1001 Plates

Ceramic artist Azadeh Shooli has set up an exhibition of ‘1001 Plates’ at Surface Art Space of Hadish Mall.

The venue is located on Mousavi Street near Heravi Square. On display are underglaze plates created by a number of known as well as amateur artists.

The story of one thousand and one plates

Among the variety and quantity of artistic events having the theme of current contemporary art in our society at the present time, which despite all their differences share a common front with tradition, the question may arise regarding the necessity and erection of an exhibit entitled “one-thousand-and-one under glazed plates.” But from the vantage point of an ideologue, the presenter of this event as well as the writer of this discourse, such question is as much amenable as it is questioning. The answer becomes perceivable only when we thoughtfully look upon the quality of what is prevalent in today’s contemporary art. In fact, what percentage of created works of art with numerous tendencies claimed as contemporary art, could portray a proper image of the life of an Iranian or display with minimal limits any kind of characteristic that a piece of art bears. With a general view and in line with this project’s medium meaning ceramics, such question becomes more amenable. It even needs to be said that in this realm of artistic creation, namely contemporary ceramics, lack of understanding is higher than other areas of artistic media.

Since such situation arises from the effects of foreign artistic thoughts and meanings in our country, we should pay attention to the areas of thought and practice outside of Iran in order to explore its origin. In fact, such disorder turns upside down the new concepts and definitions of art in contemporary times much more than it is inherent in the foundation and thought structure of modernism. This study’s preamble encompasses the qualities and aesthetics that Kant enumerated to distinguish a piece of art, especially the necessity of non-utilitarian aspect of a beautiful work of art.

With the promulgation of this school of thought into societies during the past few decades, all practical works of art, past and contemporary, became marginal and were placed on the lower scales of pure and independent art. Moreover, such changes were observed more in countries which popularized such ideas and of course countries that possessed a bigger portion of the tradition of practical art in which our country was one of them. After a few decades since modernism, western culture which was the originator of such changes, presented novel definitions of art from the 60s onward setting aside the appraisal of such beautiful and practical works of art at least through the separation of thought structure. Important gravitations in contemporary art such as feminism endeavored to create art works where one of its characteristics was to rid of the distinction between visual and practical art. These new definitions reached a point where frontiers of art were removed so far as discarding the possibility of typical classification of art works such as painting, sculpture….in many different media of artistic applications and the way in which they were utilized. In the same manner, the words painter, sculptor….were exchanged with the word “artist” till all present artistic tendencies arisen from a fluid state, were encompassed. With such descriptions, it was hoped that countries whose background in art lied in their practical objects before anything else, would have paid more attention to their previous heritage and the prospect of innovation.

Regretfully, not only it didn’t happen that way but rather with a superficial treatment of novel definitions they invalidated many of the potential capacities of practical art including ceramics. Whatever became of ceramics in our country within recent years, is an occurrence deserving attention. And alas the ceramists themselves seem to have been the main factor. Irrespective of few specific contemporary works of art, it would suffice to thoughtfully take a look at Iran’s different productions in recent years and except for the normal production of pottery in Iranian art, which is not the topic of this research, the presentation of two ongoing exhibits of artistic pottery in galleries including some works having the theme of applicable artistic ceramics, signify the purpose of this study. The first group sometimes exhibit works whose only connection with such medium’s background in Iran’s geography, is ceramics. These works sometimes have become so contemporary that even no extraterritorial meaning could be found for them. Unfortunately such works are circulated by individuals who themselves should point out such digressions. But in their view, being a ceramist seems to contradict with being an artist. To be free of such allegations, it apparently should be enough to eliminate the aspect of “practical” from ceramic works so that we and our works of art would be recognized as contemporary. Unfortunately, we are too quick to follow and become up to date where no meaning could explain our actions neglectful of the fact that even in the West itself, streams of avant-garde works whose medium is ceramics are peacefully present alongside other styles, and are the result of a 500-year modernizing process. Perhaps, all these may account for a lack of proper understanding regarding the necessity of replacing formalistic with conceptual approach in contemporary art. It seems that such trend, as a whole, is in disagreement with other necessary aspects of a work of art. The second group exhibits productions thematic of practical objects and sometimes sculpture and small volumes of decorative items. They presents other problems. Although these works, with regard to the works of the first group, can’t be criticized from a critic’s point of view for the reason that their production is specified beforehand. However, they deserve criticism base on what organized them and generated their present results. Furthermore, because of being in direct contact with specified and economic aspects, these earthenwares would be accepted sooner by the public and the buyer. To take advantage of economic opportunity, potters also will turn to pre-made glazing and the use of stickers on them in order to increase the outward prosperity of such market. Although there is no harm in the use of such facilities in the area of ceramics per se, and in the case of correct utilization could even have praiseworthy artistic effects, but unfortunately in the long run, we may be witnessing a kind of monotony concerning technique and design in such class of ceramic works. Even many of the ceramists who notice the disturbing notions of being contemporary, would produce such works every now and then for reasons of livelihood neglectful of the fact that with production of such works not only do they work against their artistic beliefs but also do more damage to the art than the so called occupied artists mentioned in the second group. As an example, by just looking at this category of art works, all we see is the production of numerous volumes of different animals, especially birds and also uniform fruits and monotonous ceramic stickers such as a red rose. As a result, two important aspects of pottery tradition in Iran namely special techniques and exclusive design, which are our pride and joy today, couldn’t maintain progression. Therefore, it seems strange to me that despite our inability to create anything throughout our life and experience, we could claim to have created works of art which their thought and planning process doesn’t principally belong to us.

