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  • Harriet Maher

Fire and Earth

A review of the exhibition at Suter Gallery, Nelson

November 13 2021 – February 13 2022

I was lucky enough recently to spend a week in Nelson, which turned out to be an unexpected and invigorating experience. While I was there, I knew I couldn’t miss the chance to visit the Suter gallery, a small but sleek space nestled on the outskirts of the Queen’s Gardens in the centre of Nelson.

My luck continued, as my visit coincided with the biennial exhibition of ceramics from throughout the top of the South Island of New Zealand (Te Tau Ihu). My knowledge of Nelson and the surrounding region is mainly informed by family summer holidays in Golden Bay, a free-thinking artist community dotted with pottery, jewellery, and artisan studios. Fire and Earth, a comprehensive and far-reaching exhibition, brings together the best from these artist communities, and reflects the rich history of ceramics and creativity in Te Tau Ihu.

The exhibition reflects the breadth and variety of ceramics being made in the area today – from the large and decorative ‘COVID Survival Medal’ by Darryl Frost, to the intricate and delicate pieces that make up Katie Gold’s ‘Coloured Bloomers.’ It speaks to both the history of ceramics and art making in the region, and the contemporary moment, with Frost’s being a particularly unequivocal example. But it shows that the concern for objects which are at once useful and beautiful has not dwindled in the modern age, and that our desire for things that serve us, things we can touch, endures. Of course, being in a gallery, touch wasn’t a sensation I indulged in during my visit to Fire and Earth, but the tactility of the objects in clay, earthenware and plaster was still apparent and alluring. In an era where physical distance, mask-wearing and hand washing prevail, it’s somewhat comforting to be near things that are made by hand, and made to be touched.

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