inspiration through exploration: cairns + planet earth

From Adelaide we flew across Australia to the coastal town of Cairns and drove up the coast to the town of Port Douglas, both of which are the gateways to the Great Barrier Reef. So this weeks post is partially art inspired and partially planet earth inspired.

We crossed off a major bucket list item getting the opportunity to dive on the GB Reef, and although everyone told me, ‘the reefs are dying’, ‘it’s not as beautiful as it used to be’, and ‘I hope you’re not disappointed’. I can tell you now, that it did not disappoint.

That said, climate change is real, the reefs are dying and we need to make drastic changes to alter our impact on the worlds oceans. And as amazing as our experience was, I can’t even imagine how many more fishes there used to be and how healthy the corals once were. Yet, it was truly incredible to swim among one of the worlds largest ecosystems. All of the above photos are from a snorkel dive which gave us some up close experiences with the giant clams and amazing corals, but on our scuba dives we also saw sharks, eels, rays, octopus, barracuda and of course Nemos and Dorys too!

On land, I’m equally inspired by the nature of Australia. The below photo left is the variation of color and texture on a palm tree that I got a little obsessed with, the middle photo is weaver ants building a nest for their larvae and the below right photo is a finished weaver ant nest. Works of art by mother nature…

In addition to being in complete awe with the creative powers of planet earth, we also did visit a few galleries in Cairns to check out some local artwork. Below are a few samples of some of the works that caught my eye.

From left to right: detail of a vinyl cut paper piece from a local artists exhibit, two pieces from a concrete based exhibition and a linocut print from a children’s book illustration exhibition. All were on exhibit at the Cairns Art Gallery.

inspiration through exploration: singapore, indonesia & adelaide

‘the dirt’ will be taking a bit of a turn in content for the next few months since I’m going to be adventuring around the world for awhile. I hope that you find inspiration through my exploration as I share some of the artwork that I come across in my travels with you …and I promise I will eventually get back in the studio and return you to your regular ceramic sculpture programming!

After I finished my residency in Taiwan, I went to Singapore first, partly to break up the long haul flight to Australia and partly to actually see Singapore- I’d only had quick transfers in the airport before but never enough time to actually leave the airport- man was I missing out!

We spent New Years Eve exploring the downtown area of Singapore, the public art (and the fireworks/drone display) was amazing. The Gardens by the Bay was my favorite (of course!) – combining art and nature into monumental installations, yes please! The floating ovoids were lit up after dark and changed color as patrons touched the ones on the edges of the water. The Super Trees have live plants growing up their trunks and have walkways between some of them, and they are also lit up at night. I had seen images of them before but had never realized how massive they actually were until I was there in person.

I had also seen images of the whale installation pictured above when it was first installed in Bruges Triennial but had no idea that it had been moved to the Singapore ArtScience Museum, I was so thrilled to see it in person. It’s called ‘Skyscraper’ with the tag line, ‘we have breached the limit’, it is made of 5 tons of plastic ocean trash. It’s a monumental piece that obviously tells the story of our current relationship with the oceans and how that needs to change.

The ArtScience Museum was another favorite, it has curated exhibitions that you can choose to purchase tickets for individually, one was sold out but the two we attended we based on the ideas of how we see the future, not necessarily utopian or dystopian but an artistic projection of what the future could be based on where we are right now. It was a fascinating display of interactive experiences using light, sound, images and installations to showcase the artists ideas. Some works required participation, some just observation. I loved the art and science quotes painted on the walls of the museum.

While in Singapore, we also took advantage of how close it was to the tiny and beautiful islands of Indonesia. So we hopped on a ferry and took a ride through the South China Sea to a small resort with tiny wooden cabins built over the ocean for a few nights. And what are the chances, but they had a full ceramic studio onsite on the island. They had kick wheels, a wood kiln and a studio space where visitors could have a clay experience. They also used a lot of their handmade ceramic pots at the resort as well. Totally serendipitous!

After our few days there, we headed back to Singapore to catch a flight to Adelaide Australia. We spent some time exploring the city, tasting the amazing wine and then headed to the coastal town of Victor Harbor in the hope of seeing penguins. The Little Penguins are endangered and there are only a few of them left on the island, so they are heavily protected and we weren’t sure if we’d actually get to see them. The island the penguins live on is tiny and they only show up after sunset, so we spent the time before sunset having a picnic dinner and walking the loop trail around the island.

