I was recently included in a three-person “Ceramics” exhibition. It is interesting to be labeled a “ceramic artist”. Although the other two artists and I are unified by the predominance of a certain material in our work, the broad range of art made with clay often makes these categorizations seem absurd. Or maybe that’s what makes them so interesting. I’m not sure my work would have ever shared space with Levi Cassias or John Oliver Lewis otherwise so I am glad for the designation, despite my misgivings.
I have the same problem with the label “ceramic artist” as I do with the label “woman artists” although of course both are true for me. If I look at my CV I understand that many, if not most of the work I’ve shown has been in either “Women Artists” or “Ceramics” exhibitions. Often my sculpture takes as a point of departure the experience of being a human female so exhibitions of “Women Artists” makes sense to me. When I get to see the installation and the work of the other artists included, I am frequently surprised to see the variety of subject matter. Women Artists is a way of categorizing us by gender. This for me is problematic. Sure we all share a gender designation, but what else is significantly similar about our artwork? If there is no common conceptual thread dependent on gender, then the title should not be used. When can we just be Artists?
Exhibitions of “Ceramic Artists” are similarly problematic. It feels like materials-based discrimination to me, although I know that is never the intention. Should we be more aware of how we label each other, and ourselves especially if those labels limit us? It is my job to figure out how to lose those labels and claim the title Artist for myself. Yet again and again I am offered opportunities for which the label is reinforced. And I am grateful for the opportunities. “Thank you, I’d love to participate in this show, there’s just the little matter of the title…” Just as my work is frequently about gender, it is almost never about ceramics.
Nevertheless, I continue to work in clay so I will simply explain my choice of material, and why I keep coming back to it. For me there is no better way to make human flesh that clay. When plastic, clay is wet, firm, resistant but malleable. When fired it is like bone. I think we respond to these qualities on a visceral level. I know I do.