Fire up the kilns at the 25th International Ceramics Symposium in Israel

Participants will be able to engage in dialog with grand-masters such as Montana-based artist Julia Galloway, Polish-Ukrainian artist Janina Myronova and Efrat Eyal.

Wild Family (photo credit: IDO FERBER)
Wild Family
(photo credit: IDO FERBER)

The 25th International Ceramics Symposium which opens Wednesday at Givat Haviva marks a quarter-century of passion for clay, glaze, archaeological-inspired exploration and personal innovativeness in this vast art form.

Participants will be able to engage in dialog with grand-masters such as Montana-based artist Julia Galloway, Polish-Ukrainian artist Janina Myronova and Efrat Eyal. To observe their work process and learn from their experience. The three-day symposium is also a platform for younger artists who already have their own unique language, such as Ido Ferber and Eliya Levi Younger, to present their works and offer workshops.

“This symposium is part of our DNA,” head of the Ceramics and Crafts Association of Israel Adi Shabtay Pappo tells me when we meet at B.Y5 Gallery, which serves the CCAI. She is grateful for all those who labored tirelessly, the large team of volunteers and AIDA (Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts), who ensured the event could take place and guest artists arrive during this COVID-19 moment.

“Our other DNA strands include the biyearly publication of 1280° C Magazine for Material Culture [the number is the highest temperature a kiln can produce], a partnership with Musa – Eretz Israel Museum Tel Aviv in producing an ongoing material culture biennale and holding internationally-acclaimed workshops at Neot HaKikar,” she adds.

As she sees it, there is a deep generational transition in ceramics.

 (L) Avner Zinger (R) Leonid Gison building a kiln at Givat Haviva. (credit: Emiela Ronko) (L) Avner Zinger (R) Leonid Gison building a kiln at Givat Haviva. (credit: Emiela Ronko)

“Established artists like Eti Goren, for example, will describe themselves as potters,” she pointed out, “whereas recent artists use wider definitions.” She points to Zohar Gottesman, a classically trained sculptor who creates works with huge blocks of cheese or bubble gum, as a powerful example of this trend.

From the Khanum action group, which took to the streets of Tel Aviv in 2020 bearing a stretcher loaded with pots to cry out against the COVID-19 lockdown policy which forced-shut cultural spaces. To US artist Ayumi Horie who created Ostraka with the names of GOP members such as then-US president Donald Trump and Maine Sen. Susan Collins, ceramics can be emotionally potent and incredibly strong in how deeply it connects to human experience.

The Egyptian god Khanum created men and women on his divine potter’s wheel from the clay of the Nile and infused their earth-made bodies with a life-force (Ka). The Greeks decided to ostracize wrong-doers using the ostracon, which is what they called the pottery shreds they wrote on to cast a vote. Eyal, in her ongoing Trophies I’ve Yet To Be Awarded - The Housewife Series created a presentation cup with obedience written on it. An ironic reference, I think, to Titus 2:3-5 in which Paul writes Titus to instruct the women of Crete to be “chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands.”

A pitcher by Julia Galloway (credit: Courtesy)A pitcher by Julia Galloway (credit: Courtesy)

Myronova has a different take. In her Plates series a man can be seen squeezing a woman’s breast and a dog urinating. “People love to buy things that make them laugh,” she told me, “and I like artists who make jokes.”

“My works might look colorful and happy, but they also have some darkness in them,” she adds.

Born in Donetsk to a family with Ukrainian, Polish and Russian heritage, Myronova worked with Polish artists based in Ukraine and gained the Karta Polaka – an official recognition of membership in the Polish nation. This allowed her to study in Kielce, where she saw works by Jewish-Israeli master Marek Cecula, active in his birth-town since the late 1990’s, and to eventually settle in Wroclaw.

Myronova displays a deep interest in artistic explorations of human relationships. Recent works include huge ceramic figures which combine painting and sculpture to depict a colorful family of sorts in which members hold and support one another in an interesting cross between Mesoamerican idols and Slavic Matryoshkas.

