Jam Factory Biennial 1999

JamFactory, Adelaide 17 July - 29 August 1999

Mix together: a pinch of jealousy, a tablespoon of malevolence and a dash of disdain. Add a small bottle of betrayal and serve ice cold. Emma Petersen's Everything in small measures is a series of small coloured bottles, each neatly capped and labelled with its contents; arrogance, ignorance, narcissism, indulgence. These bottled traits tempt the viewer to create imaginary character cocktails, and are the results of Petersen's investigation into the less pleasant and intangible aspects of human nature.

The second JamFactory Biennial covers over thirty individual investigations into contemporary craft and design by artists and designers working from the centre.

The exhibition presents a broad spectrum of work. There is plenty of what we traditionally understand to be fundamental to crafts practice - an involvement with skill, material and process - and then there is work like that of Saul Scanlon whose Sara lamps show little evidence of the hand of the maker and much of the designer. Forays into more conceptually based work are here too in the objects of Emma Petersen, Stephen Bowers and Mel Fraser. Much of the work acknowledges a functional origin in some way but the majority of pieces in the exhibition are primarily decorative.

A survey exhibition often presents difficulties for the curator attempting to construct a coherent whole from many disparate pieces. Margot Osborne has done well - referencing colour, form and curatorial rationale between pieces in a gallery which, although large and relatively well equipped, is often too cavernous for the comfortable presentation of what generally tend to be domestic objects.

Perhaps the most successful part of the exhibition is presented in the adjoining small gallery where Kirsten Coelho's elegantly simple porcelain vessels with minimal surface decoration using cobalt-blue line contrast with fellow ceramist Vipoo Srivilasa's lusciously indulgent forms. Srivilasa translates traditional Thai costume design onto forms inspired by the Australian bush. The opulence of Srivilasa's gilded, scalloped and diamante encrusted surfaces provides a fabulous contrast for the cool white and cobalt of Coelho's disciplined approach.

While some of the work represents the JamFactory's much talked about move to give preference to the design process over hand crafting, there is still considerable evidence of the hand of the maker in most of the work. Arguably some of more interesting pieces could not be designed for mass manufacture. Tom Moore continues to amaze with his wonderfully irreverent and humorous glass.
Consciously melding good and outrageously bad technique to create some wildly amusing work, Moore's approach is more innovative than much of the more self conscious clean cut designer-type work on show.

At first glance Stephen Bower's cups and saucers seem to be decorated in a standard Blue Willow pattern found on many an Aussie kitchen dresser. A closer look reveals not the weeping willow but Alice in Wonderland and kangaroos and bung fritz. All is not as it first seems, as Bowers challenges our perception of incongruity in decoration while commenting on our preconceived ideas about culture and the objects that define it.

While some artists investigate the place of objects in a cultural context, others grapple with new materials and their properties, new production methods, technology and computer modelling.
Guy Parmenter is a design associate in the furniture workshop. Poles Apart is an intriguing piece. From afar this altar-like structure's second tier appears to float above its base, cantilevered with impossibly thin steel rods. The illusion is created by the use of neodymium magnets which propel the second tier above the base. Parmenter's work is innovative and attractive and is likely to be the first of more investigations into the effects made possible with magnets.

Peter Walker's Jetty is exactly that: a huge piece of weathered jarrah jetty - daring, oversize and providing an anchor for the exhibition. It will soon move to a new home at the residence of the Minister for the Arts, the Hon. Diana Laidlaw.

Michael Searle's disciplined approach to furniture design emphasises the understated simplicity of his work. Searle's practical design solutions and his economic use of materials are evidenced in his Stem wall lamp.

The Biennial's diversity is exciting and stimulating. It presents a glimpse into the preoccupations of the artists associated with the JamFactory - tenants, associates and studio heads. Despite pressure to perform financially, or perhaps because of it, the Jam remains a hothouse of innovation - a place where, relatively sheltered from commercial imperatives, emerging creativity is nurtured and given space to grow - the result, as evidenced in this second Biennial, is a heady cocktail indeed.

Support independent writing on the visual arts. Subscribe or donate here.