Jesse Birch, “Still Lives: Notes from a Pot Librarian”

Jesse Birch. Photo Arvo Leo.

The North-West Ceramics Foundation is pleased to announce its next IN-PERSON Speakers Series will feature Nanaimo Art Gallery Curator Jesse Birch. The talk will be held at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts (6450 Deer Lake Avenue, Burnaby, BC) on Sunday, November 13, at 1pm, in Studio 103. The presentation is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Please see below for instructions for registering.

Jesse Birch is a curator, artist, and avid skateboarder. Born and raised on Vancouver Island, traditional home of the Snuneymuxw people, Birch earned his BFA (Photography) from Emily Carr University in 2001, and his MA in Art History (Critical and Curatorial Studies) from UBC in 2008. In 2007, he was a curatorial fellow at DeAppel Arts Centre in Amsterdam, where he co-curated Master Humphrey’s Clock, a multi-venue exhibition that explored intersections between circulation and storytelling. He was the Co-Director/Curator of Access Gallery from 2008 to 2010, and the Exhibitions Curator at Western Front from 2012-2014. He joined the Nanaimo Art Gallery as curator in 2014. In addition to contributing frequently to art publications and catalogues, Jesse Birch an avid potter and serves on the Board of Directors of the Tozan Cultural Society which stewards a five chamber noborigama kiln and a wood-fired train kiln in Cedar BC.

Installation shot, “We Do Not Work Alone.” Photo by Sean Fenzl Courtesy of Nanaimo Art Gallery.

His talk, “Still Lives: Notes from a Pot Librarian” examines the premise behind the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s exhibition We Do Not Work Alone, which ran from July 30 to October 3, 2021. In addition to highlighting the Gallery’s collection of works by BC potters, the exhibition included works by international potters Kawai Kanjirō, Hamada Shōji, and Maria and Santana Martinez, films by Marty Gross/Mingei Film Archive, and new installations by artists Steven Brekelmans, Roy Caussy, Kate Metten, and Laura Wee Láy Láq. The title comes from the writings of Japanese potter Kawai Kanjirō (1890-1966) who, along with fellow potter Hamada Shōji and art critic Yanagi Sōetsu, founded the Mingei movement, which championed everyday folk crafts made by generations of unknown artisans. For Kawai, “we do not work alone” refers to a potter’s collaboration with the elements, and with previous generations of artists. This exhibition both celebrates and flips this perspective, considering pots themselves as social objects that come to life through relationships with users and viewers.

Ceramics in the collection of the Nanaimo Art Gallery were presented in an interactive “Library” where pots could be held, vases contained flowers, and tea was occasionally served. Pottery librarians from wide ranging perspectives were on hand to share and discuss works by important historical BC potters such as Walter Dexter, Gordon Hutchens, Charmian Johnson, Sam Kwan, Wayne Ngan, Lari Robson, and Laura Wee Láy Láq. The central area of the gallery featured new installations by BC artists, developed in dialogue with the works in the Gallery’s collection, which complicated and expanded traditional understandings of pots in both galleries and homes. To complement his discussion of this innovative approach to exhibiting ceramics, Birch will present some actual pots from the Gallery’s collection.

Jesse Birch’s talk “Still Lives: Notes from a Pot Librarian” will take place at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts (6450 Deer Lake Avenue, Burnaby, BC) on Sunday, November 13, at 1pm, in Studio 103. To register, go to the Shadbolt WebReg and enter barcode 678450, or phone the Shadbolt at 604-297-4440, citing the same barcode. We look forward to seeing you there!

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