Jaipur

Jacques Kaufmann, To Purify Space, 2018, brick, bamboo, fired clay, mirrors, 11' 9 3⁄4“ × 9' 10 1⁄8” × 9' 10 1⁄8". From the Indian Ceramics Triennale. Photo: Shine Bhola and Jawahar Kala Kendra.

Jacques Kaufmann, To Purify Space, 2018, brick, bamboo, fired clay, mirrors, 11' 9 3⁄4“ × 9' 10 1⁄8” × 9' 10 1⁄8". From the Indian Ceramics Triennale. Photo: Shine Bhola and Jawahar Kala Kendra.

Indian Ceramics Triennale

Jawahar Kala Kendra

Jacques Kaufmann, To Purify Space, 2018, brick, bamboo, fired clay, mirrors, 11' 9 3⁄4“ × 9' 10 1⁄8” × 9' 10 1⁄8". From the Indian Ceramics Triennale. Photo: Shine Bhola and Jawahar Kala Kendra.

In a dimly lit room, a woman dressed in black slowly poured water from an earthenware pot. Cascading into a transparent tray, the water lapped at the walls of an exquisite miniature city painstakingly constructed of clay. This work, Evanescent Landscape—Svarglok, Jaipur, 2018, by Juree Kim, was inspired by the pink city of Jaipur and by an eighteenth-century Rajasthani miniature painting of Svarglok, the abode of the Hindu gods. Over the course of “Breaking Ground,” the inaugural Indian Ceramics Triennale, the action of the water gradually dissolved the sculpted earth, leading to the gentle collapse of this partly submerged clay city—a poetic and poignant study in ephemerality and erasure. Across the room from Kim’s scene of disintegration, Ester Beck delivered a powerful ode to creation. In her energetic performance video, Matter Is a Centre of Dreaming (Gaston Bachelard), 2016, Beck sliced, stomped, and pummeled a massive block of clay larger than herself, using her entire body to engage with the material. Near the screen lay a small sculpture, strewn with cheerful powdery colors, the residue of her performance at the triennial’s opening. 

“Breaking Ground” featured the clay-based practices of fifty-eight Indian and international artists, including works by all of the members of the curatorial team: Reyaz Badaruddin, Sharbani Das Gupta, Vineet Kacker, Anjani Khanna, Neha Kudchadkar, and Madhvi Subrahmanian. As is implicit in the title, the exhibition looked away from functional objects and studio pottery to explore ways of reimagining the ceramic arts. Outside one of the entrances to the venue, a multiarts facility built in 1993 by renowned Indian architect Charles Correa, visitors were greeted by Jacques Kaufmann’s To Purify Space, 2018. Fashioned out of brick, bamboo, fired red clay, and mirrors, the igloo-shaped installation drew its inspiration from the 1986 book Ceramic Houses and Earth Arcitecture: How to Build Your Own, by the US-based Iranian architect Nader Khalili, and evoked Sufi ideas of fire’s cleansing power. Elsewhere, Danijela Pivaševi-Tenner’s Do you know, what’s behind?, 2018, resembled a drawing room invaded by a mudslide; Vishnu Thozhur Kolleri’s quirky interactive installation, Resonance Tower Phase I, 2018, highlighted his preoccupation with “resonant ceramic voids”; and Kate Malone re-created her London work space in one of the complex’s graphic studios, offering viewers a peek into her process. Tallur L.N. chose to work with found fired clay objects: His tongue-in-cheek yet commanding Man Exhibiting Holes, 2018, depicted a head, mouth agape, sculpted out of hollowed-out terra-cotta blocks.

In keeping with the long pottery tradition of the Rajasthani capital, a gallery was dedicated to Kripal Singh Shekhawat, a man credited for the revival of what is widely known as Jaipur blue pottery. This collateral exhibition, curated by ceramicist Kristine Michael, proved to be a revelation, bringing to light not only Shekhawat’s training as a painter under modern Indian artists Nandalal Bose and Benode Behari Mukherjee but also his study of the Nihonga style of painting in Japan. This mélange of influences was apparent in his small-format paintings on Japanese shikishi board as well as in the colors and motifs on the vases and bowls on display. 

While several of the artworks gestured toward rich craft traditions, Ingrid Murphy’s smart objects catapulted visitors into the future. The connected device I.O. Touch, 2018, set up a dialogue between ceramic hands placed in Jaipur and in Murphy’s home in Wales. Her other works included ceramic artifacts equipped with QR codes offering app-savvy visitors the chance to embark on a journey in which the objects pop up in different places. By harnessing digital technologies, Murphy reminded us that ceramics are not just artisanal objects rooted in a distant past, but will continue to play a role in our futures.