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The Persistence of Memory – a new ceramics exhibition opens at Spier Wine Farm

A new edition of an annual ceramics exhibition, which opens at Spier on 3 June 2024, is an exploration of time, texture and memory – both the personal and the collective.

Many will be familiar with the artwork by surrealist painter Salvador Dali from 1931, which features melting, warped clocks draped across an open expanse of land. The new ceramics exhibition shares its title with this piece, ‘The Persistence of Memory’ (La persistència de la memòria), and contrasts hardness and softness, functionality and aesthetics – while flirting with the relativity of space, time and memory.

“When working with clay, we come to understand that the clay itself holds memories,” says Tamlin Blake, Chief Curator at Spier Arts Trust. “If there is a dent somewhere in the clay body, particularly with porcelain, it will manifest when it comes out of the kiln. 

“Most of the featured artists deal with memory in their works, whether conceptually as a means of healing past hurts or physically acting as cultural recordings of historic patterns and traditional techniques,” adds Blake, who is herself a trained ceramic artist.  

With more than 50 pieces from artists working across South Africa, the exhibition is notable for its tactile and textural appeal. “There is the feeling of wanting to reach out and touch the artworks,” Blake reveals.

As their core purpose, ceramics are historically functional. But these artworks don’t conform to that notion. They are sometimes strange, always beautiful – all telling a story to evoke a sense of surreal wonder.

“What makes many of these artworks provocative is that they are everyday objects, which we infuse with a sense of meaning,” Blake explains. “They’re in our space, they have a function, they often embody emotional attachments and feelings of nostalgia, passed down from previous generations.” 

The intergenerational connection clearly runs through the exhibition, with ancient knowledge and traditional practices colliding with modern techniques and fresh thought. One piece, for example, by Hendiren Horn, embraces technology to render an otherworldly feel in an artwork made using a 3D printer. Sylvester Mqeku too focusses on reclaiming ancient ceramic techniques through recently developed fabrication technologies.

Connecting more closely with practices of the past is Sinethemba Xola’s exploration of the processes and patterns of her female ancestors who made functional clay vessels inspired by the beauty of women.

Hennie Meyer uses an Anagama Kiln, an ancient kiln brought to Japan from China via Korea in the fifth century, and requires three days of firing to bring it to the optimal temperature.

Memory becomes a dream with Carin Dorrington’s surreal sculpture piece; Doreen Hemp resonates with the memory of place and tragedy; Dominic Pretorius converses with notions of grief; Anita’s Ssehura Sikutshwa interrogates her own neurodiversity and uses clay to find a place of quiet and stability; Rejoice Kunene weaves African healing practices and patterns of meanings into her contemporary creations.

The artworks tell a story – and that’s what Blake hopes visitors to the exhibition will experience. “Please visit with an open mind and a sense of curiosity and wonder to find a story in these pieces, a narrative that resonates with you personally.”

VISITOR INFORMATION:

Dates: 3 June – 13 September 2024
Times: 9:00 – 17:00
Entry to the exhibition is free

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