Many of us spend our days alone in a studio, and as much as we relish the solitude and energy of our own creative spaces, many artists, writers and thinkers have long felt the creative benefits of travel. Simply placing yourself in a new setting can be enough to give you a creative boost. Even neuroscientists examining our grey matter have concluded that new sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations and sights, spark different synapses in the brain and have the potential to completely revitalize the mind.
Last year I was part of a wood-firing workshop at the Gaya Ceramics and Art Center in Ubud, Bali. For two weeks we immersed ourselves in Balinese culture and worked intensely to produce enough pots to fill a fire-breathing dragon, and the results were like nothing we had ever made before.
Next year I’m off to Gaya again, but this time I’d like you to come with me. From 15-28 May, 2016, I’ll lead a small group of clay enthusiasts to be part of ‘Food Meets Plate’, a workshop that will inspire any clay-lover with an interest in the intimate relationship between food and the vessel. The two-week workshop will culminate in a feast of the senses at Ubud’s International Food Festival! Tempted? Yes, much? Read on!
First, let me introduce you to Hillary Kane, Director of Gaya Ceramics and Art Centre and our inspiring workshop host.
Hillary Kane is a potter, painter, teacher, mother, and nomad. Travel and work has led her to claim residence in several continents and innumerable countries. Inevitably, the artistic culture of each has imparted an indelible influence upon her work and continues to be an endless source of inspiration. Educated in the United States and France, she now lives in Bali with her husband and her twin daughters.
Claire Atkins: Hillary, you have such a great personal story and you really pack it in, when I met you last year I thought, what the hell have I been doing with my time? Tell me, how did a young American woman come to live, launch and direct a thriving art centre in Bali?
Hillary Kane: Seven years ago, I took a leap of faith and headed off from a tiny mountain town in the American south-west to Japan to follow my aesthetic calling in Ceramics. At the time, I would never have imagined that it would lead to establishing the Gaya Ceramic Arts Centre (GCAC) and a life thoroughly settled in Bali.
However, my airline ticket was very deliberately one-way. I was ready to welcome the signs and serendipities as they came, and I found myself departing Japan after two months, swollen with inspiration, yet venturing toward another opportunity and another culture altogether. I set foot in Bali aiming to spend a year teaching, when unexpectedly another door opened at Gaya Ceramic and Design. From the moment I met the studio crew and the effusively generous Italian founders (both ceramic artists themselves), I knew the connection was a strong one. Within a year, together we were dreaming up an educational branch of their already well-established production studio. After a brief residency back in Japan, I returned again to Bali to build my first Anagama and to launch the arts centre.
The GCAC studio was built a couple of years after, and now, four years, five kilns, a Balinese husband, twin 3-year-old girls, a house and a thriving workshop later, it really feels the Gods of this island have led me here for a reason.
What happens at the Gaya Ceramics and Art Centre?
Gaya Ceramic comprises a large production studio employing around 70 people who produce exquisite ceramic ware for top clients the world over, and across the street is the Ceramic Arts Centre, which is dedicated to education in clay. There is always a lot happening at Gaya, it’s a continual cross-pollination and collaboration. At the Arts Centre itself, we fill the year with two-week workshops, two-month artist residencies, exhibitions, and a variety of weekly and private classes tailored to community needs. Each year concludes with an Empty Bowls fundraiser and Open Studio event. In between all of this are the endless activities of our own staff (who, one and all, get their hands in clay!).
Why should someone travel half way across the world to make a pot or fire a kiln?
At Gaya, we believe that setting is everything, and that for many artists, the opportunity to immerse themselves in a different world, even for only two weeks, encourages growth, self-reflection, and a willingness to take the next step in their own work. When an artist is encouraged by a master ceramicist and surrounded by similarly enthusiastic participants, a workshop is an incredible time and place for development. Even for those not physically traveling so far to come here, Gaya studio stands as a sanctuary for transformation: earth into Art, self into Self.
