Karl Fritsch, Laurie Steer and friends
24 September – 2 January
“Brickell-brac is brown. If this exhibition has a smell, Brickell-brac is the odour of the armpits of Driving Creek Railway and Pottery. If Brickell-brac has a taste, it tastes like the bottom of the recycled clay bucket in the Driving Creek artist-in-residence studio. If Brickell-brac is a sound, it is a gecko’s burp.”
In Brickell-brac, contemporary artist and jeweller Karl Fritsch and potter Laurie Steer have created a site-specific response to, and celebration of, the work of legendary ceramicist, writer and conservationist Barry Brickell. The project was inspired by the collaborative, egalitarian creative environment cultivated by Brickell at his Driving Creek studio, which became a mecca for the New Zealand ceramics community from 1974 onwards.
For this exhibition, one ton of clay is being shipped from Driving Creek in Coromandel to Whangarei, where Karl, Laurie and a revolving cast of invited collaborators will use it as the foundation of a process-oriented exhibition of unfired work. In keeping with the spirit of autonomy and practicality that Brickell fostered in his life and work, the furniture, plinths and shelves for the exhibition will be constructed using recycled materials from the gallery’s storage warehouse.
Combining elements of studio visit, installation and presentation, Brickell-brac is an expansive exhibition including everything from plants and audio to on-site performance and ceramics workshops. Karl and Laurie’s vision will transform the gallery from a display space to a play space, offering visitors an immediate access to the creative process of two of New Zealand’s pre-eminent makers and their collaborators.
Karl Fritsch is an internationally-acclaimed contemporary jeweller and artist, best known for his work’s subversion of the ideas of luxury, precision and beauty traditionally associated with jewellery. Laurie Steer is an artist, educator and potter known for his provocative, eccentric approach to the medium, bringing a sense of the fantastic and the absurd to craft ceramics. Their collaborators in Brickell-brac include North Madison, Kalou Koefoed, Frederick Church, Josh Taylor, Simon Cuming, Paul Maseyk and Sam Ireland.
The sky is white and the clay is too wet.
3pm. We have Karl, Paul, Frederick, Kalou and Simon Bowerbank. Still waiting for Laurie, Ford and North.
Tables and carpets and wheels are set up for the impending creativity blitz that will take place in this space over the next 5 days. Extension cords are sourced.
The bagged-up pile of too-wet Super-Fine with Brickells golden Coromandel clay is in the corner on two pallets. The need for old towels, ice cream containers, and fertiliser for the seeds on the feet is quickly identified.
The group has soon debagged and put some of the clay onto tables in little rainbow shapes in the hope that a wind blows up and dries it out overnight (inside the gallery), ready for making something tomorrow.
Simons’ stress barometer is at a comfortable 1, maybe 2.
3.37pm. Frederick’s sister Lorna delivers towels and ice cream containers.
4.48pm Simon Bowerbank is bleeding from his index finger and there’s a curious burning smell within the gallery space which causes a mild panic.
5.03pm Despite being vaguely injured, director
Simon has shown great affinity with the potters
and created his own mug with an ear-shaped
handle. At one point he pulls out what appears
to be a small rock from the clay.
“It’s a Brickell,” says Karl.
When demonstrating that the cup will hold beer,
even though green and wet, he says quietly,
mostly to himself, “I’m glad there’s no fire,” and
successfully drinks from the cup.
“We’ve all had our hands in that one,” says Karl. “Good luck!”
15 degrees Celsius and cloudy. No wind.
9.07am Health and safety briefing. Hazards are identified. Questions are raised. Is nudity on wheels a potential hazard in terms of emotional wellbeing?
9.13am Brenda, who long worked at Driving Creek until recently, visits. Many hugs ensue. And so the day begins with Elvis, inappropriate
sexy dancing and clay being catapulted across the room.
10.45am Laurie to Josh: “How about David Cakes as a participating artist?” Ford: “He’s in the car. I’ve just thrown his legs away.”
Simons’ stress barometer is still at an even 2.
11.07am Andrew brings in rectangular structures that quietly fill the space. Karl quietly fills the structures with fresh pots and other.
11.12am From his wheelchair, David Cakes looks out over a landscape of erection and future destruction.
2.01pm “This is the edge for all of us,” says Laurie. “As long as we have clay… when we run out, we’ll have to find a way to step off that edge.”
3.45pm Listen and you will hear the sound of the giant fan brought in to help dry the semi-sloppy objects that have appeared over the day, the pottery wheel turning under Paul’s hands, the running water through the curious indoor ceiling gutter.
David Cakes makes.
Seeds aspire to spire.
Cups of tea.
A certain uncertainty is in the air. What will happen? Who knows? Does anyone really know anything?
“Not knowing is the goal,” says Laurie.
4.32pm The slingshots come out again and clay spatters the walls as the printed out A3 faces of the group are shot at, mercilessly, over and over by the group themselves.
5.57pm The ladder wobbles under Simon Bowerbank while he executes his newly hatched plan of moving the GoPro camera closer to the landscape of (hopefully) germinating seeds.
Laurie to Simon: “Rest assured, mate. If you don’t make it, we’ll push on without you.”
It’s around this time that Paul points out that the seeds have everything they need inside them to grow and don’t need fertiliser. “It won’t hurt them though,” says Karl, and continues spraying.
Sunny, light winds, 75% humidity.
11.22am Karl is erecting a display of drawers and pots. Laurie is throwing on the wheel. Later he will ask for leather gloves to help against Brickell cuts. Frederick is making railway tracks. Kalou is cutting letters out of a blue carpet.
