Throwing a vessel is like the first moment you wake up in the morning
WITH IT & THROUGH IT: On voices, porcelain and emptiness in the work of Katherine Glenday
Words by Sophie Cope
”Throwing a vessel is like the first moment you wake up in the morning. Things just drop in clearly.” Sitting at the wheel, turning and throwing a porcelain vessel in a singular act is, Katherine explained to me, a distillation, a moment of stillness in motion that contains the ebb and flux of the daily domestic routine. This rhythm of repetitive acts moves between attempts to contain the chaos of psyche and personal relationships within the form of a vessel while also allowing that disorder to slip, unravel, bend and overflow.
– Katherine Bull writing about Katherine Glenday (2014)
‘…a moment of stillness in motion that contains the ebb and flux of the daily domestic routine.’
Glenday’s virtuosic control of the medium gives rise to a paradoxical relinquishing. Her vessels drop out of an ongoing exchange between the hands and the clay and the fire of the kiln. Without being reduced to metaphor, the skins and material resonances of porcelain act as entry points into ‘the rest of the world’. The vessel becomes a literal echo-chamber for light and sound, stillness and movement, the unsaid conversation, and the echoes that locate and outlast it. The artist has alternatively described her use of porcelain as ‘painting with light’ – the lightwaves, the sea in Kalk Bay, and the waves of sound and silence too.
Glenday’s Studio & Porcelain Formes, Photograph by Charl Dettmer
Sound is a sensory experience that does not allow us to choose or turn away. At least more than touching and seeing – the world of the auditory moves through us without any concern for illusions of autonomy or ‘separateness’ within a skin. Reinstating a porousness that was always there, many of Glenday’s vessels literally act as gongs for sounding out and filling shared space. Exceeding the borders of their visible ‘selves,’ these resonant forms allow us to wonder, without language, what it might mean to find one’s ‘own’ shape or voice, without possibly turning away from the plurality of voices that move through each of us.
‘The vessel becomes a literal echo-chamber for light and sound, stillness and movement, the unsaid conversation, and the echoes that locate and outlast it.’
‘In this sense, defined by multiple voices and material resonances across four decades, Glenday’s practice might still be described as strongly autobiographical. A porous narrating of ‘the self’ in relationship, in process, between ‘home’ and studio spaces, in very smooth surfaces and in the things washed up in the sink of the sea.’
Katherine Glenday, Photograph by Charl Dettmer
It is a great tumultuousness, poised on the brink of itself in porcelain. I am reminded of the opening lines of Robert Kaplan’s 1999 book The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero, where it says –
If you look at zero you see nothing; but look through zero and you will see the world.
Glenday’s porcelain vessels – the formidable canon of them – are perhaps, more than anything, like this. An offering of a withness or a throughness for seeing the world, or for sounding it into existence.’
‘Exceeding the borders of their visible ‘selves,’ these resonant forms allow us to wonder, without language, what it might mean to find one’s ‘own’ shape or voice’
South African ceramic artist Katherine Glenday (b. 1960) lives and works in Kalk Bay, and exhibits all around the world. The material, imaginary and interpersonal resonances of porcelain have remained central to Glenday’s practice since the early 80s. Formally and conceptually emphasising the porousness of borders and skins, the artist’s vessels defy categorization. They stretch into the most translucent edges of what we think porcelain should be able to do, and are continuously coming into being in the blur between ‘the sacred’ and the kitchen sink. Both impossibly perfect and always just about to shatter.