I didn’t know it in advance but a subset of the famous Sculpture by the Sea exhibition (which takes place on the cliffs above Bondi beach in Sydney) had a permanent sculpture installation on Granite Island called Sculpture Encounters. The three works in the above photos were a few of my favorites out of the few dozen on the island and catching them as the sun was setting was a perfect treat!

Oh! And we did manage to get a brief glimpse of one Little Penguin before it burrowed into it’s hole for the night!

week 12: artist in residence at yingge

FINAL WEEK IN TAIWAN!

This residency has really been an amazing experience, spending three months in a foreign country and culture gave me such a challenging and rewarding opportunity. It’s so hard to believe that it’s over and that in a few days I’ll be flying off to another adventure.

I spent my last week here multitasking. Starting with unloading my final kiln firing, cleaning out my studio, shipping my tools and some of the resin pieces I made back home. I packed up my finished art for a local gallery to take and met with the museum to choose a few pieces for their permanent collection. I also assembled the final layout for the ART+SCIENCE collaborative installation. And of course I had to squeeze in a few final adventures with my husband Nate since he arrived on the scene here. Basically, wrapping up lots of little details while still trying to do everything I wanted to do too.

Sad to be saying goodbye to everyone here who has been so supportive in helping me accomplish my goals and so kind to show me around. I’m sure it will take a while to really process this whole experience but I’m so grateful for it all and everyone I met in the process. Big thank yous to everyone!!!

Next up, Nate and I start his sabbatical from work year, so in a few days we leave Taiwan for Singapore. Stay tuned for the adventures to come…and I promise I’ll eventually get back to California!

“…such a long, long time to be gone and such a short time to be there.” – grateful dead

week 11: artist in residence at yingge

Week 11 was the beginning of the end…

As part of my residency obligations, I gave an artist talk and hands-on workshop at the Yingge Ceramics Museum for the community this week. I had nearly 30 participants come for the all day event. The hands-on workshop challenged them to work in multiples and create 100 simple shapes based on their interests in nature. They then had to experiment with intriguing compositions of all their shapes. They were apprehensive at first but ultimately they really got into the idea and appreciated the process of playing with their clay, valuing process over product.

I gave two more hands-on workshops at the National Museum of Natural Science in Taichung this week too. Since the museum kindly took the time to share a behind-the-scenes experience with me a few weeks prior, I wanted to return the favor sharing a clay experience with them. The participants were staff and volunteers, most of whom had never played with clay, but who love science and nature. They even brought some bits from nature with them to use as inspiration. We created small bowls that they carved into to create natural patterns and designs. All of the bowls will be fired and glazed at the ceramics museum and then assembled to create a group installation that will be displayed at the science museum. The results celebrate the collaboration of ART + SCIENCE.

In other studio news, I’ve officially stopped building with wet clay in my studio now. I’m letting everything dry so it’s ready for a final firing. While clay pieces are drying and firing, I’m continuing to experiment with pouring resin. I’m learning a lot as I go and I’m very excited about this new path.

AND, as an added bonus this week, my husband Nate arrived! I’m so thrilled to see him after two and a half months apart! He’ll get to share the tail end of this experience with me and see some of Taiwan too. Hard to believe that I only have one more week here before we travel onward…

Week 10: artist in residence yingge

This week has really been all work and no play. I’ve been feeling the pressure of my my time here coming to an end. But, it’s been a successful journey of learning and exploration.

Figuring out how to get the Bone Series: Medusa pieces to survive the building and firing process while exploring more complex forms has been challenging but a great success in the end. I’m also excited to announce that a collection of these pieces will be going to CC Gallery here in New Taipei City to be sold and a few will be selected for the Yingge Ceramic museum’s permanent collection.

The other exciting experiment is embedding some of my works in resin. It’s always a challenge working with a new material, but with the help of the studio staff at the museum, I was able to make the resin piece above (detail in right side photo), I’m really thrilled with the results. The idea is that the Bone Series pieces are inspired by the skeletal structures of radiolarians or single cell planktons and I wanted these pieces to feel like you were looking at a drop of ocean water under a microscope. I’m loving the little air bubbles that are trapped in the resin too… it really feels like it’s underwater. I have a few more of these in the works – excited to see how they turn out!

