Oh Ceramics Explores Canadiana

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the Esplanade Art Gallery in Medicine Hat, Alberta, invited 17 ceramic artists to explore Canadian themes and identities. The outcome, displayed in Oh Ceramics until July 1, offers diverse work that takes on added symbolic weight in a city known for its historical clay industry.

For instance, Stewart Jacobs’ colourful work celebrates the Squamish Nation with traditional Coast Salish depictions of the landforms and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile, Juliana Rempel, who was raised in Medicine Hat, created One By One, a series of 150 wall-mounted ceramic plates that feature the dramatic lines of the prairie landscape. The first platter in the installation is blank and each subsequent platter includes one additional line or decorative element. The progression to the final image – a farmyard – evokes the process of European colonization.

Montreal artist Marianne Chénard produced a series of porcelain dinner plates that explore historical themes. She prints the front of the plates with Canadian images of things like Sir John A. Macdonald or a Mountie on horseback using screenprinting and linocuts. On the back, visible in a mirror behind the plates, is a deeper exploration of each theme. For instance, the back of the plate with a Catholic cross bears the words “truth, reconciliation,” pointing to Canada’s troubled relationship with its First Nations.

“I prefer porcelain, a noble material that is at once delicate and indestructible, and which, when fired, becomes a repository,” she says. “Porcelain is thus a tangible and material witness to the fragility of our environment and our relationship with it. It represents the nostalgia that unites us to our memories and to the passing of time. At the heart of my approach, my work questions our relationship to the past, to our present and to the context in which we move forward.”

The show, curated by Xanthe Isbister and Joanne Marion, also includes work by Winnipeg’s Candice Ring that pay homage to Métis beadwork from the 1830s originally purchased at second-hand store in Manitoba and now in the collection of the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg.

The clean, deliberate lines of Noriko Masuda’s white porcelain vessels draw from Canadian, Scandinavian and Japanese forms, and refer to the sometimes-bleak prairie landscape.

Rachel de Conde explores Canada’s natural environment with a series of small, unfired clay coniferous trees. Each is displayed under a glass dome and requires periodic watering. Without water, the clay would dry and crack, metaphorically mirroring the fragility of ecosystems.

Pierre Aupilardjuk, based in Rankin Inlet in Nunavut, celebrates traditional Inuit forms. His Whale Hunter on Kayak is made from stoneware and depicts an Inuk readying his spear to strike a whale.

Other artists in the show are Mary Anne Barkhouse, Michael Flaherty, Russell Hackney, Veronika Horlik, John Kurok, Carmela Laganse, Alwyn O’Brien, Sarah Pike, Kelli Rey and Martin Tagseth.

This article was originally published in Galleries West Magazine in June 2017