Have you witnessed this kind of creative transformation and renewal at Gaya?
Catapulting one’s artistic self into an entirely new atmosphere foments intense creative inspiration. I see this throughout the year at Gaya especially with our resident artists. Three to four times per year, we host professional ceramic artists from around the world for a two-month residency program. There is no prerequisite of what each should make or spend their time doing. It has been an incredible experience to witness each resident take in, digest and respond to all the new stimuli of Bali. For some, inspiration taps from the intricacies of a cultural philosophy so different from their own, for others, from the visual explosion of a tropical ambient, some are more self-probing and introspective about identity and place in the world, others simply allow the remove from their familiar to generate great emotion, allowing it to well up and surface through their works.
One resident artist recently said: ‘It was as if I was just supposed to be here; one bit of visual information, one cue from the culture, one conversation just falling into place and leading me into the pieces I have created.’ Another was shocked at her proficiency, having come to Gaya with an intention to build rather abstract geometric forms, she gave in to an unexpectedly arisen urge to build figurative sculpture entirely dedicated to the pure emotion of parenting. It was the first extended journey she had ever made away from her early-teen children. For each, creating in this oasis of newness amounts to a unique, and utterly inspired experience.
Let’s talk about the upcoming workshop ‘Food Meets Plate’, what are your thoughts about the relationship between ceramics and food?
This obvious stage of interaction is one that has endlessly offered inspiration to clay artists, and yet the question remains ever unanswered, ever re-interpretable. We have run this workshop theme twice as ‘Culinary Clay’ at Gaya – both times amazing, each time improving the experience upon the last. And what better theatre to ask clay artists to perform upon than one with the heady, aromatic, gorgeous and thoroughly tropical ambient of Indonesian cuisine?
What can participants expect from this workshop?
These two intense weeks will endeavor to inspire the contemplation of the intimate relationship between food and the vessel in which it is presented – in this specific setting upon the enriching and verdant Indonesian island of Bali and in the “foodie” paradise of Ubud. We will have inimitable opportunities to meet with, learn from, and sample the genius of many local chefs who will unveil some of the cultural and gastronomic complexities of the archipelago, encouraging expansion not only of taste buds, but also conceptual perspective of the more formal design considerations of shape, texture, colour, and scale; where the food meets the plate.
In our final ‘Manifested Meal’ we will have at last a chance to display our inspired vessels in an exhibition/feast in one of Ubud’s fabulous new restaurant venues. Timed to coordinate with Ubud’s second annual Food Festival, our finale will be on display for the public to contemplate the fruit of our labors, and to feast their eyes upon the inspiration two weeks have manifested– though the participant group will privately enjoy the meal set upon their unique vessels!
Who should come, and will the workshop suit all skill levels?
This workshop is suitable for any level of experience in clay. While beginners may be focusing on honing their skills at throwing more traditional dinner ware, more advanced ceramicists may find this an ideal opportunity to break outside their own ‘box’ to experiment widely and discover something fantastically new. This has worked to the advantage of all in the past – veteran clay artists inspiring for and inspired by those newer to clay alike. All participants will be encouraged to explore and will be supported technically, and otherwise by the Gaya studio team.
What else can workshop participants look forward to while we’re in Bali?
This particular workshop will be packed with explorations of everything culinary – and in Ubud, Bali, that could last a lifetime – but we will also have the opportunity to peek into some of the intricate and fascinating local ceremonial and artisanal culture, Ubud’s endless boutiques and throbbing nightlife (for such a small town!).
Thank you so much for chatting with us today Hillary, I can’t wait to see you and the Gaya crew in May!
If you would like to join Hillary and me for this incredible workshop and cultural experience, head to the workshop page now for Early Bird fees and details about securing your place. If you need more convincing, visit the blog next week when I speak to Bruce McWhinney, celebrated Australian wood-firing artist and the creator of the inspired guest house ‘Ubud ArtVilla‘, our workshop accommodation.