elaborate structure of taboos, rituals, recipes, manners and culinary traditions to keep us from having to constantly re-enact the omnivore’s dilemma 9 at every meal but, we inhabit bewildering food landscape where we have to worry that some of those tasty-looking morsels might kill us. (Pollan, The Omnivore’s 4). Knowing what your food really is by buying directly from the farmer eradicates the doubt in your food and connects you to a community invested in combating food issues.  Besides, there is the integrity of something that just tastes really good because its just been picked and you know the person who grew it, if it is a strawberry its not just a visual strawberry, its a flavorful strawberry (Bruneau, interview) you can identify with that farmer and that land and that eating experience. “Preparing and presenting an inspired meal.. affirms our connection to identity, while elevating domestic rituals from banal to beautiful10” (Bruneau, website). The shared beauty of good whole foods and good health fosters respect and interest in their and our cultivation. The “wonderful thing about pottery is that every time [people] use it they identify with it. It ends up representing a memory of a past experience or a dinner party they had. People develop relationships with the objects we make when they use them” (Bruneau interview). So we must use our pots and rally together to see the beauty they give food. According to Marget Visser, renowned author and historian “one of the great eye-openers of the 20th century is the realization that the use of humble everyday objects is not only habitual- which is to say we cannot do without them… but they embody our mostly unspoken assumptions, and they both order our culture and determine its direction. Food is “everyday”- it has to be, or we would not survive. But food is never just something to eat” (12), food is culture.

We’ve arguably been trying to “invent [our] own food culture” (Mowbray 6) in the void of clear traditions. We’ve have established community practices and movements such as farmer’s markets, food co-ops, community gardens, potlucks, slow food11, buying local/eat local challenges and community shared agriculture programs and foodies12. We must cook and eat together to grow and perpetuate healthy food culture. When we cook now, we are never alone we, “bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we’ve ever eaten. Food is never just food. It’s also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and we want to be” (Wizenberg 2). Johnathan Foer explains in his book Eating Animals that food is story and defines us, for his grandmother food, “is not food. It is terror, dignity, gratitude, vengeance, joyfulness, humiliation, religion, history, and, of course, love13” (5). Food is a way of life and life is meant to be shared. Bruneau’s platters by way of their size explicably denote this, they ask us to, “slow down and enjoy the sensuality of eating” (Bruneau, Interview) and share a meal. When you get right down to it, it is “all about pleasure… We know that the fresher the food is and if is grown locally, in a non industrial environment, it is going to taste better. It’s quite basic… it is the same principal in living and using beautiful objects… it is fundamentally about beauty and quality of life” (Bruneau, interview). We know “Good food and good company are two of life’s greatest pleasures, and the dinning room is where these pleasures come together” (Pottery Barn 7). Bruneau’s Spring Platter with Fiddleheads (see fig. 1) when brought to the table is all about drama. Your platters and bowls frame your food, your ideas about food and your enjoyment of that food (Bruneau, Interview). As ceramic guru Robbin Hopper writes, “cooking and serving are closely related” (24) and so is the joy there in, we must do them together as food conscious civilized eaters.

Civilization entails shaping, regulating, constraining, and dramatizing ourselves; we echo the preferences and the principles of our culture in the way we treat our food” (Visser 12). “Eating is an agricultural act, it is also an ecological act and a political act too” (Pollan, The Omnivore’s 4). It is also an artful act. Contemporary Craft Practices, Craft History, Food Science,  Food Politics, Agriculture, and Cultural History accompany us to eat everyday. Bruneau harnesses this power in her work, it is arguably activist work. She knows that the “important thing is to educate the public” (Bruneau, interview) and asks us to learn by eating. The work really is, “a feast for the eyes and a delight to use,” her “intent as a studio potter is to inspire interaction with pots” (Bruneau, website) and with this interaction get us back in touch with our food, perpetuate good food traditions and reclaim joy in eating together, necessary actions if we are to survive.


