Studio: The Isolation Project

I have been organizing for the last three months. Getting things together you know? The blog certainly hasn’t focused on my ceramic doings out here when compared to the weekly updates that are the norm when I am back being a workaholic in my dear windowless basement studio- I know that sounds like a bad thing but I assure you it isn’t. Daylight is over rated and I love my wee space. I have none the less been working on pots out here. I have been experimenting with line and overglazes. The result is a collaboration between fellow NSCAD grad and tower person Alana Wilson and myself: The Isolation Project. We will be putting the finishing touches on things when back in the city, me in Nelson, her in Australia, and have started sending our exhibition proposal out. Speaking of Oz, I have been slowly making a blurb book for NSCAD and ANU as a final essay about my experience abroad. It has turned into an account of my ceramic practices in the last two years. Therefor the Isolation Project gets a spread (seen below). Also take a gander at our proposal and please give us your comments. Do you know of a small gallery that would be appropriate for the show?

Exhibition Proposal
The Isolation Project

    Working together in a communal space is both challenging and inspiring but what  happens when you collaborate yet are each in isolation? In the winter of 2009, Alana Wilson and Bridget Fairbank met whilst whittling away at plaster in the cold ceramic studio of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Since then they have shared similar experiences as fire tower observers in Alberta, a seasonal job which holds them in solitude and isolates them in the wild.

Solitude- a state or situation of being alone
Isolate- to be or remain apart from others

Solitude and isolation both occur either physically or cognitively. In both cases it is our sentiments and psyche that are affected. Solitude tends to amplify our thoughts and can foster great growth. In this time of narrowing frontiers and ever-expanding modes of transport and communication, physical isolation is rare but an isolation constructed by society is becoming more and more common. Now the anonymity of the city dweller is more prevalent than ever.  Often, we isolate ourselves by way of routine or cultural faux-pas. Bridget and Alana tell a story of a physical isolation akin to that of the pioneers before us, and the emotional isolation felt by most in modernity. Their isolation has resulted in the contemplation of self, of society, of what solitude means, of how it functions and of how it affects us all. By being physically isolated, the two grapple with cultural solitude through individual artistic explorations. The Isolation Project exhibits each artist’s manifestation of solitude and in turn invites the viewer to acknowledge their personal story of solitude and isolation.

Alana Wilson’s inspiration for this work began with the work of artists such as Margaret Kilgallen and Barry McGee, the availability of materials in a remote situation, and the idea of capturing her scattered thoughts in an esthetically pleasing way. For her, the fire tower season is always a time of deep personal contemplation and questioning. Her contribution to The Isolation Project is a look at some of the ideas and pressures she ruminates on and feels as an isolated female in her early thirties. Even in this post-feminist era where establishing a career for herself is important, she still feels a societal and parental pressure to settle down and have babies. She often questions her desire to do, or not do, so. This has become a seemingly more common place perspective  in a time when more women are remaining independent for a longer period of time and attempting to find strength and fulfillment in themselves.

A constant struggle has presented itself in Alana’s choices. Dualities such as Career vs. Family and  Love vs. Ambition are manifested through her work in words and phrases like Independence, Follow your heart, Freedom, and Selfish. These examples and many others have been embroidered and presented in frames, clustered together on the wall in no particular order;  a visual representation of the way thoughts and ideas can come and go during time spent thinking alone in the forest or walking the streets of a city. Fifteen plus embroideries will be completed when the project comes to an end. Embroidery was chosen due to its portable  nature and lightweight materials. This medium, traditionally practiced by school age girls and unmarried women, is something that Alana identifies with. The act of embroidering in itself   provides time for contemplation of the story she is creating. She often feels that although solitude is necessary for growth and should be taken seriously and cherished, perhaps the most human desire is to have someone bear witness to our lives and tell our story. The Isolation Project is an illustration of this concept.

Bridget Fairbank’s inspiration for the Isolation Project came as she traveled across Canada collecting plates and contemplating time. She regarded the extensive highway lines, thinking of the solitary summer regimented by routine that lay ahead as a fire tower observer. What would happen if the rhythm in which the day occurred was represented by space and line?