Two weeks to go! Yikes!

week nine: artist in residence yingge

Week NINE! What?! Now the pressure is really on to get everything I’ve wanted to do done.

week nine: artist in residence yingge | the dirt | Jenni Ward ceramic sculpture

Had some great results out of the kiln (a few flops too, but that’s ok!) Getting all the parts out of the kiln meant that I could start playing with resin. The first result wasn’t perfect, you can see big cracks in the resin in the image above, but I learned a lot, like how not to get those big cracks! I’m loving how the pieces already have a specimen in a petri dish feel about them and that the translucency of the clay is working with the translucency of the resin. Now that the initial learning curve is over with, I’m excited to really get going on these pieces and I feel really good about working with this new medium.

week nine: artist in residence yingge | the dirt | Jenni Ward ceramic sculpture

In an effort to create a community project based around art + science while I’m here in Taiwan, the ceramics museum arranged a meeting with the science museum for me and I was able to get a day behind the scenes at the National Museum of Natural Science in Taichung. Their lead mycology scientist shared their extensive fungi specimens in the herbarium and how they grow fungi from spores in petri dishes. She also shared the process of identifying mushrooms by looking at a tiny section of the gills at a microscopic level. It was absolutely fascinating! I also met with their education department who was thrilled with the idea of doing a clay workshop for some of their staff and volunteers. So I’ll be going back there in a few weeks to lead them in a art + science project. The pieces created will eventually become an installation at the science museum. I’m excited to get clay into the hands of these scientists in a few weeks and seeing what inspires them!

week nine: artist in residence yingge | the dirt | Jenni Ward ceramic sculpture
Sunny Sunday summit on Qixing Mountain in Yangmingshan National Park

week eight: artist in residence at yingge

I had my final class up in the mountains of Wulai with these creative kids this week. They were thrilled to get all of their individual finished projects back. We also finished up our group tree project and got it installed at the school. The tree is now growing on the wall of a stairwell. This was such a fun collaborative project to do with this class.

I made the trunk out of cloth that is is normally used in garden beds, it was twisted to create a textured trunk and branches, then I wired to a mesh framework to hold it in place. The kids and their art teacher helped attach the leaves to the tree with wire loops until it was all filled up. At the end of class I was given thank you notes, lots of hugs and high fives from everyone. So grateful for this fun experience!

I loaded up one of the big electric kilns this week with the majority of the work I’ve made since being here. It’s a mix of some bisqued pieces, some pieces that will be once fired and a few tests that I’ve got high hopes for. Fingers crossed that it all survives the high fire ride!

Art adventures this week included a trip to the northernmost tip of Taiwan to check out crazy rock formations along the Pacific Ocean in the seaside village of Yehliu. Then onto a cat village in the mountains where the residents now rely on cat tourism after their mines closed down and they lost their main income. And then dinner and a walk through the iconic town of Jiufen with its old street lined with red lanterns.

Hard to believe that I’m in my final four weeks here, I feel like I’m just getting used to everything being a new normal and that there’s still so much more to do but I am looking forward to my husband Nate arriving in just a few more weeks! Happy Thanksgiving to all of you celebrating at home!

week seven: artist in residence at yingge

I had some great opportunities this week to take in a lot of Taiwanese culture. The museum hosted a tea ceremony in the lobby to commemorate acquiring a new tea set by a local artist, which included speeches, lots of reporters and we got to spend a few hours sipping tea out of beautiful celadon cups  while sitting on tatami mats. 

My work is progressing in the studio, I’m waiting to see what the next bisque firing reveals and also trying to very, very, slowly dry that big I shared with you last week. Starting to wrap my head around the technical difficulties of building these fragile pieces is feeling pretty good. 

My students were also excited to move onto the glazing portion of their projects. Next week, I’ll return their finished work and we’ll assemble the group project on site at the school. I’ve really loved being able to head up into the mountains each week and play with clay with this sweet group of kiddos. 

My studio mate Ruth’s cousin got married last weekend and I was invited as her +1. It was pretty incredible to be the only westerner at an event with nearly 500 guests, but everyone was so welcoming and sweet, it was a really wonderful cultural experience. I lost count after the fifth course of food came out, seriously amazing amounts of food were served! I tried new things like jellyfish and black chicken, but there was also a bunch of food I tried and I’m not exactly sure what it was – all was good though!

Over the same weekend, through a series of events , I ended up getting my hair cut. Which doesn’t seem like the sort of thing I’d blog about but when you don’t speak the language, getting your haircut becomes an event. Through translation I found out that my stylist loved my curls but then he promptly flat ironed them right out to tame my new Asian haircut. Also a head, neck & shoulder massage comes with the deal, so it’s a pretty sweet experience.

In addition to all these shenanigans, I’ve also tried to make my way around Taipei seeing the sights. The middle picture below is the impressive Sun Yat Sen Memorial. I happened to be there just at sunset and enjoyed strolling through the park as the bats starting coming out for their nightly rounds.