  1. In The Defense of Food by Michael Pollan is a tome to defend and clarify such a grand statement. The first ten chapters of his eater’s manifesto is dedicated to “The Age of Nutritionism”. It follows the path that science took breaking down our whole foods into nutrients to establish cause and effect in health. The thing is science has failed. Food is far to complex, the nutrient by nutrient approach fails to make us healthy. However, by scientific business standards new claims must be made and a food industry pushes such claims along creating epic food fads. Governments issue dietary guidelines heavily swayed by this industry. My favorite example of corruption is when the American Heart Association in January 1977 put forth guidelines, “calling on Americans to cut down their consumption of red meat and dairy products. Within weeks a firestorm of criticism, emanating chiefly from the red meat and dairy industries” caused the statement to be withdrawn and replaced with “choose meats, poultry, and fish that will reduce saturated fat intake” (23). Politics took us from “cut down” to “choose”.
  2. Please refer to Bruneau’s website <> for a sampling of her work that visually proves my point.
  3. Please refer to the Mary E. Black Gallery website <> for more information in regards to the opening.
  4. Kingsolver’s struggle to ensure heirloom vegetables and animals prosper is humorously depicted in chapter 19 of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life where she rears turkeys to naturally reproduce- something factory farm turkeys do not do.
  5. For an staggering example of what monocultures can do to a landscape and community read “Vanishing Species” (Pollan, The Omnivore’s 38
  6. Monsnato = death.
  7. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That is, more or less, the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy” which Pollan spends all of the book In the Defense of Food defending. He tries to simplify food so we can enjoy good health again and comes up with this subsequent rule- only eat what your Great Grandmother considered to be food. Bread by its label and her standards is no longer “food”.
  8. Food education in schools is so important. Jamie Oliver has taken great steps teach both children and adults about cooking. His pledge it forward challenge, presented in “Jamie’s Food Revolution” is a novel idea. The man is proactive!
  9. “To one degree or another, the question of what to have for dinner assails every omnivore, and always has. When you can eat just about anything nature has to offer, deciding what you should eat will inevitably stir anxiety, especially when some of the potential foods on offer are liable to sicken or kill you” (Pollan, The Omnivore’s 3). This is the dilemma.
  10. Bruneau is demonstrating the beauty of food with her ceramics not just in galleries, show rooms and homes but in print. She feels “the bottom line is beauty and it it really important that platters function, and function is also decoration, and the pieces are as functional as decorative objects as they are as object you use to serve and deliver or display contents”. To exemplify both aspects in functionality and get people involved she is collaborating with Elisabeth Bailey, author of  Taste of the Maritimes: Local, Seasonal Recipes the Whole Year Round. Bruneau knows, “there are foodies that are not visual” (interview) and is using this as a tool to let them see the possibilities.
  11. Bruneau has been part of the slow food movement and through her partners farm is interested  in the preservation of native foodstuffs.
  12. In a personal interview Bruneau confessed, “I’m a huge foodie and I love to cook- Since I’ve lived here I’ve always bought from the farmer’s market and eaten really well. Now my boyfriend is a farmer and grows his own food. He has educated me a lot about the difference between factory farmed food and something that’s grown local- he doesn’t use the term organic because its a marketing term”.
  13. Foer’s Eating Animals is a comprehensive investigation into the act of consuming factory farmed animals. As a novelist Foer understands that food is made of the stories we tell about them and in so struggles emotionally with what eating it means. His recognition of the complexities our eating rituals embody is mad impeccably clear in the conclusion of his book when he states, “Of the thousand-or-so meals we eat every year Thanksgiving dinner is the one that we try most earnestly to get right. It holds the hope of being a good meal, whose ingredients, efforts, setting, and consuming are expressions of the best in is. More than any other meal, it is about good eating and good thinking. And more than any other food, the Thanksgiving turkey embodies the paradoxes of eating animals: what we do living turkeys is just about as bad as anything humans have ever done to any animal in the history of the world. Yet what we do to their dead bodies can feel so powerfully good and right. The Thanksgiving turkey is the flesh of competing instincts- remembering and forgetting” (248).

Work Cited

Alfoldy, Sandra and Rachel Gotlieb, curators. On the Table: 100 Years of Functional Ceramics in Canada. Toronto, ON: Gardiner Museum, 2007. 22, 44.

Bruneau, Joan.  Joan Bruneau, 2012. Joan Bruneau. 30 October 2012


Bruneau, Joan. Personal interview. 29 October 2012.\

Hopper, Robin. Functional Pottery: Form and Aesthetic in Pots of Purpose. Lola: Krause      Publications, 2000.

Kingsolver, Barbara. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. New York: Bantam Books, 2006.

Mowbray, Scott. “This Issue’s a Big Wet Kiss.” Cooking Light. November 2012: 6.