Time never passes at a uniform pace. Each interval of action is different. When a collection of lines is made, the thickness, uniformity and space between each line all speak to us visually as a concept of speed and pace. By making lines in overglaze pigments fired onto those found side plates from her journey, a plate for each day of isolation at tower, the juice and anxiety, the calm and serenity, the busyness and revelry of daily time is thus visually communicated. Why make lines on plates? The varied forms and surfaces of pre-owned dishes as an ensemble create a complex narrative. Through the recording of Bridget’s daily routines the existing imagery is slashed and distorted, eluding to the forgotten story of the day, the week, the decade and the place in which the plates were once culturally relevant and cared for dishes. By altering each dish, Bridget’s personal tale of daily isolation by way of routine is imposed upon each plate: a metaphor for every individual’s daily chaotic and isolated contribution to our multifaceted culture. Her project is a celebration of everyday solitary experience in a Canadian context. When presented on the wall in calendar format the 126 small plates are Bridget’s rhetoric of 126 days alone in the forest with her thoughts indicated by space and line. The collection evokes emotion and sparks contemplation of one’s own individual life in relation to daily routine, time and culture.

The Isolation Project is a recording of two lives spent in the isolation of the Canadian wilderness and the urban environment. Whether experienced physically or emotionally, isolation is felt by everyone at one time or another during this busy modern existence. The Isolation Project exemplifies that though solitude and isolation can be a reprieve from ordinary life, it is seldom a reprieve from oneself.

Studio: Time Line, Progress

I have been making lines on plates every day, as proposed, for the last three months. I was planing on making the lines directly with overglaze and various oxides out here, using a fixative to secure the glaze and transport them back to Nelson in Sept. to be fired. But, I decided it is best to test firing out before wasting such precious and many materials. Thus, the lines are done in think India Ink. I plan to dedicate a wall in my studio come Sept and install them all as if in a gallery. Then take them one by one and re-line and fire em’ throughout Sept/Oct/Nov. This display will allow me to view and consider the lines and give me a notion of what the gallery environment will do to them. Individually they are interesting and as a whole they are a different animal indeed. It is the contrasts in space and line that give some sort of message. The blue sketch below is out my sketchbook in 2010 when I began to toy with the notion of line representing, time and consequently daily life. The TimeLine project had melded with a co-conspirator Alana Wilson’s embroidery project done in isolation to create a show “The Isolation Project”. We are figuring our the kinks and finalities in isolation as well. Ya for isolation. Yay for collaboration.


If you didn’t catch my somewhat esoteric proposal posted earlier it was as follows:

I live in isolation. In the forest. With no electricity. Very little noise. My days are based heavily on routine and yet with in boundaries each day has a pace of its own. A flux of time. I am all about recording. All about data collection. I am interested in line and repetition. What would happen if everyday I reported the rhythm in which the day occurred by representation of space and line? Would the juice and anxiety, the calm and serenity, the busyness and revelry of time be visually communicated? Time never passes at a uniform pace. Each interval of action is different. When a collection of lines is made the space between the lines, the thickness and uniformity of line all speaks to us visually as a concept of speed and time and pace. I suspect the rhetoric (pace) indicated by space will also evoke an emotional reaction or feeling or inkling.
What of content? What of a three-dimensional stage for this study to take place on and within? This mark making, in representation of pace, is only on the surface. Marks must act in conjunction with something of substance. One can not overlook the importance of the ceramic object itself, void of surface. I have chosen various found side plates to use as a stage for this experiment. Why?
Will the slashing through of existing imagery create side effects untrue to the project? Will controversy be prevalent because of the variations in form and firing temperature? Perhaps. Rather it is my musings that the varied forms and surfaces of pre-owned dishes, will as an ensemble, create more depth and narrative . Elude more to a story of the day, the week, the decade in which the plates were once relevant cared for dishes.  Elude to the original process of their making and the time and reasons for their validity (and now of their re-interpretation). Perhaps the contrast in variety will brush up against issues of objective de-value and impermanence in present day Canadian Culture. Every dish was chosen and scrummaged on a journey across Canada to look objectively at craft in Canada. Thus, this collection of plates represents the blatantly varied nature of Canada. All ceramic dishes yes, but all from different places, different times and representing different things (values, concepts) through varied form and esthetics, just like Canadian citizens and geography. When I come along and collect said side dishes, uniting them and impose my daily life and psyche upon the collection, my time and life and consequently the physical lines are imposed on the plates. A metaphor for the eye-glass each person uses to interpret at all times. It may be rash to say that these plates represent Canada and the individual’s chaotic contribution in our multifaceted culture but, then again it may not be.
Will this experiment cause insight into my day to day? Into how time is in no way stagnant nor constant but rather staggered and complex? Will it give insight into each individual’s perception of time in context of a Canadian past, present and future?
A simple idea, executed simply, yielding complicated (complex) results (effects, outcomes).

Techno-ology: History

Once upon a time, a royal heiress named Jacqueline threw some small jugs she made out the window of a tower she was trapped in.  Thus began pottery making in Holland…

Yes! Yes! I may be suffering delusions of grandeur but, when I read this I said “Yes yes! That is me!” I am trapped in a tower I want the pottery making to perpetuate! My ceramic projects this season do not have me physically touching clay but rather, just include long days of thought and deliberate mark making.  “The Techno” posts of Tuesdays are usually science or process based tid bits to help fuel the urge for reasearch. What I have neglected to mention, though have alluded to, is an element crucial to the ceramic practice.

