Ceramics and Collectivism at Silverlens: Tessy Pettyjohn, Jon Pettyjohn, Joey de Castro, Shozo Michikawa, and Alvin Tan Heck

 

SILVERLENS opens 2019 with Watchfire, a group exhibition that brings together five artists who have each made a critical contribution to the development of contemporary ceramics in Asia: Tessy Pettyjohn, Jon Pettyjohn, and Joey de Castro of the Philippines. Shozo Michikawa of Japan, and Alvin Tan Teck Heng of Singapore.

For this exhibition, these five artists were invited to participate in an anagama wood firing at the studio of fellow ceramic artist Pablo Capati III. Each artist contributed to the kiln a number of works that had been formed and biscuit fired in their individual studios. Once the firing was underway, they then worked in shifts to stoke and watch over the fire until the process was complete. The works from this collective endeavor are exhibited in Watchfire, alongside a small number of works from the artists’ studios.

Incorporating work from an anagama firing collectively undertaken, Watchfire examines the role of both the individual and the collective in building a ceramic art scene in the Philippines that is collaborative yet independent, locally engaged yet highly international. Furthermore, this exhibition examines how the participating artists successfully balance collaborative action with their own individual artistic identities.

Anagama kilns are typically fired for a number of days, in order to reach and sustain temperatures high enough to melt the wood-ash circulating within, thereby creating a natural glaze. Firings are therefore collaborative endeavors, with multiple participants working in shifts to watch and stoke the fire. Each anagama kiln is its own beast and the firing process cannot be entrusted to the uninitiated. This means the usual suspects are regularly called upon; Filipino potter Joey de Castro has participated in countless firings at the studios of Capati and the Pettyjohns, while in recent years Singaporean artist Alvin Tan Teck Heng has frequently travelled to the Philippines to take part. When, in 2016, the Pettyjohns undertook a residency in Shigaraki, Japan, Capati and Teck Heng flew over to assist with the final wood firing. The anagama firing that took place for this exhibition is therefore emblematic of the practices and relationships that have shaped ceramics in the Philippines over the past two decades.

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