A group exhibition of ceramics at Los Angeles’ Cherry and Martin gallery takes its cue from Samuel Beckett’s 1983 prose piece 'Worstward Ho', embracing the possibilities of success in deliberate failure. But unlike Silicon Valley’s recent adoption of the text’s soundbite phrase, 'Fail better,' the fire-hardened sculptures — with slumping edges and irregular glazes — present a three-dimensional range of things coaxed into going wrong, including a precarious totem of vases from the artist William J O’Brien, whose solo survey exhibition was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago last year. Across the gallery’s 2732 space in Culver City, the four-person show, 'Try again. Fail again. Fail better.', both expands the ongoing vogue for work in clay and collapses it, by upending assumptions about what counts as technical mastery.
'I like how ceramics reveal every action you take, every decision you take', says Katy Cowan, whose slip-cast hammers and crowbars blur the line between studio tool and result. Failure, she adds, 'is funny in terms of a ceramics show' because it is a medium with 'so many right ways and wrong ways of doing things, and so many restrictions that you don’t have to follow, but people still do'. True to the anti-authoritarian theme of the show, the works in the exhibition are united in rebellion but not cause. Using a Japanese method, 'ishihaze', the name of which translates to 'stone explosion', three works by Takuro Kuwata push the boundaries of aesthetic control. The clay forms appear to burst from their candy-colored shells, some dotted with gold or platinum lustre, the once-molten contents suspended, as ever, between intention and accident, somewhere in mid-escape.
Other work is even more candid in the revelation of decisions gone stunningly awry. Wallpaper* Handmade collaborator Adam Silverman, in a counterpart to his more studied explorations of proportion, presents rock-like forms and a wheel-thrown work made complete only by the object partially responsible for its failure — an actual electric kiln serving as a pedestal of sorts for the matte blue pieces to which it is fused by errant glaze. 'I think working with clay is really the gambler’s art,' says Silverman, noting that a certain 'reptilian' surface now present in his work initially came about when he had to grind hardened minerals off a kiln shelf, creating 'scars of the glaze'.
'Some people spend their lives trying to control every aspect of it, to master the material, like a very formal gardener might try to control nature. I prefer to embrace the volatility of the materials and the methods,' he says. 'Honestly, almost every breakthrough that I have had in my work has been the result of a mistake or of a wild gamble.'