Exhibition Review

Already seen in Vietnam and scheduled to be exhibited in Singapore from 19 April to 7 May 2007, Stephen Bowers, the curator of A Secret History of Blue and White, contrasts work from five Australian ceramic artists — Stephen Benwell, Robin Best, Bronwyn Kemp, Vipoo Srivalasa and Gerry Wedd — with that great body of objects, spanning time and cultures, which constitute the legacy of blue and white ceramics.

A collaborative project between the Asialink Centre of the University of Melbourne and South Australia's Jam Factory Contemporary Craft and Design centre, exporting contemporary blue and white ceramics to Asia might fairly be seen as sending coals to Newcastle. Indeed, although having its origins in China, the cultural memory triggered by the term 'blue and white' could well be voiced in that Staffordshire dialect peculiar to 'the Potteries'; a cloth-capped and heavy-forearmed sort of accent, reified in the shards uncovered periodically in back yards all over Australia. These transfer printed fragments of Empire are still with us, and it is to this casual archaeology that the Adelaide-based Robin Best and Gerry Wedd return. Wedd's 'Willow pattern' ceramic thongs are a daggy foil to Best's china, both relying on irony as much as cobalt to make their point.

Originally from Thailand and now working in Melbourne, Vipoo Srivilasa posits the history of 'Lai Krarm', a Thai term for pottery with indigo designs, as his starting point in a process of cultural exchange. By contrast, Stephen Benwell continues his painterly dialogue with clay, while exploring a brusque figuration in ceramic sculptures. Of the five artists, Benwell seems less concerned with commenting on specific ceramic histories, instead relying on the qualities inherent in this time-honoured chromatic combination. Bronwyn Kemp's ceramics simultaneously evoke the topographical and seismological mapping of the landscape, a testament to her background in the evocatively named mining town of Broken Hill.

The exhibition is accompanied by a useful catalogue essay by Bowers. It would seem that the secret is out.

Damon Moon