Ford is assembling the gift shop and Paul makes a cafe. Noses are sprouting. David Cakes reads poetry.
Music has been replaced by Driving Creek Railway sounds, courtesy of Simon Cumings.
12.03 Andrew tells the group, who are illegally eating food within the gallery space around a trestle table with a tablecloth that makes it decidedly less illegal, that his father made the drawers that Karl has been using. They are Singer sewing machine drawers.
2.08pm Margriet, Paul’s first pottery teacher, visits. She shows great enthusiasm for the project. Tomorrow she will come and throw a pot.
There’s some bafflement from the pottery community that nothing in the exhibition will be fired.
2.45pm North arrives on her motorbike, 2 days late. She is immediately put to work finding a word in the dots.
3.11pm The carpet is hung on the wall in the foyer. Karl chose the carpet quote from a book about convicts trapped on an island.
It reads: SEEMS TO ME IT’S IN THE DOING
THAT BEING COME.Kalou struggles with the grammar and adds an
‘S’ making it: SEEMS TO ME IT’S IN THE
DOING THAT BEING COMES.
4.31pm Simon goes to find some lumpy-palmed gardening gloves for Laurie. He returns later without the gloves.
North and Laurie bring in and build a pile of bricks. What are these bricks for?
5.23pm Events accelerate into collage and and other games. Nimmy comes to play with the slingshot. It turns out Karl has impeccable aim.
Simon Powershank discovers his timelapse file has not saved again. His stress barometer has risen to 4 and peaks momentarily to 8 when he realises he’s meant to be at a board meeting.
Ricky did not visit.
6.47pm Things hover at an uneven keel. Karl to the group in general, possibly directed mostly at Paul/Laurie/Ford: “Do you find Brickells in your undies? At Night? When you get home?”
A poem by Barry Brickell to finish off the day.
On the Nature of Art
Art & Life are mysteries –
let them remain so
for ever and ever.
Let neither scientist nor god-man
ever change this –
never, never, ever.
Mostly sunny, glary, blinding.
9am Laurie attempts to throw with gloves on. He can’t feel his hands.
Ford is assembling shapes into other shapes.
North adds tiny bits to the big pot Paul made. Simon walks off with the keys.
Kalou sweeps the floor and tidies in an effort to create some order in the chaos.
Karl continues to erect.
10.03am Simon + staff survey the helter skelterness from a point of health and safety, arms folded. An extensive document will be needed of everything that can go wrong once the show is open. The Rail Me mug could fall and that would be a six figure fine.
11.15am Margriet arrives with daughter Nellie to play and throw a few pots. Margriet’s laughter fills the space as she throws alongside Paul. The women stay for lunch and invite the group for dinner tonight, which turns out to be a three-course home cooked Michelin star worthy feast.
The pile of Super-fine with Brickells is not as big as it first was. It is now scattered and metamorphosed throughout the gallery in curious forms and hybrids.
2pm Laurie makes a painting station.
North turns tiny pots on the wheel.
Karl makes a plinth of bricks and the giant pot is carried carefully, lovingly, to its zenith. David Cakes watches it all, unmoving, yet moved.
3.20pm Frederick’s sister Lorna brings muffins
for the group. Laurie has 3.
Simon’s stress barometer falls from 3 to 1 in the vicinity of tea and muffins.
3.42pm Karl & Ford work on putting shelves up in the cafe. Paul paints cafe art.
4.58pm One shelf falls down and the mugs on it are flattened. It is put back up, as is.
Ford arranges bricks for the soundscape.
Simon waters the seeds.
What is Brickell Brac? Brickell Brac is brown.
It’s the value of making things together. The remnants of it. What’s left.
Team morning meeting. Karl: “After a meeting with David Cakes, we decided to pull the plug on making today.”
The group talks finishing stages and jobbies.
Frederick will get the bisqued cups from Roz,
Paul and North are to dismantle the wheels and build new ones, Kalou is on Brickell bags and lettering.
Where to tip the water in the buckets? “Leave it,” says Karl, “it’s the smell of Brickell Brac.”
10.28am Simon’s family visits (including Ricky). They are big Brickell Brac fans already. Meanwhile Karl moonlights as front of house staff.
11.18am The group has tea and Margriet’s beautiful, dense, decidedly Dutch cake, before their pre-lunch Horst meditation circle.
“We doing meditation?” says Simon. Moments later, he places a framed carpet in the centre of the circle. It stays there, carpet on carpet.
The group, led by North, have an experience they didn’t expect, together.
1.22pm Frederick brings the bisqued mugs for the opening tomorrow and the group test drives them. “A bit crunchy but otherwise great,” Laurie says, removing shrapnel from his beard.
A clean up mission, before the final arranging of Brickell Brac.
2.18pm Late lunch at the Hundertwasser, followed by a tour of the museum.
Afterwards, the team “claps our shoulders”. The space is now uncannily reminiscent of Driving Creek. Job well done. Hugs all around.
“For what it’s worth… It’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start again.” David Cakes 2022
Karl Fritsch is an internationally-acclaimed contemporary jeweller and artist, best known for his work’s subversion of the ideas of luxury, precision and beauty traditionally associated with jewellery.
Laurie Steer is an artist, educator and potter known for his provocative, eccentric approach to the medium, bringing a sense of the fantastic and the absurd to craft ceramics.
Other collaborators in Brickell-brac include North Madison, Kalou Koefoed, Frederick Church, Josh Taylor, Simon Cuming, Paul Maseyk and Sam Ireland.