I have found in life that one can never really have an original idea, as to live life is to accredit your thoughts and morals to the path you’ve led and those around you.  I have stated before that artists just reinterpret, reconfigure, alter. Take for instance the first ceramic vessels, they pop up all over the world at various times “invented” by various civilizations not in contact with each other. Their origins certainly separate but thier originality debatable. If someone somewhere else is thinking and doing the same as you, void of contact or knowledge to either party, can they really be deemed original thoughts or tasks? I bring this up to cement our thoughts in that of collaboration and influence to lead to the point that ceramic history is the pillar that all modern ceramic craft must stem from ans pay homage to.  A lovely bi-monthly blog, “This Day in Pottery History” gives us vignettes of ceramic history. I have certainly thrown things out of my 110ft fire tower before, on purpose (to try to persuade a bear not to break into my cabin where my dog awaits his arrival barking madly) and by accident (I regret to inform you that cherished retro glass lined thermoses don’t fare so well from such great heights). To think the tradition was started in Holland so long ago just goes to show who connected we can be to the past with out our knowledge.  So, go. So, read! See what brilliant original ideas of yours find their origins in our past. I am always surprised at how others tribulations or successes can aid in ones own vein of work.

Review: The Go-Getter

I was sent this DVD last tower season by a fellow potter. It is a bout a very very awkward boy who travels to Mexico to find his brother but finds a strange kind of love in the form of an older woman. For a small stint  he stays at a pottery where is bro didn’t finish building a kiln…. it is very cliché- they wood fire and eat communal food and everyone is off beat. But, it is still nice to see pottery in contemporary film! Plus the boy is so so so awkward it makes me smile. Watch it for your self.

In the Studio: Wintertime approaches…

Why do I feel like this is me? The sun won’t come out and dry my clothing and so I will move with wet clothing. I am packing and cleaning, getting ready to move to Nelson BC, it is my last day at tower. The amount of times I’ve moved in the last three years is startling (BC, NS, AB, BC, QC, Columbia, Australia just in the last two years!) but, consequently I am one hell of a packer. I dismantled my kiln today and it is time to do a glaze inventory and winterize!

Winter and Fall takes me to Nelson, BC to set up a studio and create an fired product line, I  hope to get into stores across Canada come 2011. The end of the fire season means a chaotic re-introduction into society, but I am looking forward to it! Hazaa a new year begins! (Yeah.. my years rotate around fire seasons…).

Jenn Demke

If anyone has any information (website, galleries, blogs?) about Jenn Demke please let me know. I can’t find anything about her on the web, other than via the Alberta Crafts Association. When in Edmonton I bought two of her cups for tower this season they are perfect for matcha (see above). Charming simple, possible press molded forms, her work conveys a sensibility I strive to have in my own pieces. Lovely pots.

(The top two mugs in the right hand photo our Demke’s, the bottom two are mine, a good example of the Canadian I was referring to in the last post.)

The Absentminded Blogger

I haven’t been writing, blogging.

I have been moving and adjusting, absent mindedly shunning the blogging world.

But I am back. Back from Australia. Back from Nelson. Back to Muskeg Tower in Northern Alberta. I knew June 5th was coming, the day when I was to leave Canberra, Australia, the Australian National University Ceramics department and all my studio mates and acquaintances. It all happened so fast: transitions always do. The next few postings will be about what ‘it’ all was. Here at tower (pictured above: the view due south from in the tower on a clear day and my tower during today’s massive storm looking tall and foreboding) where I live alone in the great northern Canadian boreal forest and am paid by the government of Alberta to spot and report forest fires, you’d think I’d have some time to get things done, all of the things the busy and bustling world prevents me from doing. I always think I’ll have time to get things done. So this year the game is on. The great organization and review is on. Not to mention intense fun projects like the wood/propane test kiln I plan on building out here.

In the near future will compile a list and post it as a page where you can follow my progression or lack there of. Tons has happened, and while I’m playing catch up you’ve got the same great stuff to look forward to- much great food, random reviews and ceramic splendor.

Click here to download the  Alberta LookoutTowers map

Playlist: Rain!

My dear friend emailed  this audio clip to me the other day:

To go along with this audio here is a picture of me gathering blueberries up north on a rainy foggy day.I work as a fire tower observer for Albert Forestry in Canada on a seasonal basis and a foggy day means a day off. To see pictures of my job visit my personal flickr site.