“I am alone in Poland,” she tells me, “my father lives in Russia, my mother in Ukraine, I like to observe people and how they behave.”

Some potters, like the late Israel Bankir, are deeply rooted. Bankir was famous for not telling a living soul where he dug the specific sand he used, and the location, somewhere in the Carmel Mountain, was lost.

Myronova, a different sort of artist, freely discusses attending workshops in Taiwan, France, the Netherlands and now Israel. “There’s a kiln and clay at any studio in the world,” she tells me.

Others, such as Ferber, are deeply invested in reconnecting to a sense of locality. Drawing his inspiration in equal parts from the soil of this land, where his father cultivates olive trees, and Japanese material tradition.

As part of his training, Ferber was asked to build an anagama [cave] kiln, first introduced to Japan roughly 600 years ago. As he explains it, the difference between a wood-fed kiln and an electric one is as profound as that between factory-produced clay and wild clay, which is collected from one site and does not contain industrial chemicals.

The reason the Japanese request this, he told me, is because wood-fed kilns require a lot of knowledge. The oxygen feeding the flames comes from the chimney on top; this creates an air circulation which affects the wet clay pieces in it as well as the wood being burned. At high temperatures, the ashes glaze, this has a unique impact on the pieces.

“It comes down to the art of where to put which piece in the kiln and how to control the flames in the stoking process,” he informs me. In Japan, it is understood one person cannot stand for days on end feeding the flames so they hold a collective burning.

“I was privileged enough to attend such an event held by Shozo Michikawa,” he points out, adding, “younger artists get to put their works in the kiln and, in exchange, take a shift tending to the flames.”

Ferber insists his anagama is a hybrid one and that his works are never an attempt to fully adopt the Japanese way of doing things but his own effort to create an “Alien-Locality.” His pieces are often stitched together or present a highly skilled, and in-depth, dialog between the hard-working, patient, material culture of Nippon and the “get-things-done quick and dirty” Israeli mentality.

If Eyal offers her viewer presentation cups, Galloway offers Victorian ewers.

“My visual aesthetics are rooted in New England,” she shares, “I stand on the shoulders of great history.”

This history, she tells me, unfolds both universally, seeing as “pottery tells us how people ate, voted, celebrated, worshiped” and locally, since 1951, Helena, Montana, has been a thriving ceramic arts center thanks to the generosity of Archie Bray, who gifted the former Western Clay Manufacturing site to the arts.

“They had so much clay they were able to give artists as much of it as they wanted,” Galloway shares.

This led to would-be artists studying on the GI Bill after World War II, like Peter Voulkos and Rudy Autio, to transform American ceramics. “They were fearless,” Galloway says.

In her ongoing Endangered Species Project Galloway creates beautiful urns, lovingly devoted to the animals of New England such as the Atlantic Leatherback Turtle and the Barn Owl.

“Ayumi is interested in social justice,” she laughs, “I’m interested in the environment, so between the two of us we’re doing ok.”

In her 2015 Very Very Very Fine House series she created cloud teapots and vases which often split at the center, offering the viewer a lunar side and a solar side.

“I am currently working on pieces that would be horizontally split using a reflecting glaze,” she told me.

When made, such pieces would offer the viewer to touch the bones of the earth, as well as seeing herself, and her world, reflected in the piece.

Julia Galloway will speak on Wednesday (Dec 8) at 9:45 a.m. Ido Ferber will discuss his work at 5:30 p.m. Efrat Eyal will discuss her work on Thursday (Dec 9) at 9:30 a.m. and Janina Myronova will speak with the audience on Friday (Dec 10) at 9:30 a.m. Those wishing to attend all three-days will be asked to pay NIS 870 (less if they happen to be a CCAI member). To register please call 03-6874150 or email [email protected] In addition to the mentioned artists and lectures other workshops are on offer as well, please visit the Hebrew site: https://artsinisrael.org/symposium/ to learn more.