Helen O Malley pictured above with Sonya Lennon
As design boundaries are shifting, the way we consider objects seems open to question. How do you explore this in your work?
The role of the ceramist has changed dramatically over the course of the past century. While previously it was a requirement that ceramics be functional in a utilitarian sense; theoretical and conceptual statement has taken the place of the utilitarian object for many ceramists today. The craft discipline has been reconfigured to include a progressive ‘conceptual genre’. It is within the genre of ‘conceptual clay’ that I locate myself.
Rather than the decorative or utilitarian, it is the viewer emotional and ideological response to the objects that I create which interests me. No object is neutral in meaning; every object has a past, a story to tell. I use the ideas associated with the ‘object’ as the means by which to conduct my research. My current work explores the position of skill within the Craft discipline; questioning the equation of high skill with high value? The objects that I have replicated possess little value within contemporary society. They are seen as worthless; ‘throwaways’. The replication of these objects in clay involves a great deal of technical skill. Should the high level of skill involved in their replication offer the normally worthless objects an increased Value?
How important is merging the Spaces of art concept and object in your work?
For me it is massively important. The concept or discussion generated by my work holds equal relevance to that of the physical object. I seek to offer the viewer more than a purely ‘visual’ experience. While the making process occupies a central a position within my work, the object is not my sole goal. I use clay as a vessel; through which to disseminate ideas, raise issues and generate debate. The meaning of the objects, which I create, extends far beyond their physical surface. The objects act as catalysts for discussion; pushing the viewer to contemplate the position of handcraftsmanship and ‘skill’ within the contemporary craft industry.
What do you enjoy most about making?
The clay medium acts as a physical outlet for the ideas that I explore on paper. While theory and concept play an extremely important role within my work; objects create impressions and spark debate in a way that the written word cannot. The translation of my ideas from 2D to 3D is an extremely exciting process. The transition from 2D to 3D is by no means a simple feat, however, when successful, the conversation and debate surrounding the work takes on a life of its own. The ideological impact and issues raised by the objects created stays with the viewer long after they have left the site of the work itself.
What does it mean to you to have received a Future Makers Networking Support?
It means a great deal. Ceramists are exploring new working methods and new approaches to both clay and form today. I feel passionately about the move towards concept within craft. In order for my work to continue to develop, it is paramount that I continue to expand my knowledge and understanding of the genre of ‘conceptual clay’ and the means by which it is operating within the contemporary art arena. The Future makers Networking Support award allows me the opportunity to do this.
What influences you in your design work?
Everything. Ceramics hovers on the boundaries of art, craft and design. In order to understand how best to translate your message to your viewer it is necessary to be aware of what is happening not only within your own field but also within the wider arts industry. I make a conscious effort to incorporate new technologies and approaches into my own practice. I follow a range of different artistic activity; from graphic design to performance art.
The work of Clare Twomey, David Cushway, Phoebe Cumming, Anna Maria Maiolino and Geofrey Mann has greatly influenced my work. Recently, the ‘3×2 Exhibition of Contemporary Clay’, which took place in ‘The Shed’, Galway, in November of last year was significant. The exhibition featured the work of six ceramists, including both Twomey and Livingstone. The work was installation based, much of it unfired, with a strong conceptual focus. Co-curated by Kate Howard and Rob D’Eath, lecturer in Fine Art Ceramics at GMIT, the exhibition programme included lectures from artists Claire Curneen and Andrew Livingstone. It was one of the most powerful exhibitions that I have seen in a very long time and deeply impacted upon the direction of my work this year.
Helen O’ Malley is also the recent winner of the RDS Graduate Prize for her work entitled ‘In-Valuble’