We started our tour in the Koerner European Ceramics Gallery, the boring room that has all the old plates. If I’m being honest, I’ve napped there between my classes. There’s nothing wrong with the plates and vases in there, they just look like something that my grandmother would have owned and then yelled at me for eating off of. The pieces in here feel trapped in time, stodgy yet elegant, and only important because someone told you they were.
But now, in between the 400-year-old platters and cups are these haunting ceramic babies. They fit in the room, they’re painted sort of like everything else there. The pastel colours and that shiny glaze that makes them look permanently wet means they fit in really well. Personally, I did not like looking at them, because their eyes are so… creepy? Very lifeless, in that hollow way. My guide for the day, Lua — the visuals editor for The Ubyssey, so you know she has a good eye for the artistic stuff — tells me that they represent the human aspect of ceramics, when historically the art form has focused on saints and still life.
As we moved to the main exhibition room of the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) to view Playing with Fire: Ceramics of the Extraordinary, I was blown away instantly. Ceramic shoes dangling from a wire greet you at the door, making me feel like I was in my hometown.
My favourite pieces were probably Judy Chartland’s “If this is what you call ‘Being Civilized’ I’d rather go back to being a ‘Savage’” series. The series is five bowls, painted with the signs of hotels in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. The signs have cockroaches crawling all around them. This art is so current and blatantly political, and yet the form meant it could have fit in in the Koerner Gallery. It made me reflect on all those bowls I had napped beside, and how 200 years ago someone had probably found meaning in them as I was finding meaning in these. Art that makes me think? Gah!
Playing with Fire was incredibly playful, especially thinking about how precious ceramics are. In context with the European Ceramics Gallery, Playing with Fire was a great reminder of what ceramic art can be and how people in the past found meaning in the art that we may now have lost.
Finding time to go out of your way to look at art can be hard as a student, but if you have a spare 30 minutes, Playing with Fire is definitely worth seeing.
Playing with Fire: Ceramics of the Extraordinary is on at MOA until March 29, 2020.