With such descriptions and what has been mentioned, as someone who works with ceramics I decided few years ago to work at a slow pace far from the excitement arising from the transitory events of society. I even set aside the exhibit which I held continuously by myself and in my personal workshop proceeded to teach, produce and promote the quality and basic necessities required for ceramic work. But since two years ago, I began to think of a project where I would be able to exhibit the characteristics of a ceramic work on a small scale, and at the same time keep abreast of modern artistic aspects. Under such circumstances, the idea of “one-thousand-and-one under glazed plates” crossed my mind. The fact that I could be able, in one show, to exhibit hundreds of plates having the same size and technique but different design and also having practical precedence in all cultures, especially our country, seemed so useful and effective that convinced me to follow up such idea despite all the difficulties connected with its burdensome execution. Therefore, I prepared a list of ceramists whom I felt their views in ceramics were more in tune with the purpose of this project. And also a list of other artists in different vocations. I wanted each plate to be painted by one artist and this created one of the most important problems in carrying out the idea. I particularly wanted to utilize the capacities of other artists more than the ceramists. As was mentioned earlier, unfortunately the drop in some of the features in clay imagery in Iran, especially design, has occurred mainly by the potters themselves in recent years. However, the unfamiliarity of other artists with techniques of ceramics, particularly under glazed painting, had a positive effect despite inevitable problems because these artists were less involved in the technical results of their works and worked more freely and creatively through a little training in under glazed painting. Therefore, in my workshop I provided small packages containing the necessary guide and all the items such as one baked ceramic plate, all the needed colors (glazes) along with a sample, palette, painting brush, easy to follow explanations and even chalk made of ceramics. Thereafter, I made arrangements with the artists, which was very time consuming, and sent the packages to them. After repeated follow- ups, I got back the painted plates and in the shop, transparent glazing was put on them and then heated. After the return of about 100 plates I became very assured of the positive results of this work because it was easily observed what visual capacities are hidden within ceramics even as a practical object like a plate. Such characteristic became more obvious by non-ceramist artists, painters in particular. The same characteristic that was observable by Iranian potters of the past.

The unparalleled cooperation of the artists in this project, may have at first been the allure of allocating proceeds to charity affairs, but as time went by and through repeated requests by the artists to do the same thing again, it became clear that ceramics had a certain appeal for the non-ceramist artists. Apparently, they had encountered a new medium and style of expression that could open up new avenues in their personal pursuits of artistic meaning. This was another objective that I was looking for, meaning promoting ceramics in other areas of artistic activity.

The idea of “one-thousand-and-one under glazed plates” first began by me looking at an under glazed plate in a museum and then by making a few plates with my students in the workshop and finally, through the inevitable necessity that had taken shape in my mind it was accomplished. At first, I decided to display all the works in one exhibition but due to certain reasons I changed my mind and the prospect of four independent exhibits with 250 plates at each, provided better operating conditions as well as better results. Fortunately, many of the artists also supported this idea and sent their works regarding different charities and regardless of the order in which their works would be displayed so that we all could be witnessing one of the biggest group cooperation of contemporary artists in Iran. I cannot conclude this writing without first thanking all the artists whether those who are at the height of their fame or those who have just begun their artistic journey. Furthermore, I truly appreciate my workshop team who took care of the production of plates, glazing and the repeated follow-ups. The continuous effort behind this project resulted in the publication of these works of art and we are very thankful of…………. who made it possible to pay for the printing cost of this collection.

To sum up, maybe in many views, whether right or wrong, this collection of art has no place in the arts and especially in modern ceramics. However, it recounts the numerous modes that have been overlooked in our country’s art throughout the years. Commitment to the mission of art concerning society’s problems and the accompaniment of artists due to the allocation of proceeds to charity affairs, made it possible to organize a group-work of exemplary proportions in a society where not even one small group-work generates positive results at times. The cultural and artistic wealth that has been flowing through the veins of a society and has the possibility to flow, are instances to be reckoned with.