Oliver, Jamie. Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook. New York: Penguin Group, 2007.

Pollan, Michael. In the Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. New York : Penguin Press, 2008.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma A Natural History of Four Meals. New York:       Penguin, 2006.

Pottery Barn. Dinning Spaces: Ideas and inspiration for stylish entertaining and everyday dinning. San Fransisco: Weldon Owen, 2004.

Visser, Margret. Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal. Toronto: Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1986.

Review: Mindless Eating

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We ThinkThis book will literally change the way you think about your next meal. Food psychologist Brian Wansink revolutionizes our awareness of how much, what, and why we’re eating—often without realizing it. His findings will astound you.

• Can the size of your plate really influence your appetite?
• Why do you eat more when you dine with friends?
• What “hidden persuaders” are used by restaurants and supermarkets to get us to overeat?
• How does music or the color of the room influence how much—and how fast—we eat?
• How can we “mindlessly” lose—instead of gain—up to twenty pounds in the coming year?

Starting today, you can make more mindful, enjoyable, and healthy choices at the dinner table, in the supermarket, at the office—wherever you satisfy your appetite.

This book I listened to on audiobook (I suggest you do to, it is read by the author and he animates his words very well as a good storyteller does, the way you can not when reading. The book is also full of a lot of facts and the are more potent aloud then on paper). The most interesting part of this book for me was the notion of our “foodscapes” the way we set our table and the nuances of our food rituals and environment and how they all determine what we eat, how much of it we eat and how we eat. As a potter these are things that I find very intriguing. It is worth a listen! Seek it out!

Review: Another Roadside Attraction

I want you to own this book.
I am a fan of Goodreads the online book reading tracker and community. When I finish a book click “read” is ever so satisfying. Upon clicking read you are prompted to write a review. Here is mine, “Every word a delicious morsel of clarity masked with the utmost absurdity.”
Such an entertaining read.

Review/Issue: Say it Straight, Dummie.

I have been really enjoying this breakdown. I’ve taken the classes, I’ve done the deal in the real world and still found some nice tips and procedures (that I wish I knew when I drew up all those templates!). The gals that author this tome are quite witty and make the dry palatable. Get from your library and peruse.

Some food for thought from Canadian Business Kit for Dummies. What it says about your competitors and what I have to say about craft and what is on the horizon right now.



Review: So Many Books So Little time (Deadwood)

Ghost RidersLast year on an unassuming lovely summer morn basking in the dewy dawn with a book in hand I realized I will die with books on my book list- on my bookshelves- not yet read. I realized I needed to get my act together and stop reading all willy nilly like, especially with a mediocre novel on a splendid summer morn when it could be a superb novel on a splendid summer morn. Time was a wasting. So many books, so little time. Today on a Sunday summers eve I got a surprise visit from my boss and some renegade library items not delivered to me for my last tower service (I spot fires from a tower off the grid in the forest and thus get food and mail and books helicoptered out to be once a month. Side note tower would be the perfect mold making hiatus. Next year. Next year.). Amongst these items is a copy of JPod by Douglas Coupland a book on said list also in the delivery was the third season of Deadwood…. decisions decisions. I really ought to ignore both and pick up a ceramic book. You see, I moved my collection of ceramic books here to tower in hopes of focusing and perusing and completing. Thus far only perusing has been done. This is a problem. When one takes what is normally an enjoyable activity and puts a deadline on it. The once hopeful spark creates no prolonged flame and the joy becomes a task and so it is lost in the druthers of the day. So on this Sunday Summer Eve I implore you tell me your trick! I am forever scheduling this and that and tricking myself into re-enjoying a task. (This little ramble scratches the surface of the real conundrum potters face: regimenting a loved activity for business and the intention of profit).

Now I am wasting time.

I am going to go watch Deadwood.

There are bound to be some ceramic jugs spattered on the set. Those more classy pioneers sure depended on a good porcelain wash basin.

You must stray from the book list now and then for you may be missing a gem. Something influential and out of your norm. For we must get out of our normalities (yes, I just made that word up).

Lessons can be learnt anywhere, including a hokey drama HBO Western. Actually, the series ties in nicely with a superb book I the history of North American nomadism in relation to modern day nomadism- Ghost Rider. A very good read for settlers and travelers alike. Read it to understand the Western obsession with a romanticized notion freedom.

Time can never be wasted.