A Thought

Recently exploring the Pitt Rivers Museum, among the leg-bone flooring, shrunken heads, seal-gut parkas, medicinal/magic objects, and other open-ended varieties of paraphernalia we gather around us to help us cope with, or keep at bay, the less controllable aspects of life, along with objects in one of the sympathetic magic drawers, out slid the consideration of why people collect pots like those at an exhibition I had just attended as a participant.

This thought no doubt arrives now and then for everyone who makes and tries to interest others in the esoterica of a particular enthusiasm. And surely there are myriad permutations to an answer. But what I was thinking about was the way we debate utility in relationship to other values inherent in or projected onto everything we have and use: the selection of a gourd, its burnt-on and leather/bead embellishments akin to the choice of a mobile phone.

But there is a difference: the gourd was individually adapted to its utility and much closer to the evanescent power of the process of making something regardless of its role in someone else's life. And it seemed to me (at least at that moment) that a reasonably disguised part of why people acquire pots is to momentarily connect with impossible mysteries of creation the object itself, engaged or carried away, continues to possess. Of course, this is happening all over the place as we gather our personal reliquaries. And the thinking went on.

When you watch individual makers presenting their work at fairs you see how good some are at creating auras about the work and themselves, inviting others into considering their offerings. You also see how people generally pass by slightly hushed as though each stall were a little shrine, and how, occasionally, one or another reaches out to touch objects as though the contact might generate a spark, a catharsis.

We spent a whole weekend once with people stopping, looking at Joy's pots, stepping up and, mostly furtively, slipping a hand over the surface of one of them then moving away definitely energised. No one bought any of those pots, but there was a hell of a lot of sympathetic magic going on. And that connection was really all my thought was about. It was a thought, no more, since all the Pitt Rivers exhibitions remain untouchable behind glass.

So we went back outside into the more apparent aspect of things and had a coffee among dozens of conversations around us. The cups were interchangeable one with the next, being industrially made, the company's name all over them: a different kind of sympathy also worth a thought. But that's another day.

This article first appeared in
Ceramic Review, Issue 245
September/October 2010