Conversations of Old and New but Always “Pleased to Meet You”

by Janine C. Grant

Works by Gwyn Hanssen Pigott

Wheel-thrown vessels by Gwyn Hanssen Pigott

Approaching the potter’s wheel requires a particular mindset.  You sit down with a lumpy, potato-shaped wad of clay, smack it down on the wheel head, seal the bottom and envision the bowl, mug, plate, or jar you wish this mass to become.  But in order for the imagined to become reality you must prepare yourself for the negotiation that will be dictated through the medium of your hands. You spin the wheel and rest your hands on the surface, accepting the clay’s bumps and awkward oscillations. Then, with the unique combination of a firm hand and a gentle touch, you draw the clay up into a tower, lightly releasing it as if saying, “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”  Then you push the clay back down; “Here is where I want you!” you demand.  You repeat this process until the clay has yielded to your request and your hands rest on the surface of the spinning clay, feeling the joy of no movement at all.  You enter a dialogue in building each piece of pottery, and in this way each piece has its own personality.

Museum of Anthropology "Please to Meet You"

Installation view, Pleased to Meet You at Museum of Anthropology (UBC)

Gwyn Hanssen Pigott, a renowned Australian ceramic artist, is famous for her insights into the personality of ceramics.  Her artwork focuses on still-life arrangements of pale-glazed porcelain bowls, cups and bottles—groupings that encapsulate a feeling or moment.  In an interview with Craft Australia she describes her own interaction with her ceramic pieces, stating, “I give names to my groupings of pots based on how they look and feel to me… I don’t design the groups beforehand.  I make the pots and after the firing, I see how they might relate.”

Gwyn Hanssen Pigott

Gwyn Hanssen Pigott

The exhibition Pleased to Meet You: Introductions by Gwyn Hanssen Pigott at the Museum of Anthropology expands this notion of conversation to include not only her own work but that of peoples from around the world and far back into the past. Given full access to items in the Multiversity Galleries as well as those in storage, Gwyn Hanssen Pigott handpicked each object for display, placing  the wide varieties of objects in unique compositions within glass cases.  A floating fan, a hung red ribbon, suspended squares of paper lift the gaze while objects huddle together below, elevated one above the other to give a sense of flow and movement.   Each arrangement favours colour, texture, and movement over the specific provenance of the objects.  But just as diversity abounds there remains a deeper connection between the pieces.  As you peer into the cases you recognize the shared essence between the various forms and sensibilities.  Each reveals a negotiation between artist/craftsman and object. Each holds the pulse of the maker’s balance, rhythm, flow and patience.


Installation view, Pleased to Meet You at Museum of Anthropology (UBC)

The show, running from November 3rd to March 24th, is a must see.  Tucked away in the O’Brian Gallery, its fun and playful energy leaves you inspired.  Pleased to Meet You, as its name implies, introduces you to objects shown in a new light. Gwyn Hanssen Pigott successfully provides a contemporary lens through which to view these anthropological objects afresh.

All images courtesy of Museum of Anthropology (UBC)


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